Addressing chronic homelessness

The annual regional tally of homeless folks has been completed and it does not look good. According to the Chapel Hill Herald, "In Orange County, the survey counted 230 homeless people. That number included 38 children and 70 chronically homeless." They found that the Triangle (Orange, Durham, and Wake counties) has higher than average rates of chronic (repeated or on-going) homelessness.

These results were announced along with a 10-year regional initiative to "end homelessness." Now, I am all about the continuum of care that is needed to address the many complex layers of poverty - from short-term shelters and food pantries to transitional housing and long-term counseling. Having sustainable affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage are also keys to not having families fall over the edge financially.

At some point, we have to address the local and global economic structures that demand the existence of a class of poor, desperate people to keep the economic engine moving. We should at least turn a critical eye inward and ask why some full-time University employees have to eat lunch at the IFC Community Kitchen, and why so many people who work in Chapel Hill can't afford to live here.

It's hard not to be skeptical about the involvement of Bush Administration "Homeless Czar" Phil Mangano at the press conference announcing this initiative. He says he wants to "abolish homelessness" but works for an administration that has been hacking up the safety net as fast as politically possible.

Such press conferences have become a virtual way of life for Mangano, who spends the bulk of his time traveling around the country ensuring that a positive—and positively pro-Bush Administration home-less policy—spin is superimposed on each city's Ten Year Plan in turn.
-Street Sheet (San Francisco) September 2004

But I don't want the Bush B.S. to get in the way of what could be a really wonderful thing. Chapel Hill Town Council member Sally Greene has been working to bring this collaborative effort to fruition, and has been blogging thoughtfully about the issue. (Thanks to her for many of the interesting links cited here.) Although I am uncomfortable with the language, I really appreciate the concerted effort to fight this persistent problem.


Has anyone heard of a program (in chicago I think) in which they give the homeless person (any homeless person) a small studio apartment first no strings attached, instead of trying to find them a job first? I wish I could remember what show it was on. Anyway, in the hosuing they had psychiatric and drug treatment to help them get stable and give them medical treatment (importanat cause most homeless have either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder).

It was good to see something innovated that made sense and got to the root of the problem.

Ah yes! I did read it in Mother Jones! Good find. MAybe we should hand out some copies to the locals?

In discussions about this with my neighbor, a social worker, he brought up an interesting idea, particularly related to homelessness in downtown. His suggestion is that the town hire and train people to be available around the downtown areas on the streets, sort of like traffic cops (perhaps even specially trained police) to serve in an outreach capacity. His belief is that many of the homeless people, with whom he deals, are not aware of how or where to go to get help. These people could not only disseminate information but also participate in taking the person to the service that is needed. It is certainly true that the help that is available could be improved, I sometimes feel that people's knowledge of what is available or how to get help is where the system fails, and this failure is often overlooked. Whether this is feasible or not I frankly don't know, but the more I think about it the more I thinking finding a way to engage with people we are trying to help is an absolute imperative that is often overlooked.


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