Can We End Homelessness?

Kudos to Sally Greene for bringing to Chapel Hill's attention to national efforts to end homelessness. And also to Kevin Foy and the rest of the Council for responding with a community roundtable scheduled for Thursday, November 18. Details can be found in today's Chapel Hill Herald or on the town web site.

The Carrboro Aldermen have declined to participate because of the choice of a weekday for the meeting. It is indeed bad planning to hold such an event when the working homeless themselves can not attend. (This is particularly egregious coming right on top of Chapel Hill's holding the Airport Road Renaming committee meeting all day on a Friday.)

Here's what I wrote on ending homelessness in the August 28 Herald:

The National Alliance to End Homelessness has a plan that they claim can eliminate homelessness in ten years. A key element is ensuring that more appropriate programs are in place for those who are not best served by a general population shelter: for example, substance abusers or the mentally ill who would benefit from residential treatment facilities.

NAEH also advocates developing permanent supportive housing for the episodically and chronically homeless populations, about 10% of the homeless each but consuming over 50% of the resources.

Orange County can make real progress even as national efforts are developing. The IFC planning report refers to “ultimately eliminating homelessness in our county.” IFC Executive Director Chris Moran expects that such efforts would follow the NAEH model.

Part of that endeavor will surely include a frank evaluation of a housing wage for Orange County. A community-wide commitment to paying such a wage would start with key players such as local government, the university and hospital, and members of the Chamber of Commerce.

But a housing wage is only meaningful if there is low-cost housing available. We must also revisit the concept of mixed-use development so as to significantly include a broad mix of incomes. Local government can look beyond middle-class home ownership when requiring developers to build “affordable” units.

Mixed income affordable housing would include single-room occupancy facilities and other types of inexpensive rentals needed by lower income households. Why shouldn't some of the people who “appreciate the convenience” of walking to the Harris Teeter at Meadowmont be the cashiers and stockers who work there?

Even in the most ambitious scenario, local government will cannot do everything. We must be willing participate in statewide coalitions and to travel to the state legislature to lobby and demonstrate on behalf of these goals.

Part of the challenge is to embrace the homeless, not as a “population” in need of charity, but as fellow-citizens who need only to find justice in our economy, dignity in their work-a-day lives, and a community that understands and accepts them as equal participants.

Consider the words of Uruguayan human rights activist Eduardo Galeano: "I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is vertical, so it's humiliating. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other and learns from the other. I have a lot to learn from other people."

Solidarity in Galeano's sense is embraced by the IFC in its vision statement: “Participation and even self-governance by clients must become a centerpiece of all we do.” This is a challenging but essential step if we take social justice and democracy as serious goals.

It may be true that the poor will always be with us but there's no reason they can't have a place to call home.



It's an interesting idea, but I think some of Chapel Hill's local statutes will need changing. Is Chapel Hill (as a community) really ready to embrace rooming houses? Because that is what "single-room occupancy facilities" are. I am fairly certain there are statutes banning roominghouses; there was a case not that long ago where a couple who owned a house on Cameron were renting to a group of students. Because the students weren't related, the house was in violation of an ordinance. The couple ended up selling there home.

Or are we talking about very small, single br apartments with kitchenettes? Those might make it past the legal issues.

Still, is a community that had a moratorium on duplexes ready for "single room occupancy facilities?" I have my doubts.


Thanks, Dan, for promoting this event and for your column. My interest in having this dialogue was actually prompted by a comment Chris Moran made awhile ago at a public hearing. We don't really know what homelessness looks like, he said, and it struck me that he was right.

After a half-day's discussion, we will not have figured out how to end homelessness in ten years, or at all. But we will know a lot more about what it is to be homeless or at risk of homelessness in our community, and we'll be challenged to think about ways to address the multiple root causes.

The issue goes far beyond housing to jobs and wages and education, to child care and parenting support, to adequate social services for substance abusers and the mentally ill--the latter especially, given the state-level "divestiture" of mental health services.

What can we do to start to meet these needs? What can we do to prevent the problem from getting worse?

With extravagant hope, we do want to begin to develop a long-term plan to end homelessness in Orange County. It'll be instructive to hear from folks from Raleigh on how their initiative is going.

Registration for the 18th is free, and we welcome you all to join us.

Can Sally (or anyone) explain the choice of day and time for the meeting? I imagine that having it in the middle of the day means that the people who attend will mostly either be those who are paid to work on homeless issues, are unemployed, or who are salaried and can afford to take time off. This seems like a real barrier to broad community engagement.

I won't be there--I'll be at work. I'm certainly NOT salaried!

Sally--will you please address the impact of Chapel Hill's housing rules on "single-room occupancy facilitites?"


This primary audience for the roundtable discussion consists of the folks who provide services for the homeless and for related needs--in other words, who do it as part of their jobs. Everyone is invited, but this is the main audience. The roundtable is modeled on the Latino services roundtable that was sponsored by Orange County this past April, which was also held on a week day. In that case, the object was to get conversations going among many people providing services to the Latino population--Planned Parenthood was one--to give them an opportunity to coordinate services, to share ideas, to look for common funding sources, etc. So far, we have close to 60 people signed up.

I personally am looking forward to hearing from Martha Are, a homeless policy specialist who will bring us a federal and state perspective; Ken Maness, from Raleigh's planning department, who is to talk from a regional perspective including their successes (or not) so far with their initiative; and Steven Elkins-Williams, among others, who will talk about their local experience especially in housing homeless men while the shelter was being worked on here in Chapel Hill. I think that there is a lot to be learned that we can then start to think about and implement and share with the larger community, one step at a time. This is one step, but it is only one step, in what I hope will become an engagement with the whole community.

Melanie, I will raise your questions about the boardinghouse regulations.

Thanks Sally!



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