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Homeless, not helpless...


How much do we spend on our homeless community...and can we be more fiscally responsible about it? Can we paint a picture of the affected with a finer brush?  People are homeless for many reasons; temporary - due to medical, divorce, or other life issues; those with mental or physical dis-abilities with or without dependencies; those who have dependencies. 

Studies indicate public costs are around $40-$60k per homeless resident per year (depending on the city) in the form of police and medical, needed services, etc. 

By providing housing first, plus needed medical and social care, overall public costs have been shown to be much less.

Salt Lake City has a successful program. Several other cities too. The stability of a safe place to live and keep your stuff, an address, regular connection to community services etc., provides a place for the formerly homeless to stand to begin to solve the problem(s) that put them there.  They are homeless, not helpless, but without a stable place to work from the climb up and out of their situation.

One concept: Containers can be made into utilitarian homes - two units per container for singles, couples or small families into a full size container (or more), others containers can be turned into self contained (or utility attached) kitchen and bath/sanitary facilities. Exterior finishes and arrangement of a few units on existing public or private property can be flexible to fit individual locations.

The neighborhood then would have a small, stable (not transient) in-need population that can participate in the community, and build trust in both directions as they and their needs and skills become known.

If such housing were distributed throughout the community, minimizing the concentration of in-need folks around a few places would reduce impacts on neighboring residents and businesses.

In large part, people in-need are houseless, not helpless, not unskilled. The stability of a home, no matter how small, allows life to return to some semblance of regularity. That in turn helps with re-integration into the community. Every city and neighborhood has manual labor needs and can provide basic employment either through private or public entities. Albuquerque has a program where in-need are picked up daily, provided tools, gloves, etc., and taken to public properties and rights of way that need weed and trash removal, etc.

The Albuquerque pay is $9/hr and about 6 hours a day. A public program like that, plus private neighboring homeowners and abandoned properties that can use help with landscape maintenance and cleanup, snow clearance, etc. can provide benefits to the neighborhood and provide work/income to the individual in-need. Reduced hourly pay in partial exchange for shelter is a tradeoff that benefits both sides.

If you have an interest in assisting solving the problem here there are groups that have been involved with it for several years and can always use volunteers or donations of money, clothes, food. Recently Care and Compassion in Action (CCA) and it's outgrowth organization Blackbird Outreach have been particulary focused on advocating for the in-need, working to develop housing, and dispelling the broad-brush conception that "they're all bums and drug abusers". Meeting them where they are - in the streets and on the trail. Gathering information on numbers, camps, needs and connecting and advocating for them through the maze of agencies and organizations.


They have assisted in getting about 50 individuals or families into housing in the last couple of years, and offer continuing assistance in keeping them there. 

People end up on the street and camping along the stream for many reasons. Some may have had a regular life a year or so ago; car, family, job, but due to a medical issue, divorce, etc., find themselves living out of their car. Unable to maintain a regular job. That's the top of a slippery slope. Others have long term problems such as a veteran or abused spouse with PTSD, someone who after accident or operation ends up with a prescription opiate addiction, someone else has long-term mental or physical health issues that make them unable to hold conventional jobs and they need long term assistance.

We can all find a way to assist in taking care of the problem - but that means understanding the complexity and getting your hands dirty and your head in the process - ideas and assistance are welcome from all.

Money helps too. Give to organizations that focus on this issue, such as the mentioned above. There are others both secular and religious. 

Tim Dolan

#Homelessness #affordablehousing #CCA #BlackbirdOutreach

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