The challenge of solving homelessness has many complexities, and there is no one simple answer to solving the problem. We take exception to statements authored by Dan Carpenter in an article published in The Tribune on Jan. 14.
Mr. Carpenter calls the proposed Homeless Service Center a “metaphorical albatross,” and marginalizes the professionals who work daily with the homeless population, suggesting they are corralling the homeless in a questionable manner. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We believe that the ultimate goal of any homeless services program should be the provision of safe and stable permanent housing for individuals in need, particularly those chronically homeless individuals who are ready to live independently. We agree that the availability of affordable housing is a major component of any solution and that our community must work together to increase the supply of housing.
Unfortunately, Mr. Carpenter has grossly oversimplified the predicament of homelessness and understated the importance of providing coordinated, professional support both prior to, and after, obtaining housing.
Homelessness is a devastating problem in our community. In its most recent report, Action for Healthy Communities reports that approximately 3,500 people were homeless at some point in 2013, with nearly 90 percent unsheltered. The reasons for their circumstances are diverse. Some have suffered a devastating setback such as the loss of a job, a divorce, or a critical health problem.
Others are the chronically homeless who have lived on the streets, under bridges or in creek beds for years. They suffer from various disabilities, mental health problems, and/or addictions to alcohol or drugs. These are the people most vulnerable and in the greatest need of assistance in obtaining and maintaining permanent housing.
Mr. Carpenter identifies the Housing First approach as the only course for addressing homelessness. He promotes the eventual elimination of both day and shelter services, and the individuals who provide services at these locations, including case managers, medical and mental health care professionals and housing specialists. He says the faith-based community “could and should” provide these services.
We recognize and are extremely grateful for our faith-based community that already provides everyevening volunteer sheltering services to our homeless population. These volunteers are wonderful. But they cannot supplant the services that trained staff provides.
While we agree with the basic principles of the Housing First approach, it is unrealistic to suggest, as Mr. Carpenter has, that every chronically homeless individual or family can go directly from the streets into permanent housing. This is the purpose for, and the reason why, our community needs a singlesource Homeless Service Center. As proposed, it will consolidate the activities at the Prado Day Center, Maxine Lewis Overnight Shelter and the faith-based evening overflow locations. In one location, individuals can access medical, mental health, drug and alcohol, housing, and job-training services. The Homeless Service Center stresses an individualized, transitional approach that respects individuals and families, assists them in dealing with personal issues and problems, and supports them so that they can live on their own.
There is no single answer or cure-all solution for the problem of homelessness. It is not about shiny brass plaques, nor is it an either/or proposition. It is a collective problem and one our community needs to stand together to address. A comprehensive, collaborative plan must include a Homeless Services Center as part of a multifaceted solution so individuals and families can successfully obtain and maintain permanent housing.
We would ask that Mr. Carpenter stop pointing fingers, look at the facts as part of an objective dialogue, and work proactively with the entire community to solve the problem of homelessness.