Saturday, February 26, 2005

Ending homelessness

Here are two stories about yesterday's announcement by Orange and Durham Counties of a commitment to end chronic homelessness in 10 years.

Mangano 1
Craig Chancellor, Triangle United Way; Sen. Ellie Kinnaird; Philip Mangano, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness; Martha Are, N.C. Interagency Council for Coordinating Homelessness Programs.

Mangano 2
Orange County Commissioner Moses Carey; Philip Mangano; Durham Mayor Bill Bell; Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy; Durham Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden; Craig Chancellor.
Philip Mangano, head of the federal homelessness initiative, is an impressive voice for the voiceless. (I didn't take notes, but here's a representative stump speech.) For twenty years, he said, the community response to homelessness has been to manage it, to contain (or hide) people as best it could be done, with the hope that the problem would go away. But something has changed:

We're no longer satisfied with managing the problem, maintenancing the effort, or accommodating the response. We have a new standard. Abolishing homelessness.

That's right, he's an abolitionist, and he embraces the obvious comparison.

Billie Guthrie, chair of the Orange County Community Initiative to End Homelessness, reported the results of the annual homeless count just conducted.

Total Number of Homeless People Counted in January 2005: 230

Homeless people in families: 59
--Homeless families with children are among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. Indeed, in one year in Orange County, there has been a 40% growth in this population.

Homeless individuals: 171

Homeless children: 38
--Represents 16.5% of our total population.

Homeless people with a history of domestic violence: 48
--Battered women who live in poverty are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness. This population represents 21% of our total homeless population.

Chronically homeless people: 70
--Most startling and most telling statistic is that the chronic homeless now represent 30% of our total population, well above the national average of 10%. These folks are disabled individuals who remain continuously homeless or constantly cycling in and out of homelessness. Research shows they are also very hard to serve and consume a disproportionately large amount of costly community resources (i.e. emergency shelter resources, police and EMS resources and hospital visits).

We have our work cut out for us. There's reason to be skeptical, with the Bush administration slashing one useful program after another (Section 8 housing vouchers for example). But there are also real reasons for hope.

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