Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Chronic Homeless

The first Shelter Board established twenty years ago set the goal of assisting the homeless of our area. That goal has not changed to this day. What has changed is the role of our one homeless shelter.

When the shelter first opened its operations were limited to the cold weather months and the location rotated from local church halls and later found a home at Maury School. At first any homeless person, regardless of condition, was allowed in. I remember breaking up fights, and intervening in disturbances before they became violent, as a volunteer shelter worker. Over time the focus of the shelter shifted from an emergency cold weather shelter into one that today is open year round and provides services and educational opportunities to get people and families back on their feet. The Thurman Brisban Shelter has become what HUD would define as a transitional shelter.

In making its transition the Thurman Brisban Shelter has excluded those who are defined as the chronic homeless. Those who, for reasons known to them, refuse help, or due to mental or abuse issues cannot function normally. While you may have little sympathy for these individuals they cannot be ignored-- not only on basic humanitarian grounds but also on economic ones. To ignore these individuals come with a cost in services such as, medical, police, and social. And as reported, HUD funding for the region is at risk for all homeless programs.

As reported in the Free Lance Star, this region had one of the lowest HUD scores in the state when it comes to dealing with the homeless issue. For those who complain that we are attracting homeless to our region this fact should dispel that belief. Both to our north and south programs have been put in place, the majority by private organizations and church groups, to provide needed services for their homeless populations. And there in lies the key—private participation. While government has a role to play in assisting with resources, most homeless programs are run by local non-profits.

A non-profit organization of Fredericksburg churches known as Micah is prepared to take on the role of assisting the chronic homeless in our area. What they need from local governments is assistance in finding a location from which to operate. From the community they will need volunteers, financial support, and understanding.

As reported in the Free Lance Star we are going to step up, hopefully regionally, and help provide a facility to provide basic services to the chronic homeless in our region. Micah will be in charge of the facility and actively seek financial support from grants and the private sector to help keep it running.

In recent conversations with Micah representatives it was agreed that the focus should be on taking care of the homeless in our region. They have been providing bus fare home to some who have come into the area, and are prepared to work with localities on the issue of panhandling and related issues.

For our part, we must not forget that we are dealing with human beings. Some of who are dealing with issues beyond their control and other who have difficulty coping with the circumstances of life. Lets us view them with a little more compassion and a little less contempt.

I would like to hear your concerns, questions, and suggestions on how we should approach homelessness in our region.

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