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Housing homeless cheaper than leaving them on streets

Jill Ziemann

So Top Hat is getting the boot.I couldn’t help but cringe at this cute headline in the May 14 Post Independent.Thank you to the county sheriff’s department for explaining to Top Hat why his home was not safe. And did you direct him to a safe place to live? Of course, a culvert under Highway 133 is no place for a human to live.But where should our “hobos” live? I don’t know Top Hat personally, but I wonder what he would say if he was offered a safe place to live in peace. I administer a grant from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless for homeless families in Garfield County. In the interest of education, I’d like to put out a few figures discussed at their recent annual conference regarding homelessness in America:How many?-At least 3.5 million people are likely to experience homelessness at least once a year.-Approximately 1.35 million, or 39 percent, of homeless people are children.-89 percent have neither public nor private health care.-36-45 percent are employed (that’s right, employed).-52 percent of families requesting shelter have to be turned away for lack of room.Sadly, this statistic reflects our own community. Karolyn Spencer at Salvation Army was forced to turn away over 20 families this January 2002 who requested eviction prevention assistance. Why?-Lack of affordable housing and poverty are the underlying causes of homelessness in the United States.-The shortfall in affordable housing for the very poorest households now stands at 3.3 million housing units.-In every town, city and state, working full time at minimum wage is not enough to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at fair market rental rates. Locally, it’s not even close.-Welfare benefits and food stamps combined are below the poverty level in every state; in fact the median welfare benefit for a family of three is approximately one-third of the poverty level.-Nearly a third of persons living in poverty have no health insurance of any kind.-Lack of appropriate outreach and treatment programs contribute to homelessness for people suffering from disabilities such as addiction and mental illness. It’s hard to treat someone who’s sleeping in a cave, culvert or car.Impacts?-20 percent of homeless adults eat one meal a day or less. (Thank you Extended Table and LIFT-UP.)-46 percent of homeless adults report having serious health conditions; 26 percent report having acute infectious conditions. Ask the hospital’s emergency room staff.-Homeless children are in fair or poor health twice as often as other children, twice as likely to experience hunger, four times more likely to have delayed development, and twice as likely as other children to repeat a grade. Ask any teacher, it’s hard to educate someone who has no home. The people in this valley are caring. We have some excellent programs, such as Extended Table, LIFT-UP, Salvation Army, Advocate Safehouse, Mountain Valley Developmental Services, Colorado West Mental Health, and our churches and schools, to name but a few.With kindness and compassion, they get enormous results on small compensation and budgets. The workers in our county social service departments are dedicated and overworked.But the current goal of our government is to get people off the welfare rolls, not an end to poverty. One third of Americans are one paycheck away from poverty. Fifteen million Americans are paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing. Believe that we can do better. If you want to find out how to help, contact the National Coalition for the Homeless at http://www.nationalhomeless.org., or write to them at 1012 14th St. N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005-3471.There are some exciting things happening in communities across America to end the suffering of the homeless. Communities are building safe, single-room occupancy units for homeless persons like Top Hat, places where they can live in peace without fear of being victims of crime and hate.Amazingly, these places can be built and run at a cost far lower than what it costs cities and county governments in health, medical and legal services to leave them on the streets. Locally, there are many opportunities to become involved. The most pressing item on our local agenda is transitional housing for working families. I’ve been working for over two years with this population, and the number of homeless working families is growing in our area.These are not transient people – they were once your neighbors, or your neighbor’s children and grandchildren, who consider this valley their home.Contact Karolyn Spencer at Salvation Army (945-6976) to find out how you can contribute. Mother Teresa said that the greatest disease in the world today is being unwanted. This valley raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for our furry friends. Shouldn’t we shelter our unwanted humans with the same kindness?Meanwhile, let’s pray that Top Hat finds a safe home and that he and his family find the help they need to weather yet another lonely hurdle in the life of a “hobo”. Jill Ziemann is a case manager for Catholic Charities of the Western Slope, Archdiocese of Denver, Glenwood Springs office. She can be reached at 384-2060. The above figures are taken from the “National Coalition for the Homeless: Bringing America Home” brochure, based on reports by the U.S. Conference of Mayors 2001, the Urban Institute, 2000, and the Interagency Council on the Homeless.


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