Editorial: Help for homeless more targeted, effective
We see the impact of the recession in quarterly corporate reports and state budget forecasts each week in the paper.
But local social service agencies saw a more personal side of economic downturn last week in the faces of people seeking a helping hand with basic needs. About 40 agencies offered a variety of assistance Tuesday as part of Project Homeless Connect at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena Conference Center.
The 200 people who showed up not only picked up gloves and coats, but also information about referral services for everything from Social Security to job placement and health assessments. Sponsored by the Cabell-Huntington-Wayne Continuum of Care and the Cabell-Huntington Coalition for the Homeless, the event serves as a reminder about the challenges many poor people face.
Homelessness is a timeless issue, but most Americans became more conscious of the problem in the 1970s, as homeless populations became more visible in urban areas.
Since then, we have learned that the ups and downs of the economy, changing approaches to treatment of the mentally ill, more prevalent substance abuse and a host of other issues contribute to homelessness.
In recent years, studies and programs have done a better job of identifying the "chronically homeless" as a separate part of the problem. Often wrestling with mental illness and substance abuse, they may spend years on the streets.
In the Tri-State, experts estimate that the chronically homeless make up only about 15 percent of the total homeless population, but they use more than half the resources devoted to the homeless -- everything from shelter stays to emergency room visits.
The good news is that new strategies are emerging to help reduce that population, including more access to permanent housing and improved, sustained counseling. Moreover the Department of Veterans Affairs has targeted billions in recent years for the vets that make up part of that chronic population. This month, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki reported that the number of homeless veterans has dropped 18 percent over the last two years.
The bad news is that local agencies are seeing more homeless families and children affected by a range of economic and domestic problems.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that than 8 million people nationally and 54,000 in West Virginia fall into the category of "the working poor," defined as people who are employed at least 27 weeks of the year, but live at or beneath the poverty level.
For many of those households, one bump in the road -- lost work hours, an illness or other financial setback -- can lead to homelessness. Fortunately, the stimulus funding and other programs provide more resources to help people about to lose their housing or offer rapid re-housing if they do.
That is why events such as Project Homeless Connect are important. There is help available, but different people need different types of assistance.
It is good to see our community providing help that is more targeted and effective.
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