Homelessness no longer hidden

April 27, 2013

Being a member of the team that produced the first stories in a continuing series on homelessness in Washington and Greene counties reinforced my belief that compassionate, caring individuals can have a major impact on a segment of our population that needs so much, yet asks for so little.

The homelessness team did an extraordinary job in presenting as complete a picture as possible of the situation in the two counties, offering necessary but admittedly dry statistics that help explain what is being done to ease the burdens of those who have “No Place to Call Home,” to inspiring stories of individuals living in ways few of us can imagine.

As I proceeded through research and interviews, there was one explanation I found that seemed to capture the big picture. It came out of a board meeting I attended of the Greene County Human Services Department. Unfortunately I cannot recall who said it (so many agencies were presented), but it stuck and had a profound impact.

It went like this: “While circumstances can vary, the main reason people experience homelessness is because they cannot find housing they can afford. It is the scarcity of affordable housing in the United States, particularly in more urban areas where homelessness is more prevalent, that is behind their inability to acquire or maintain housing.”

Of course, if there was adequate housing, people would not be living on the streets. That makes sense.

Having worked in Greene County for more than a decade now, I cannot recall seeing people huddled under blanket, sleeping in doorways or on park benches. That is not the face of homelessness in Greene County.

In major cities, and to some degree in neighboring Washington County, there is “chronic homelessness,” involving either long-term or repeated bouts of homelessness coupled with physical or mental disabilities. People experiencing chronic homelessness often end up living in shelters and consume a plurality of the homeless assistance system’s resources.

That is not my definition. It came from the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The national alliance goes on to say that it’s a common misconception that this group represents the majority of the homeless population. Rather, it accounts for just fewer than 16 percent of the entire homeless population.

I have in the course of my career worked on other series, including those on the subjects of teen sex, poverty and education. But I must say, the people whom I met while writing the homeless series are some of the most dedicated and caring individuals around.

I also had the privilege, and I don’t use that word lightly, of meeting two special people, who through their own difficulties in life, were willing to share their stories to perhaps help others in similar situations. Thank you Zabryna and Ashley for having the courage to “come out” and expose heart-wrenching details of your lives that I suspect was not easy do.

And to Karen Bennett, and her staff at the Greene County Human Services Department, you people are doing wonderful things under difficult budgetary restraints. Yet without you, chronic homelessness could one day define Greene County.

I know that won’t happen and as a member of the homelessness team planning our next installment, I am hopeful the public has taken notice of what we have addressed so far and is ready to stand up and join in the mission to help those impacted by some of life’s circumstances over which they have no control.

No longer can anyone say homelessness, in one form or another, does not affect them.



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