Dan Lawlor: Time to End Homelessness in Providence
Tuesday, February 07, 2012
I've heard it said, "Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped away."
Here are some statistics:
According to the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, “Approximately 18% of the homeless population in Rhode Island is considered chronically homeless - that is, they have been homeless multiple times over a period of years or for years at a time.”
8% of Rhode Island's homeless are military veterans.
12% of Rhode Island's homeless are employed.
19% have drug or alcohol abuse problems.
- In 2010, 4,396 people were homeless, up from 3,851 people in 2007, according to the Providence Journal.
Yet here's another fact. We can eliminate chronic homelessness. Worcester has. Quincy has. Providence should.
Housing First Models– providing housing to those chronically on the street, and support and intervention to help them become engaged, productive members of society is key. Some will say the “Poor will always be with you.” Certainly true – but the financially poor need not freeze to death on the street, nor the mentally ill be allowed to live without some support, friend or ally. For that matter, spending millions to serve people once they've reached a crisis point, instead of intervening early to help empower them, doesn't make sense. Rhode Island now has a 10 year plan to end homelessness - but surely it can be done faster.
As a state community, we choose how to respond to the chronically poor. Most absurdly, in the last few years, the overcrowded Welcome Arnold shelter in Cranston was knocked down (at a cost of 3.8 million dollars!) for a state police barracks that was never built. In response to subsequent budget challenges, churches were asked to pick up the slack.
Yet, there is hope! Just north, in Worcester, MA chronic homelessness has nearly been abolished. In 2007, Worcester embarked on a three-year plan to end homeless - and it worked. According to Social Impact Research, the task force's main priority was to provide housing options, then intervene with supports for mental illness and addiction, and provide individuals the support to define their own goals. Moving from shelters and sidewalks to housing first, people are able to recollect their lives, and build new opportunities. Providence should follow Worcester and Quincy.
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