Unraveling the issue of homelessness is clearly a complicated matter.
Otherwise, it wouldn’t be an issue that continues to confound cities and towns throughout the nation, including the communities of Franklin County.
Some of the basic facts are simple. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “there are 633,782 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States” and of that number, 239,403 are men, women and children in families.
Within the overall homelessness numbers, there’s a group classified as the “chronically homeless.” The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines chronically homeless as someone “who has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years and has a disability.” This group may be the public face of homelessness, but it actually only makes up roughly 16 percent of the entire homeless number.
Of course, poverty is a significant contributing factor to all this.
But now, the mayor of Greenfield, the county’s center of social services for the poor, and the heads of the area agencies that work to help the poor and disadvantaged, have formed a task force to address homelessness where we live.
The individuals who have joined the task force — drawn from the ranks of social service agencies, housing programs and religious organizations — come with various degrees of experience when it comes to homelessness in Greenfield and elsewhere in the county. That is a plus here, as that experience provides different lessons on what works or doesn’t, therefore allowing this task force to avoid hitting some roadblocks to addressing the issue here — and perhaps enhancing the ability to tap into the necessary state, federal and private sources of money.
They all come to the table, though, knowing that there are men and women, individuals and families, whose lives are controlled by the instability and fears of having no home, as well as socio-economic factors.
And it’s good to see that there’s recognition that the issue goes far beyond simply having no place to go.
In Saturday’s Recorder, John Counter, executive director of the Greenfield Housing Authority, touched upon that very point. He said that any effort can’t end with the creation of new affordable housing. It “... will have to come massive amounts of support for people.” And when it comes to the chronically homeless, “they need so much more assistance to become sustainable, even living in public housing units.”
It is no doubt clear to the task force that there is plenty of work ahead to find solutions beyond some kind of bandage or quick fix. But we are glad to see a willingness on the part of so many groups to come together for the months or years it will take, to tackle the issue here in the county. That’s a significant first step.