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Op Ed Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Posted by Flora Alexandra No Commented Sunday, March 9th, 2014

The Fort Worth City Council recently addressed reports on homelessness, affordable housing, and concentrated poverty.   The council understands the causes of homelessness are complex and without single, simple solutions.  But the occurrence of homelessness is not a complex problem and has a straightforward solution.  Here’s why:

·         In a city of nearly 800,000, we will always have several thousand persons unable to afford the lowest market rent for a consistent home due to disability, chronic illness, or incapacity.

·         Capacity exists (in our nonprofits, city and county agencies) to provide permanent housing, supported by skilled case managers, to keep chronically homeless persons in housing, indefinitely.

·         $6500 per year enables a nonprofit to house someone with a constellation of disabilities and health problems, reducing costs to county hospitals, emergency services, city code and police.

·         City and County have exhausted federal and state funding for homelessness.

·         Nonprofits have exhausted donors.

It’s time for citizens of Tarrant County to adequately fund permanent housing for persons struggling with chronic homelessness, (relieving over-crowded emergency shelters, streets covered with personal belongings, trash and human waste where victimization and assault is common with constant calls to police and ambulance for emergency assistance), by simply paying the rent for chronically homeless persons to live in private, stable housing.

Concerns exist that neighborhoods will not accept formerly homeless persons as their neighbors.  But, permanent supported housing is currently being quietly provided in scattered site apartments throughout our city.  Many service providers have demonstrated that programs for persons who have been homeless can be good neighbors.  No study has shown a decrease in property values due to permanent supported housing – quite the contrary.  We need council leadership, transparency, open dialogue and person to person education to work with our neighborhoods around homelessness.

We also need more investment in outreach.  Only one homeless outreach program currently connects to neighborhoods.  All our neighborhoods should have access, not only to 911, but to an agency that can respond to concerns about homeless persons, loitering, panhandling and camping.  But these outreach teams need to have rental subsidies “in their pockets” in order to successfully solve these problems.

Concentrating providers of emergency and transitional housing is very expensive and complex to manage.  The Near East Side Neighborhood Association works with its members to improve safety, sanitation, infrastructure, and development in the square mile where over 1000 homeless persons stay.  It boasts the lowest reported crime rates in the city, the best NPO, more patrol officers, and regular code service.  But it’s not enough.  NESNA members pay for private trash collection ($650 per month).  A nonprofit opens a private “park” on Saturday mornings to address the trash and traffic hazards created by street feeding.  Unreported crime is high.  Narcotics are easily available and in public use.  The Presbyterian Night Shelter is raising funds for a one year effort to open its “park” during the week and mount a private security street patrol on its property.  The NESNA is considering funding of a mobile private security officer.  The cost, $3700 per month, is beyond the capacity of its few commercial businesses.  It’s not reasonable to expect that a few tax-paying businesses in one neighborhood bear the cost of concentrated homelessness for our county.

The causes of homelessness are complex and can strike anyone.  The management of concentrated homelessness is complex.  Addressing the fact of homelessness is simple: adequately fund permanent supported housing for the cost of two Venti Mochas per Fort Worth citizen per year.  Smooth the path for persons emerging from homelessness to become our neighbors again.