Homelessness is a growing problem in Fort Collins, though, it is not as apparent to some as it is to others, it still exists. Something needs to be done to help these homeless people out, but there is a problem that stands in the way. Who is to handle the homeless problem? What is the appropriate role of the government to solve the problem? Should the government have total control of the situation, or should it step back completely, and not be a factor at all in the solution? When the old African proverb says, "It takes a whole village. . . " it's not too far off the mark.
To solve the problem, and to help these homeless people, there needs to be a community of people and agencies in cooperation with one another, including the government, dedicated to the cause. To understand the homeless, we first need to know what homelessness is. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary (2009), the definition of homeless is "without a home, and therefore typically living on the streets," this is true, but we have learned however, that not all people that are homeless are living on the street, sleeping on park benches, and haggling for money in Old Town.
In Fort Collins, many people are living in a home with multiple families yet, are classified as homeless. Homelessness is simply not having your own home, but most of the time, the way these people were put into this position was not so simple. In todays economy, people are not experiencing the wealth, they once were. In 2002, the U. S. Census Bureau reported over 36 million individuals lived below the poverty line (poverty line is less than $10,830 in a one person home, add $3,740 for each additional person), and this number has only gone up since.
Also in that year, over 18% of all the people that work full time were categorized as living below that poverty line. 18% of all Full-time working people couldn't pay rent or mortgage to stay in their own home. This is not the only reason people are homeless, it is often a combination of issues; a person might get sick, and lose their job, become depressed when they can't find a job in this economic downfall, and start drinking or doing drugs to contend with their problem, from there, it can lead to mental illness as well as poor health.
Natural disasters like hurricane Katrina caused a lot of people to become homeless, and more recently the fires in Boulder. Each person has a different story, and a different problem, and because each situation is different, it takes a community of people and programs with a wide array of services and ideas to help get these people back on their feet. A social worker categorizes problems in three steps: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary.
Primary includes those fighting to prevent people from becoming homeless, targeting those who are most at risk of becoming homeless, and assist them to help keep them on their feet; providers working with the goal of stopping homelessness at its source through affordable housing, jobs, and education. Secondary prevention is known as early intervention, providing quick exits, such as equipping families or individuals with appropriate housing and support; providing food, clothing, and services to those in need.
Tertiary, in any situation, is working to minimize suffering, and in the subject of homelessness, maximize the caliber of life (Council to Homeless Persons). This is done so through providing shelter, food, and medical care for those who are known as the chronic homeless. In Fort Collins, there are many people working to end homelessness. Bryce Hach, and his 10 year plan to end homelessness with the program Homeward 2020, is focused on all three levels of prevention. Working with him is Sister Mary Alice Murphy, and her Center for Hope, which provides food, housing, and job sources for those in need.
Sister Mary Alice is mainly focused on the secondary and tertiary prevention. Gary Stanford is the Director of Colorado Community and Interagency Council on Homelessness, he works directly with the government in Governor Ritter's office; his job is to aid the local agencies and the community in cooperation to help address homelessness. Some believe the government should step out of the way and let the local organizations handle the problem alone, or to the other extreme that the community needs to stand back and let the government take over. Neither of these solutions are going to be effective in handling the situation.
The problem cannot be solved with government action alone, because only the local community knows where the problem is, Chris Wolf (2010) says, "It is a community plan. It requires a unique collaboration among the city, county, school board, our faith community, foundation, corporations, our nonprofit providers and individuals, and government funding. " The nonprofit organizations can't bring in the amount of money that is needed, so the government has to step in and provide; but only the community knows where it is needed, and how to best prioritize the money.
So how will it be done, how will the state and local government and communities come together to end homelessness in Fort Collins? Bryce Hach (2010), stated that the homeless are in survival mode, constantly wondering where they will sleep, where they will eat, and where they will find clothes. Because they are preoccupied in survival mode, they are not worried about problems like mental health and drug issues. Research that was done, mostly in the 90s, has proven that as the number of homeless rises, so does the price of the community resources.
It is costing 35-150 thousand dollars per year, per person to merely keep the homeless "maintained. " Hach believes if we can get these people into stable housing, the money put into the research is going to drop, from jail and hospital charges, ambulance, fire department, etc. , because it is cheaper to give them housing than it is to leave them on the streets. If these people have a place to live, they are not going to get themselves into as many bad situations because they are not worried about where they are going to stay for the night.
He also wants to assist those who are at risk of becoming homeless. According to Gary Sanford, it cost 2-4 thousand dollars to keep a person from becoming homeless each year. A price much lower than that used to maintain a homeless individual each year. Hach's plan is to first focus on the chronic homeless, and move to the episodic homeless, all the while still focusing on those at risk of becoming homeless. The two man groups of homeless people are known as Chronic and Episodic.
Chronic being those individuals who are so use to being homeless, they almost do't know what it is like to have a place to live; and the episodic, are those individuals who have just recently become homeless because they have lost a job or something. The main focus for both the chronic and episodic homeless is supportive and affordable housing. For the chronic, more services will be available to meet the simple needs like food and clothing, with education and employment having a smaller focus, and the prevention aspect an even smaller focus.
For the episodic homeless, education and employment will be key, behind affordable housing, prevention then services following. To do this it is going to take multiple agencies to deal with individual problems. Using federal and donated money, Hach plans to work with organizations to provide housing for families and individuals, some of the organizations involved include: A Place for Peace, Care Housing, Habitat for Humanity, Fort Collins Housing Authority, Homelessness Prevention Initiative, and Neighbor to Neighbor, just to name a few. These organizations are set up to help both the homeless, and those who are on the brink of homelessness.
Other organizations like Crossroads Safe House, are set up for not only housing, but also for food, clothing, education, legal assistance, support, and advocacy. Open Door Missions also provides similar amenities. All of these organizations provide the secondary prevention, and most of them provide primary prevention; keeping in mind Hach's concept that it is easier to prevent someone from becoming homeless than it is to take a homeless person and turn them around. The main focus of these organizations, when considering both the chronic and episodic homeless, is to move people into housing, and help them stay in housing.
Other organizations such as the Larimer County Workforce Center, and Sister Mary Alice Murphy Center for Hope are offering help in finding a job that would best match an individuals needs, they are also offering educational resources for those trying to put their lives on better tracks. Once again these facilities are open not only for the homeless, but also those who need assistance in anyway. Medical centers and the Police Department are dedicated to enhance the quality of life by providing cost effective services for those in need.
Because many of the homeless with substance abuse problems also have a mental illness to assist them, the Larimer Center for Mental Health, and The United Way of Larimer County are offering their services at an affordable price to lend a hand for those who are in need of their help. The medical and civic organizations are fighting homelessness through primary and tertiary prevention; helping those who need assistance, but are not homeless, and those that are probably in a chronic homeless situation, who are trying to better their caliber of life.
In the long run, you're not creating another layer of work for everyone, just trying to get what's going on to be more efficient and effective to meet needs of your homeless clients. That said, you need a decision-making process and real leadership because not everyone is going to agree. -Samantha Batko, National Alliance to End Homelessness Though people will still argue over what role the government should play in order to end homelessness, there is only one answer to the problem.
Together, the local community needs to be in cooperation with the federal government at all times to make Hach's plan work. Without enough funding federally, the whole Homeward 2020 plan will fall through; and without the help of the community, the federal government would be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in services that were not aiding the cause of homelessness in the degree that Homeward 2020 and its participants are trying to accomplish. We all need to band together, and volunteer to "fight for a cure" over homelessness.