Word One

Cure for Homelessness: a Home

Cities are learning that shelters alone aren’t the answer to homelessness. Once people are in permanent housing, their lives can be stabilized through supportive services. Meanwhile, in Ventura, California, instead of trying to run the homeless out of town like in some places, the city has allowed a community of tents to occupy city land near the banks of the Santa Clara River. The city manager said authorities recognized that housing is scarce in Ventura.

The camp, called “River Haven,” like a suburban subdivision, is “a result of a partnership among the city, a local nonprofit and the homeless themselves.”

The residents have created a self-governing community with rules: No drugs or alcohol. No fighting. No littering, No loud music. Attend regular meetings. Help out with chores. “For people who have long been untethered, it’s remarkable how quickly they have become like any other homeowners group,” wrote a correspondent for Tribune Newspapers.

The camp is primitive, with lantern light and outhouses. One resident said, “We’ve come a long way, but we’re still on the low rung of the ladder. But at least it’s a step in the right direction.” He and some of the others previously were sleeping under a bridge.

Similar tent cities for the homeless have been allowed in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. They are “a good alternative for the unsheltered homeless” until permanent housing can be provided for the poor, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

In Chicago, the Partnership to End Homelessness, a coalition of 84 agencies backed by the city, developed a 10-year plan to end homelessness that is making progress. There still isn’t enough housing to meet the need, but by the end of 2006 the number of supportive housing units will have risen to 6,200.

Part of the program is to help prevent homelessness in the first place. In the first half of 2006, 1,800 persons have received emergency assistance. StreetWise reported examples such as a pregnant mother of two given only 14 days notice to vacate an apartment and a mother with four young children fleeing domestic violence who needed a security deposit. The agency helps find new apartments for the most urgent cases.

This article appeared in the October 2006 (Volume 34, Number 4) issue of Word One.

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