[Hpn] Hurricane Response Renews Focus On Plight Of All Our Homeless In USA

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Fri, 14 Oct 2005 08:13:06 -0400


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http://www.news-leader.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051014/NEWS01/510140381

Hurricane response renews focus on plight of homeless


Aid to Katrina victims seen as a case study for potential remedies.


GANNETT NEWS SERVICE

October 14, 2005


WASHINGTON - The hurricanes have shown how suddenly people can lose
everything and how the federal government can marshal resources to deal with
a national emergency. The success in housing many of the Katrina victims
could serve as a model for ending homelessness nationwide, anti-homelessness
advocates say.
But some question whether there is the political will and money to solve the
larger problem of homelessness.



In cities across the nation that have taken in evacuees from the
hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast region, the traditional homeless think their
chronic plight has been overlooked.

"We should have gotten some attention before they (did)," said Alonzo Lynch,
49, an unemployed Washington handyman who is diabetic and schizophrenic.
"We've been here the longest. It's wrong for them to reach out to those
people and be unwilling to help the people that's already here."

Rain or shine, Lynch spends his days sitting in a Washington park, because
the nearby homeless shelter is open only at night. But the D.C. Armory
provided shelter to nearly 300 Katrina evacuees, many of whom were provided
housing in the Washington area.

Many homeless people across the nation share Lynch's view, said Michael
Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition to End Homelessness.

The "regular homeless understand Katrina survivors went through hell on
earth. But they're asking, 'What about me? Am I not as deserving?"' Stoops
said. "I don't think there's any resentment. At the same time, we need to
get everybody off the street."

HOMELESS IN SPRINGFIELD

Although Springfield has taken in several hundred hurricane evacuees from
both storms, at least two homeless men at the city's Victory Mission said
they didn't feel left out.

"I'd like to say people spending that hurricane money are very kind and
generous," said Jacob Martin, who rode with a trucker from Colorado to
Springfield two months ago. "Those hurricanes were an act of God. I think
the insurance companies should reimburse those people for every cent, and
what's not covered the federal government should pay or send it to their
survivors. I'm thankful for what the government does for me."

Martin, known on the street as "Midnight," said he has a job now and hopes
to qualify soon for subsidized housing in Springfield.

While taking a smoke break at the small Victory Mission courtyard, Jim
Whitson said he wished the government would "build fewer smart bombs and
spend more money to help out the people here."

"I've been to a lot of cities and Springfield is one of the better ones, as
far as treatment of its homeless," Whitson said. "Some places you can't get
a shower or a place to sleep. How are you supposed to go to a job if you
can't get cleaned up before work? You can take a shower here and have a
place to sleep."

Whitson said he thinks some places don't want to spend much money helping
the homeless.

"They think if you make it too pleasant they won't want to leave," he said.

The Rev. Jim Harriger, executive director of Victory Mission, said the
mission has beds for 50 men and room for 25 more in an overflow room that's
opened during bad weather. Victory Mission is almost always near capacity,
he said, and finding enough money to meet the mission's monthly expenses is
never far from his mind.

Is he jealous of the billions of dollars in hurricane aid flowing to
Louisiana and Mississippi?

"No," he said. "I don't need aid meant for the hurricane victims. It all
goes to help somebody that's in an emergency or crisis. After the storm and
you're sitting on your slab? You need help."

"Here in Springfield if you are homeless before the hurricane, you still
have the same things available to you as the week before the hurricane. So
what is there to be jealous about? If you are one of the traditionally
homeless, let's say, what did you have? Shelter, clothing, meals, programs
and a group of different agencies that do things. Everything for homeless
individuals is still there. If you want help, you can get it."

Harriger said the bigger challenge for him is "telling our story to the
community" so that area residents don't forget the local network of agencies
and groups that help the needy and homeless. With soaring heating bills
predicted this winter, he worries not only about heating Victory Mission,
but also how big bills might affect traditional donors.

"We have people now who give to us but are going to be impacted," Harriger
said.

He understands why some homeless might be envious of the massive amounts of
hurricane aid going to the "newly homeless."

"The difference is, if you're passing through poverty, you take advantage of
the services and move on," he said. "If you're chronically homeless, you
take advantage of those services and continue to be homeless. The agencies
look at you and say, 'You know you're not really serious about changing your
state.' So if I was in that position, I'd probably gripe too, because it's
easier to gripe than it is to change things."

LEARNING EXPERIENCE

In Arizona, it took just two weeks for officials to move 200 Hurricane
Katrina families from a temporary shelter in Phoenix into permanent housing
and provide them with food stamps, medical assistance and other help. The
quick response was made possible because government and nonprofit agencies
set up satellite service stations at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum being
used as a temporary shelter. Evacuees received rental assistance from the
state, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross,
while church volunteers supplied furniture and clothing.

"It was like this 'aha! moment' to everybody - the perfect case scenario
about how we end homelessness," said Meggan Medina, director of the Arizona
Coalition to End Homelessness. "If we can do this for evacuees, we can do
this for the homeless."

An estimated 22,000 people in Arizona were homeless on any given night in
2004. Nationally, an estimated 2.3 million to 3.5 million people experience
homelessness each year, but those estimates are based on a national study
conducted in the mid-1990s.

Philip Mangano, the Bush administration point person on homelessness, said
Katrina provided a learning experience for officials grappling with the
problem. The one-stop-shop concept employed in Phoenix, Raleigh and Salt
Lake City for evacuees confirmed for federal officials that they are on the
right track with National Project Homeless Connect Day.

Modeled after a program pioneered in San Francisco, public and private
agencies will make all services available to the homeless accessible at one
location in nearly 20 cities on Dec. 8.

"One aspect of Katrina is to understand this amazing response," Mangano
said. "How can we bottle that political and civic will and those responses
and make sure they're available to the historically homeless?"

Still, homeless advocates are concerned that, given the shortage of
affordable housing and the priority given to Katrina survivors, the
traditionally homeless will be without permanent housing that much longer.

Charities already are seeing a post-disaster decline in charitable giving,
and it's unclear how homeless assistance funding will fare in Washington's
cost-cutting environment to pay for Katrina.

But Mangano said he's talking with governors about how to put Katrina
successes into practice for the traditionally homeless. He added that over
the last two years, a coalition of 20 federal agencies which he heads has
been working with governors and 200 city leaders to develop a plan to end
persistent homelessness.

Federal funding for homeless programs has increased each of the last four
years, and the administration has proposed a $174 million increase over the
$1.2 billion appropriated in 2005 for HUD's homeless programs, Mangano
noted.

"We are beginning to constellate the political will," Mangano said. "It's
not happened at the speed with which Katrina happened. But, we're learning."



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

News-Leader reporters Wes Johnson and Jenny Fillmer contributed to this
report.



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