William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Fri, 9 Sep 2005 01:24:00 -0400


Facing a growing homeless population

By Doug Keeler, Midway Driller Editor
Call them the invisible homeless.

You don't see them sleeping under bridges or in doorways.

But they are in our community and their numbers are growing.

"They're living in the street, in car, in shelters, living with other family
members, motels, going from home to home," said Sandy Koenig of the Together
We Can Collaborative, which hosted the meeting.

A group of representatives from law enforcement, schools, government and
social service providers met yesterday to begins discussing the problem and
ways to help those with no place to stay.

Homelessness in the Taft area is on the increase, the social service
providers agreed.

Yesterday's meeting of the collaborative gave the people involved in
deadline with the problem a chance to get together and compare notes as well
as discuss the causes and effects of homelessness.

Most agreed that affordable housing is a leading factor in people losing
their homes.

Rental prices have risen dramatically in recent weeks.

Homes and apartments have been vacated as investors have purchased them,
fixed them up and then raised the rents or sold the homes to other families.

"Property value are going up and people are selling," Koenig said. "These
people are being displaced.

Now, even small apartments are too expensive for many families to afford.
Apartments in the Victory Square area of Ford City now go for as much as
$525 per month.

Mike Long, who works with Laborers of the Harvest, said many families have
been forced out of homes they lived in by the higher rents. Long said they
came to his food bank seeking help with expenses.

"We get calls every day from people needing help for their PG&E bill, help
for housing. We say 'We can help you with food,'" Long said.

Kathy Johnson of the Alpha House Women's Shelter, said fewer affordable
rental properties mean fewer choices for people looking for homes, forcing
them to stay with relatives - when they can.

Moving from relative to relative - called "couch surfing" -- is one way
people avoid living on the streets.

Government assistance only goes so far. A family of three gets $689 in cash,
food stamps and Medi-Cal coverage each month, but that doesn't go very far
with much higher rents.

A single parent with a child gets the food stamps and medical coverage and
$555 per month.

Higher rents are the only thing that displace people.

Taft Fire Department Capt. Roy Heimiller said fires leave people without
homes. The Red Cross offers clothing vouchers and up to three nights lodging
in a local motel, but no long term help.

Solutions to the problem were hard to come by. One suggestion was Self-Help
Housing, which has been tried in other cities, or transitional housing to
allow people to stay temporarily after they have been displaced and are
looking for another home waiting for financial assistance.

""Some of these people will find something. They just need the time," Koenig