[Hpn] County hopes to slash homeless by 50 percent

William Charles Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Wed, 22 Mar 2006 19:23:14 -0500


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      County hopes to slash homeless by 50 percent=20

    =20
      By Rick Wood

      Mar 22 2006=20
      Daniel Hester is homeless and spends his nights sheltered by a =
tarp in Oak Harbor. Nights right now can be bone chilling and damp, =
fraught with dangers inherent to existing on handouts.=20
      Originally from Tennesee, Hester fell on hard times, disconnected =
from family and ended up on the streets. At 51 and disabled, his =
prospects of returning to the rank and file of the working class appear =
dismal.=20
      Hester is not beaten by circumstance, however, and is a very =
cordial fellow with an abundance of optimism about the kindness of =
strangers.=20
      "Oak Harbor has a lot of generous people," he said while =
panhandling in the downtown area. "You don't get a lot of people =
harassing you here. Sometimes some young people will yell 'get a job' =
and I tell them this is my job. Mostly, I mind my own business ... and I =
don't yell back."=20
      Hester, an individual living on the streets and asking for =
handouts, does not fall within the scope of the typical homeless person =
here on Whidbey Island.=20
      The issue of homelessness in Island County has become more =
complicated. Defining who is "homeless" and what aid, if any, can be =
afforded them is becoming increasingly complex. Families, the mentally =
ill or elderly persons displaced without refuge or means of support are =
now listed as homeless.=20
      Both federal and state budget cuts have hurt those in need. There =
are several gaps in homeless services as identified by the Island County =
Homeless Task Force in the county's newly-adopted Homeless Housing Plan. =

      The task force plan sets forth the goal of reducing the number of =
homeless persons and families in Island County by 50 percent by 2015.=20
      There are those who might say Island County does not need to spend =
time or resources on this issue. The statistical information about =
homeless people in this community shows that homelessness is not a =
critical problem at the moment.=20
      The Homeless Housing Plan would cost a total of $107,887 in =
staffing and administrative costs for 2006. Part of the plan calls for =
$37,000 for home matching services with the Whidbey Island Share-A-Home =
program.=20
      "If they're going to provide 100 homes that's one thing, 20 homes =
may not be worth it," Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell said at a =
recent county staff session. "I question the value of spending $1,200 in =
(administrative costs) per home placement."=20
      The bulk of the funds are earmarked for the Island County =
Opportunity Council and the Whidbey Island Share-A-Home programs. The =
money will assist 50 families and over 25 individuals find transitional =
housing.=20
      A recent national study shows that families are now the fastest =
growing segment of the homeless population, accounting for almost 39 =
percent of the nation's homeless.=20
      The Homeless Task Force report shows a population of 84 homeless =
people on Whidbey Island in 2005. This population is mostly made up of =
homeless families with children. A count in January conducted by the =
Whidbey Island Opportunity Council puts the homeless total higher at =
148. Those numbers account for the "unsheltered" people only, according =
to the Opportunity Council. The total number of homeless may be much =
more. Some people move from house to house, living with friends and =
relatives as space is available.=20
      "Homelessness and rent assistance has gone up quite a bit. We're =
swamped," said Julia Sopaski of the Opportunity Council, describing an =
increase in requests for help.=20
      A long-term plan developed by the task force advises there should =
be more outreach in the community, more supportive housing and a =
"homeless housing specialist" to prevent evictions. These steps are =
considered necessary to deal with the projected homeless population in =
the next ten years.=20
      "People always think of people in boxes living under a bridge. No, =
here we have mostly families," Sopaski said. "Housing prices are going =
up but wages are not."=20
      "There has also been a rise in older folks who are homeless," =
Sopaski added.=20
      Sopaski remains optimistic about helping those families in need. =
"We have been pretty successful because we work with the Island County =
Housing Authority providing transitional housing," she said.=20
      Whidbey Island does not face the epidemic of homelessness that =
higher population centers do. In Seattle, during a one-night count in =
2003, researchers found over 7,500 homeless people. Other metropolitan =
areas have fared much worse. Los Angeles had an estimated 91,000 =
homeless people in 2005.=20
      The Island County Homeless Housing Task Force's ten-year plan also =
advocates for increased support for the Washington Families Fund and =
recommends that policy makers "view homelessness as a disaster just as =
devastating as hurricanes, earthquakes or other natural disasters."=20
      For those who live without the certainty, personal protection and =
shelter of a home, changing their circumstances becomes a matter of =
survival.=20

      How to find help=20
      Individuals or families in need of housing can contact: Island =
County Opportunity Council, 791 NE 1st Ave., PO Box 922, Oak Harbor WA =
98277. Call 679-6577, 800-317-5427, or fax 360-679-2440.=20


      Or, contact the Housing Authority of Island County, 7 NW 6th =
Street, Coupeville WA 98239-3400. Call 678-4181.=20
    =20



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      =
href=3D"http://www.whidbeynewstimes.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=3D84&=
amp;cat=3D23&amp;id=3D&amp;more=3D">
      <DIV=20
      align=3Dleft><!--added on October11 too fix justification =
errors--><FONT=20
      face=3DVerdana color=3D#000066 size=3D3><B>County hopes to slash =
homeless by 50=20
      percent</B> </FONT></DIV></A><BR><BR></TD></TR>
  <TR>
    <TD>
      <DIV=20
      align=3Dleft><!--added on October11 too fix justification =
errors--><FONT=20
      face=3DVerdana size=3D1><B>By Rick Wood</B></FONT></DIV>
      <DIV align=3Dleft><FONT face=3DVerdana size=3D1><BR><I>Mar 22 =
2006</I></FONT>=20
      </DIV>
      <P align=3Dleft><FONT face=3DVerdana size=3D2>Daniel Hester is =
homeless and=20
      spends his nights sheltered by a tarp in Oak Harbor. Nights right =
now can=20
      be bone chilling and damp, fraught with dangers inherent to =
existing on=20
      handouts. <BR>Originally from Tennesee, Hester fell on hard times, =

      disconnected from family and ended up on the streets. At 51 and =
disabled,=20
      his prospects of returning to the rank and file of the working =
class=20
      appear dismal. <BR>Hester is not beaten by circumstance, however, =
and is a=20
      very cordial fellow with an abundance of optimism about the =
kindness of=20
      strangers. <BR>=93Oak Harbor has a lot of generous people,=94 he =
said while=20
      panhandling in the downtown area. =93You don=92t get a lot of =
people harassing=20
      you here. Sometimes some young people will yell =91get a job=92 =
and I tell=20
      them this is my job. Mostly, I mind my own business ... and I =
don=92t yell=20
      back.=94 <BR>Hester, an individual living on the streets and =
asking for=20
      handouts, does not fall within the scope of the typical homeless =
person=20
      here on Whidbey Island. <BR>The issue of homelessness in Island =
County has=20
      become more complicated. Defining who is =93homeless=94 and what =
aid, if any,=20
      can be afforded them is becoming increasingly complex. Families, =
the=20
      mentally ill or elderly persons displaced without refuge or means =
of=20
      support are now listed as homeless. <BR>Both federal and state =
budget cuts=20
      have hurt those in need. There are several gaps in homeless =
services as=20
      identified by the Island County Homeless Task Force in the =
county=92s=20
      newly-adopted Homeless Housing Plan. <BR>The task force plan sets =
forth=20
      the goal of reducing the number of homeless persons and families =
in Island=20
      County by 50 percent by 2015. <BR>There are those who might say =
Island=20
      County does not need to spend time or resources on this issue. The =

      statistical information about homeless people in this community =
shows that=20
      homelessness is not a critical problem at the moment. <BR>The =
Homeless=20
      Housing Plan would cost a total of $107,887 in staffing and =
administrative=20
      costs for 2006. Part of the plan calls for $37,000 for home =
matching=20
      services with the Whidbey Island Share-A-Home program. <BR>=93If =
they=92re=20
      going to provide 100 homes that=92s one thing, 20 homes may not be =
worth=20
      it,=94 Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell said at a recent =
county staff=20
      session. =93I question the value of spending $1,200 in =
(administrative=20
      costs) per home placement.=94 <BR>The bulk of the funds are =
earmarked for=20
      the Island County Opportunity Council and the Whidbey Island =
Share-A-Home=20
      programs. The money will assist 50 families and over 25 =
individuals find=20
      transitional housing. <BR>A recent national study shows that =
families are=20
      now the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, =
accounting for=20
      almost 39 percent of the nation=92s homeless. <BR>The Homeless =
Task Force=20
      report shows a population of 84 homeless people on Whidbey Island =
in 2005.=20
      This population is mostly made up of homeless families with =
children. A=20
      count in January conducted by the Whidbey Island Opportunity =
Council puts=20
      the homeless total higher at 148. Those numbers account for the=20
      =93unsheltered=94 people only, according to the Opportunity =
Council. The total=20
      number of homeless may be much more. Some people move from house =
to house,=20
      living with friends and relatives as space is available. =
<BR>=93Homelessness=20
      and rent assistance has gone up quite a bit. We=92re swamped,=94 =
said Julia=20
      Sopaski of the Opportunity Council, describing an increase in =
requests for=20
      help. <BR>A long-term plan developed by the task force advises =
there=20
      should be more outreach in the community, more supportive housing =
and a=20
      =93homeless housing specialist=94 to prevent evictions. These =
steps are=20
      considered necessary to deal with the projected homeless =
population in the=20
      next ten years. <BR>=93People always think of people in boxes =
living under a=20
      bridge. No, here we have mostly families,=94 Sopaski said. =
=93Housing prices=20
      are going up but wages are not.=94 <BR>=93There has also been a =
rise in older=20
      folks who are homeless,=94 Sopaski added. <BR>Sopaski remains =
optimistic=20
      about helping those families in need. =93We have been pretty =
successful=20
      because we work with the Island County Housing Authority providing =

      transitional housing,=94 she said. <BR>Whidbey Island does not =
face the=20
      epidemic of homelessness that higher population centers do. In =
Seattle,=20
      during a one-night count in 2003, researchers found over 7,500 =
homeless=20
      people. Other metropolitan areas have fared much worse. Los =
Angeles had an=20
      estimated 91,000 homeless people in 2005. <BR>The Island County =
Homeless=20
      Housing Task Force=92s ten-year plan also advocates for increased =
support=20
      for the Washington Families Fund and recommends that policy makers =
=93view=20
      homelessness as a disaster just as devastating as hurricanes, =
earthquakes=20
      or other natural disasters.=94 <BR>For those who live without the =
certainty,=20
      personal protection and shelter of a home, changing their =
circumstances=20
      becomes a matter of survival. <BR><BR>How to find help =
<BR>Individuals or=20
      families in need of housing can contact: Island County Opportunity =

      Council, 791 NE 1st Ave., PO Box 922, Oak Harbor WA 98277. Call =
679-6577,=20
      800-317-5427, or fax 360-679-2440. </FONT></P>
      <P align=3Dleft><FONT face=3DVerdana size=3D2><BR>Or, contact the =
Housing=20
      Authority of Island County, 7 NW 6th Street, Coupeville WA =
98239-3400.=20
      Call 678-4181.</FONT>=20
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