Homeless NIMBID: Not In My Business Improvement District FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 9 Feb 1999 18:27:53 -0800 (PST)

FWD  Christian Science Monitor - February 6, 1999


     By David Holmstrom

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (February 6, 1999 10:17 a.m. EST
http://www.nandotimes.com) - Walking into the Traveler's Aid Society
downtown office can be a way off the streets for the homeless. Not a
promise but an opportunity.

Since 1894, the society has grown into a full-service agency. Social
workers and volunteers help the sometimes or chronically homeless with
child care, job training, education, health care, and drug rehabilitation.

"The difficulty is in figuring out how to reach most of the people who come
here," says Marion Avarista, president of Traveler's Aid. "So many of the
underlying problems can take a long time to root out."

Traveler's Aid Society here is part of a national network, with offices in
hundreds of cities offering differing levels of services.

A recent report on homelessness by the U.S. Conference of Mayors says 38
percent of homeless people in the 30 major cities studied are substance
abusers; 24 percent are considered mentally ill; and 8 percent have been
diagnosed with AIDS or HIV-related illnesses.

The all-important question, Avarista says, is which came first, the
problems or the homelessness?

"Did these conditions cause people to become homeless," she says, "or did
they rapidly occur because of being homeless?"

Avarista contends that the first step in addressing the needs has to be
stable housing. "This has to happen in order to address the other
problems," she says. "But you just can't give someone an apartment or help
them find an apartment and let them go. So, you need housing with
supportive services."

To do this Traveler's Aid offers Crossroads, a residential program in
nearby North Kingstown, R.I., with 57 apartments for transitional living.
"It's a two-year program," says Avarista, "with wraparound services, child
care, jobs, education, everything." Average rent for a two bedroom
apartment in Rhode Island in l997 was $648, well beyond the reach of half
of all renters in the state, according to the Rhode Island Emergency Food
and Shelter Board.

Some 800 women with children, fleeing domestic abuse, spent time in
Providence shelters in l997, a number that has stayed fairly static over
the last few years here. In many states the number of women fleeing
domestic abuse is on the increase.

Still, with all the help Crossroads provides, the success rate is about 58
percent. "Other places report about a 25 percent success rate," Avarista
says, "so we are grateful, but two years isn't long enough. Some of these
people will need supportive services for 10 to 15 years. But at least they
are functioning, and when there is a crisis in their lives, they won't fall
apart and go back to their old ways."

Avarista has cobbled together some 50 different funding sources to reach a
budget of $2.8 million. But the business community in downtown Providence
wants Traveler's Aid to move. "They have never faulted our services," says
Avarista, "but they feel we are a detriment here. The downtown area is
going through a renaissance and they think we don't fit."

Many cities now criminalize use of public spaces by the homeless, and like
Providence, do not want the homeless downtown.

After several attempts to relocate to other buildings, which triggered
protests from those neighborhoods, Avarista says they want to buy the
building they occupy now. "The city wants to turn it into a parking lot,"
she says, "but we're determined to stay."


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