DC Area's Safety Net for Homeless Can't Catch All FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 9 Nov 1998 14:54:48 -0400


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FWD  Washington Post - Sunday, October 25, 1998; Page V01


AREA'S SAFETY NET FOR HOMELESS CAN'T CATCH ALL

                        By Josh White
                        Washington Post Staff Writer


Fewer than three weeks before his makeshift home was destroyed in a roaring
fire, Eddie Cook walked into Manassas City Hall and applied for a
panhandling permit.

Cook, 38, a homeless man who can't read or write, enlisted the help of city
officials to fill out the form. When he learned he needed $25 for the
permit, he left, only to return later with about $60 in cash. City Manager
John Cartwright said he denied the application because of Cook's criminal
record.

As a matter of policy, Cook was then directed to the city's Department of
Social Services. Cook declined, then walked back out to the street to
illegally beg for money to supply his drinking habit. That night, he camped
with his three closest friends in a patch of woods off Breeden Avenue. In
the morning, he began drinking again, continuing a cycle that is beyond the
reach of Manassas and Prince William County social services programs.

Eddie Cook has chosen to fall through the cracks.

County human services officials say Cook is not alone in his downward
spiral. There are an estimated 300 homeless people like him in Prince
William, Manassas and Manassas Park who constantly shrug off government
help and exist in the shadows. Some live in vacant wooded parcels; others
roam the streets and sleep on sidewalks.

It was a fiery accident Tuesday night that brought Cook and three of his
friends into the spotlight. A portable propane heater set their ramshackle
structure ablaze, leaving two dead and Cook and another man without
shelter. No one knew the men were living there in the first place.

People like them make up nearly half of the homeless population in the
area, and there are currently no efforts underway to bring them in out of
the cold. The area's elaborate human services efforts are designed to help
those who want help, to give assistance to those who walk through the doors
and ask for it.

"If someone chooses not to avail themselves of our services -- meaning they
decide they want to live in the woods or elsewhere and don't want help --
we don't have a way to help them," said Jim Oliver, director of the
Manassas Department of Social Services. "If they choose that as a competent
adult, we can't make them come in."

Oliver said his department regularly makes referrals to Securing Emergency
Resources through Volunteer Efforts (SERVE), a nonprofit human services
organization that offers nine programs for the homeless, including
emergency shelter and food, and programs that teach life skills and try to
place people in permanent housing. SERVE, which is funded in part by local
governments, helps about 425 people each year and is part of a network that
provides substance abuse programs and mental health evaluations.

Gail Cline, the group's executive director, said that SERVE programs are
almost always at capacity and that there is no work being done to help
those who don't bring themselves in. Cline said one of the complications
arises out of SERVE's no-alcohol and no-drugs policy -- which is in place
mostly to protect the people who use the shelter, including several
children who stay there with their parents.

"If someone is drinking and using drugs, one must go there with the intent
to curtail that behavior," Cline said. "Unfortunately, unless they want to
go in for treatment of their problems, it's just not going to happen."

The two men killed in Tuesday's fire, Larry Gene Perry and Orville "Sonny"
Patterson, regularly went to SERVE and to local churches for food. Cline
said that she saw them fairly regularly and that Cook frequently would take
advantage of the shelter's food packages.

"We know that some of the people take the food out into the woods, so we
provide a ready-to-go meal," Cline said.

Both Oliver and Cline said there is currently no outreach program in place
to bring people in. Oliver said that about two to three people come into
his office each week looking for help and that referrals are then made for
them. Cline said the problem is more a matter of resources than anything
else.

SERVE, along with a network of 25 agencies helping the homeless in the
area, is looking to change that. Cline said that if a pending $4 million
grant package from the Department of Housing and Urban Development is
approved, she hopes to create a position of outreach coordinator by the
beginning of next year. The coordinator would go out to the woods and the
lean-to shelters to let people know what services are available to them,
she said.

In preparing the grant proposal, Cline and others took to the streets at
the end of March to count the number of people who are not being served by
agencies.

"We know, in theory, that the system is never going to be seamless," Cline
said. "But, my God, have we been trying."

It irks Cline that it takes a tragic fire to raise such issues. Still, she
acknowledges that some people are beyond help.

"It's because they choose that lifestyle," Cline said. "Most of them could
live with relatives or come to a shelter, but it's a choice. It's a huge
waste of a human life."

END FORWARD
_
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receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **

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FWD  Washington Post - Sunday, October 25, 1998; Page V01



<paraindent><param>right,left</param>AREA'S SAFETY NET FOR HOMELESS
CAN'T CATCH ALL

</paraindent>

                        By Josh White

                        Washington Post Staff Writer



Fewer than three weeks before his makeshift home was destroyed in a
roaring fire, Eddie Cook walked into Manassas City Hall and applied for
a panhandling permit.


Cook, 38, a homeless man who can't read or write, enlisted the help of
city officials to fill out the form. When he learned he needed $25 for
the permit, he left, only to return later with about $60 in cash. City
Manager John Cartwright said he denied the application because of
Cook's criminal record.


As a matter of policy, Cook was then directed to the city's Department
of Social Services. Cook declined, then walked back out to the street
to illegally beg for money to supply his drinking habit. That night, he
camped with his three closest friends in a patch of woods off Breeden
Avenue. In the morning, he began drinking again, continuing a cycle
that is beyond the reach of Manassas and Prince William County social
services programs.


Eddie Cook has chosen to fall through the cracks.


County human services officials say Cook is not alone in his downward
spiral. There are an estimated 300 homeless people like him in Prince
William, Manassas and Manassas Park who constantly shrug off government
help and exist in the shadows. Some live in vacant wooded parcels;
others roam the streets and sleep on sidewalks.


It was a fiery accident Tuesday night that brought Cook and three of
his friends into the spotlight. A portable propane heater set their
ramshackle structure ablaze, leaving two dead and Cook and another man
without shelter. No one knew the men were living there in the first
place.


People like them make up nearly half of the homeless population in the
area, and there are currently no efforts underway to bring them in out
of the cold. The area's elaborate human services efforts are designed
to help those who want help, to give assistance to those who walk
through the doors and ask for it.


"If someone chooses not to avail themselves of our services -- meaning
they decide they want to live in the woods or elsewhere and don't want
help -- we don't have a way to help them," said Jim Oliver, director of
the Manassas Department of Social Services. "If they choose that as a
competent adult, we can't make them come in."


Oliver said his department regularly makes referrals to Securing
Emergency Resources through Volunteer Efforts (SERVE), a nonprofit
human services organization that offers nine programs for the homeless,
including emergency shelter and food, and programs that teach life
skills and try to place people in permanent housing. SERVE, which is
funded in part by local governments, helps about 425 people each year
and is part of a network that provides substance abuse programs and
mental health evaluations.


Gail Cline, the group's executive director, said that SERVE programs
are almost always at capacity and that there is no work being done to
help those who don't bring themselves in. Cline said one of the
complications arises out of SERVE's no-alcohol and no-drugs policy --
which is in place mostly to protect the people who use the shelter,
including several children who stay there with their parents.


"If someone is drinking and using drugs, one must go there with the
intent to curtail that behavior," Cline said. "Unfortunately, unless
they want to go in for treatment of their problems, it's just not going
to happen."


The two men killed in Tuesday's fire, Larry Gene Perry and Orville
"Sonny" Patterson, regularly went to SERVE and to local churches for
food. Cline said that she saw them fairly regularly and that Cook
frequently would take advantage of the shelter's food packages.


"We know that some of the people take the food out into the woods, so
we provide a ready-to-go meal," Cline said.


Both Oliver and Cline said there is currently no outreach program in
place to bring people in. Oliver said that about two to three people
come into his office each week looking for help and that referrals are
then made for them. Cline said the problem is more a matter of
resources than anything else.


SERVE, along with a network of 25 agencies helping the homeless in the
area, is looking to change that. Cline said that if a pending $4
million grant package from the Department of Housing and Urban
Development is approved, she hopes to create a position of outreach
coordinator by the beginning of next year. The coordinator would go out
to the woods and the lean-to shelters to let people know what services
are available to them, she said.


In preparing the grant proposal, Cline and others took to the streets
at the end of March to count the number of people who are not being
served by agencies.


"We know, in theory, that the system is never going to be seamless,"
Cline said. "But, my God, have we been trying."


It irks Cline that it takes a tragic fire to raise such issues. Still,
she acknowledges that some people are beyond help.


"It's because they choose that lifestyle," Cline said. "Most of them
could live with relatives or come to a shelter, but it's a choice. It's
a huge waste of a human life."


END FORWARD

_ 

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **


HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/>  Home Page

ARCHIVES  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives.html>  read posts to HPN

TO JOIN  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/join.html> or email Tom <<wgcp@earthlink.net>

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