News and Tribune

August 7, 2013

ANDERSON: Whose job is it to ‘end’ homelessness?

Local guest columnist

— Ending homelessness isn’t one person’s job, it isn’t even a community’s job — it is the job of all humanity.

The primal instincts are food and shelter first, so many do not have that security. It’s not just those who live at Haven House’s shelter, under the bridges or in encampments, but those doubled and tripled up or “couchsurfing,” those sleeping in cars and even semi-truck trailers that are abandoned. The list goes on.

Once we picked up a family in Harrison County who had lived in a chicken coop for four months. Where people live is important. It defines them and offers them sanctuary. Remember the scene in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” when he swings with the heroine on his back and yells “sanctuary, sanctuary.” It means as much today as it did then.

Home is where people feel safe. Imagine if you never felt safe; if every day was a day trying to find sanctuary instead of going home. Imagine taking your child from place to place and listening to them cry with hunger. That is the life of those I serve.

Many have addictions issues, some are mentally ill, some are physically disabled or their bodies are worn out from hard labor. Many lack the skills and training for contemporary manufacturing, and still many have fought poverty all their lives. They all have one thing in common: They are homeless in Jeffersonville.

Recently, the discussion has escalated because of those living on the streets and under the bridges. There is no easy answer for that; it means we have to rise to the challenge of providing some kind of shelter for them.

You could embody a housing-first approach and never meet the need because the cost would be astronomical. Many of those living on the street do not have the money to even move into housing, and often are blocked from it. If we don’t want street people, the answer is simple — develop affordable housing.

While that sounds basic, in reality it is the truth. A minimum wage will never be enough to support a family; neither will $10 per hour in this community. The state of Indiana’s Self Sufficiency standard for Clark County is $12.67 per hour and $12.57 per hour for Floyd County.

Many of the manufacturers in this area start below that hourly wage need. If we pay people less than what it costs to live in a community, we are knowingly committing them to live in poverty. If we don’t want small business to shoulder the burden, we need to subsidize housing, child care and transportation. Maybe it would be more palatable for people if we said we were subsidizing business by subsidizing employees.

Health care must be dealt with in this country. We have so many suffering with no answer on medication, on availability or on treatment. Just within our walls, we have two cancer patients, one man with horrible seizures, one who just had brain surgery, several with diabetes, heart trouble and asthma. Mental health issues are very real and so is treatment for those who refuse medication or have no resources to pay for medication.

Progress is a good thing, but it comes with a price tag. A community changes, so does its population. A walking bridge will be beautiful for this community, but anyone and everyone can cross it and go back, or not.

We must prepare for that as a community. The Old Rose Hill School has sold and all the residents there received eviction notices this weekend. Forty low income men with no place to go is going to be a dilemma for many. We, in the name of progress, need to plan for such things with a sense of humanity and compassion.

This is not going to be easy and despite what the mayor says, government will have to be at the table. Our tax dollars should go to the priorities we want them to go for as a community. Maybe as a populace, it is time for us to be unified in our voices and say we want safe, decent and affordable housing for our citizens — all our citizens.

If people are housed, they are less inclined to be “out and about” in the community, they tend to be more integrated into the community they live in, they get to know their neighbors, they become involved in churches and they are citizens, just like you and me.

Their kids go to school, their jobs are more secure, they cut grass and they go to bed at night in their own room in their own home. It is time Jeffersonville developed her people.

A good economy requires a strong work force to develop a healthy community. We have a department to develop economic prosperity and community development; maybe we need a Human Development Department as well.

Maybe a portion of redevelopment’s budget could be allocated to services and training. Maybe, just maybe, we will finally begin to do something and not just study it.

A wise professor told of friend of mine: “Study long, study wrong.”

So, let’s get the show on the road, study it and then develop it. There’s no excuses this time.

— Barbara Anderson is executive director of Haven House Services Inc., Jeffersonville, which operates the Williams Emergency Shelter.