I watched a local newscast Sunday morning and saw a woman complaining vehemently about a homeless camp in Louisville. She was outraged at the tents, the people milling about and the increase of crime in her neighborhood. I understood her outrage. The tents make me mad as well. For different reasons, however. I thing they are inhuman.
The tent cities, however inhuman I feel they are, are completely necessary, however, in light of the fact that we refuse to deal with the issue of poverty and homelessness as communities. I have repeatedly said it isn’t rocket science, it’s about housing. And it is. The key words are affordable housing. As long as we ignore the fact that at least 40% of our people live at or below the poverty line and we are not building housing for that income bracket, we are going to have homelessness.
When the downtown area was swept of the homeless and they lived by the hundreds under the overpasses, what did the community think would happen? What does our community expect? When you have 80% of those living in the shelter with an income that is less than 30% of poverty (that is less than $25,700 for a family of four, $12,490 for a single person household). Of those currently living homeless in the shelter, even though 80% have some form of income, none make that kind of money. Most of the older people living there make under $9,000 per year. A living wage is the issue and couple that with no new subsidies for housing being made available, you have no choice but to have homelessness.
It is a matter of practicality. If we don’t want homelessness, we have to build truly affordable housing.
Add in all the other factors around homelessness — addiction, those leaving jail to re-enter the community, mental illness, domestic violence, and older people with no support systems — and the issue is truly magnified.
Planning and discussion have to happen. A community cannot ignore this issue without ramification. We must discuss and plan how to deal with the growing numbers of the poor and unhoused in our community. We do not live in an area that is without impact from our neighboring communities. Our borders are open, even the river is easy access now with the walking bridge. I say that to say this: It is a regional problem and we need to discuss it openly with each other and develop plans, solutions, and continue to make this community one for all of its people.
On Jan. 9, 2020, a community dialogue will take place at a location to be announced. The topics are for everyone, those who wish to deal with the issue homelessness head on, those who hope to end their own homelessness, those who want to understand the issue more clearly, and those who want to develop a strategy to begin working on the issue. A panel of those currently working in the field will present the current obstacles, discuss possible strategies to deal with the issue, and identify ways to improve current approaches to ending homelessness as we know it in the community. Haven House Services will host the event. The purpose will be to open the dialogue in a way that is open and participatory for the entire community. We didn’t get here easily. It is and must be a community-driven solution. Invited will be local political leadership, funding resources, current housing providers, developers, and those experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. The event will be from 1 to 4 p.m.
We can complain and moan about the inconvenience of homelessness, the presence of those on our streets, and the impact it has on the quality of life, but until we truly address, plan, and build a solution, we are merely spinning our wheels. It has been since 1985 that I have worked in this arena. I have witnessed a lot, without question one of the most pervasive of issues has only worsened while billions of dollars have been spent on resolutions. It is time for some change. Our money needs to follow the program as opposed to throwing dollars out for competitions that result in very little getting done. We need to develop programs designed to meet our community needs: transitional housing, low-income housing ownership, more housing for the elderly and those with disabilities, recovery facilities and post-recovery housing. Compromises on rental housing and the impediments the poor face in securing rental housing needs to be negotiated, and alternatives developed for those leaving jail.
It really isn’t rocket science. It’s Biblical, the poor will always be among us. What we do with that opportunity reflects on us as a community, how we move forward is crucial. From the America’s Best experience we know it can be done with resources made available. We need to develop, model, and grow that approach. Come, let us join hands and in that develop a community that truly deals with the issue of homelessness in a humane and decent way. Let us lead.
— Barbara Anderson is a human rights activist in Jeffersonville. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.