I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for a little over a month due to some ongoing medical issues which required attention. Judging from the numbers of emails in my inbox, quite a number of folks noticed my absence and sent their well wishes.
Once I began powering up my computer again, I undertook the task of answering those emails. After that was taken care of, I turned my attention to trying to catch up on what’s been happening in the world at large – and of course, what has been happening in the area of homelessness around the nation.
Over the weekend I came across an article from this past Friday’s Washington Times. It was about Washington D.C.’s "housing first" efforts in addressing homelessness in the District.
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty had announced, at a news conference on Thursday, that during the period of August 2008 to present, his administration had helped find permanent housing for 144 homeless seniors.
Mayor Fenty was quoted as saying,
"Our entire time in office we’ve been really focused on taking our homeless neighbors and moving them into housing. We’re at 600-plus homeless neighbors who we’ve moved into permanent, supportive housing."
Moreover, the District’s "housing first" approach is showing signs of having a relatively high success rate.
According to the article, D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, who chairs the District’s Human Services Committee, noted that the District’s,
"… Department of Mental Health housing initiative has an 85 percent success rate in keeping formerly homeless people from returning to the streets."
An 85 percent success rate is pretty impressive by any stretch of the imagination.
Considering that there were over 6,000 homeless in the Washington D.C. area this past August (based on the annual count by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness) that would seem to indicate that the "housing first" approach had reduced overall homeless in the District by 10 percent in just a little over a year.
Again – that’s pretty impressive. And, helps move the District forward toward its goal of eliminating homeless in the nation’s capital by 2014.
Just as I was about to applaud Mayor Fenty’s efforts however, I came across another article. This one was in the Washington Post on Saturday. It, too, had to do with homelessness in the District – except in reverse.
According to the article, the Fenty administration is cutting $20 million from the District’s homeless services budget for fiscal year 2010.
To be fair, I have to state that I can understand that – due to the economic recession – local governments have to find ways of stretching their city budgets.
All the same, there was this one particular paragraph in the article which made me shake my head in utter disbelief:
"Mafara Hobson, spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), said in a statement that there was essentially no change in the homeless services budget."
I don’t know about anyone else, but it seems to me that $20 million is a sizable chunk of money.
Therefore, for Ms. Hobson to state that there was "… essentially no change" in the District’s budget for homeless services seems more than just a bit disingenuous.
What saddens me about this entire incident is that it isn’t unique to Washington D.C. alone.
All across the nation there are cities who – despite all of the rhetoric – have yet to make ending homelessness a genuine priority.
Yes, there are those cities that have gone through the motions of putting together 10-year plans to end homelessness. Yet, whenever there are budgetary cutbacks, it is those very plans which are the first to get the axe.
If, as a nation, we truly want to reduce the numbers of homeless we must stop talking and actually begin doing. We must move "ending homelessness" from the bottom of our collective "to-do" list and place it near the top – where it belongs.
Until we assign ending homelessness a priority spot on our social agendas, we are destined to continue seeing the numbers of homeless increase.
And, as Americans, that should be totally unacceptable.