Having recently addressed reports on homelessness, affordable housing and concentrated poverty, the Fort Worth City Council seems to understand that the causes of homelessness are complex and without single, simple solutions.
But the occurrence of homelessness is not a complex problem and has a straightforward solution. Here’s why:
• In a city of nearly 800,000, we will always have several thousand people who are unable to afford the lowest market rent for a consistent home due to disability, chronic illness or incapacity.
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• Capacity exists in our nonprofits and our city and county agencies to provide permanent housing, supported by skilled case managers, to keep chronically homeless people in housing indefinitely.
• $6,500 per year enables a nonprofit to house someone with a constellation of disabilities and health problems, reducing costs to county hospitals, emergency services, city code enforcement personnel and police.
• Our city and county have exhausted available federal and state funding for services to the homeless.
• Nonprofits have exhausted donors.
It’s time for residents of Tarrant County to adequately fund permanent housing for people struggling with chronic homelessness (while relieving overcrowded emergency shelters and taking action on streets covered with personal belongings, trash and human waste where victimization and assault are common) by simply paying the rent for chronically homeless people to live in private, stable housing.
There are concerns that neighborhoods will not accept formerly homeless people as their neighbors. But, permanent supported housing is currently being quietly provided in scattered site apartments throughout our city.
Many service providers have demonstrated that people who have been homeless can be good neighbors. No study has shown a decrease in property values due to permanent supported housing — quite the contrary.
We need council leadership, transparency, open dialogue and person-to-person education to work with our neighborhoods on homelessness.
We also need more investment in outreach. Only one homeless outreach program currently connects to neighborhoods. All our neighborhoods should have access, not only to 911, but to an agency that can respond to concerns about homeless people, loitering, panhandling and camping.
But these outreach teams need to have rental subsidies “in their pockets” in order to successfully solve these problems.
Concentrating providers of emergency and transitional housing is very expensive and complex to manage.
The Near East Side Neighborhood Association works with its members to improve safety, sanitation, infrastructure and development in the square mile where more than 1,000 homeless people stay.
It boasts the lowest reported crime rates in the city, the best neighborhood police, more patrol officers and regular code service . But it’s not enough.
Neighborhood association members pay for private trash collection ($650 per month). A nonprofit opens a private “park” on Saturday mornings to address the trash and traffic hazards created by street feeding.
Unreported crime is high. Narcotics are easily available and in public use.
The Presbyterian Night Shelter is raising funds for a one-year effort to open its “park” during the week and mount a private security street patrol on its property.
The Near East Side Neighborhood Association is considering funding a mobile private security officer. The cost, $3,700 per month, is beyond the capacity of the association’s few commercial businesses. It’s not reasonable to expect that a few tax-paying businesses in one neighborhood bear the cost of concentrated homelessness for our county.
The causes of homelessness are complex and can strike anyone. The management of concentrated homelessness is complex.
Addressing the fact of homelessness is simple: Adequately fund permanent supported housing for the cost of two venti mochas per Fort Worth resident per year.
Smooth the path for people emerging from homelessness to become our neighbors again.
Flora Brewer is a founder of the Near East Side Neighborhood Association.