Thursday, February 13, 2003

Forum ponders how to end homelessness

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - For Pat Clark, who's recently lived in his truck and volunteered at a Covington shelter, having a place to shower before going to work is a pressing need.

Advocates also hope to address the problem of chronic homelessness in Northern Kentucky through better services for homeless people, especially single men. At an all-day summit Wednesday at Covington City Hall,participants stressed the need for more accessible services and enhanced public awareness of homeless needs and programs.

The gathering drew about 70 people, including representatives of social service agencies, local government and business leaders, people who are or have been homeless, educators and religious leaders.

Through small groups tackling various issues, participants pondered their overall mission: How do we end chronic homelessness in 10 years?

That's the issue that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is asking governments to address.

The Bush administration has set a goal to end chronic homelessness - defined as getting people off the streets who have been homeless for at least a year - in a decade. Last year, Covington received $1.2 million in HUD funds through its Consortium of Care community-based process to deal with homeless issues.

A 20-member homeless advisory committee formed Wednesday will begin meeting by April as part of an 18-month process to develop a plan for ending chronic homelessness in Northern Kentucky, said Barry Grossheim, housing development director with the Partnership Center Ltd.. The center is a Newport consultant to non-profit agencies that deal with homelessness and affordable housing.

"Time and again, we offer a lot of services," said Rachael Winters, coordinator of the homeless services project at Welcome House. "But we also offer with those services a lot of hoops to get there."

She said obstacles include everything from birth certificates that take three months to obtain to trying to get an apartment without a rental history to social workers who aren't accessible to the people they serve.

"We're in our offices when we should be out on the riverbanks and on the streets - the places where homeless people might be," Winters said.

The community also has to be involved, said Bill Simon, executive director of the Housing Authority of Covington.

"What is the community's definition of acceptable housing for homeless individuals and where do we want these housing units placed?" Simon asked. "We live in a world of Not In My Back Yard."

Advocates also need to do a better job of explaining what programs and services are available and what's working, he said.

Jim Coleman, director of the Recovery Network of Northern Kentucky, said that he would like to see some kind of tax to help pay for the effects of alcohol abuse in society.

"Users and manufacturers are not paying the cost that we're incurring," Coleman said.

"The industry's getting a free ride, and people who consume alcohol, are, to a great extent, getting a free ride. No way do the taxes in this state represent the true cost of what it takes to support the services that deal with this abuse."

Rick Moore, 47, who recently found himself homeless after losing his job, offered his carpentry skills to help fix up rundown housing in Northern Kentucky for homeless people.

He also expressed his appreciation for the show of compassion at Wednesday's summit.

"This is my first time being homeless,'' he said. "I just want to thank everyone for taking an interest in helping the homeless."


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