I’ve been doing some traveling lately and looking around at how other places deal with some of the problems almost all cities and towns have in common. Because of my job, I am particularly interested in how different places deal with homelessness—either long-term or cases of temporary need for housing. I’ve been following those areas in our country that were left in such dire need by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Water, food and clothing are usually the first things needed in such emergencies, but then getting people into homes is next and that’s a problem that takes a little more time and coordination. Here in Wayne Township we haven’t had the big disasters that other communities have had to face, but we still face neediness, especially when it comes to affordable housing.
You may think of shelter as just a roof over your head to keep the rain off, but it is actually, a roof and walls, plus the means to keep the place livable. Utilities like heat, water, sewer service and lights are necessary. If you’ve ever been through a power outage or a loss of heat in the winter you know that those living conditions are not sustainable. In fact, Fort Wayne city code requires that a home have water and sewer service. So, having shelter means not just having a building but also having the services to keep it running.
Besides stories of natural disasters, there’s been a lot in the news lately about the homelessness all over our country, especially among veterans and families with children. Homelessness is a serious problem that puts a strain on our public resources (tax dollars) as government agencies and not-for-profits struggle to deal with the human suffering it causes.
In our office we can help with homelessness in several ways. In the best case scenario, we can prevent a family from becoming homeless by helping them out with a needed rent or utility payment. This can happen after the household goes through a process where we look at their income and expenditures and verify that indeed they cannot pay this bill on their own. Maybe the breadwinner of the family has lost his or her job, or maybe a family member has become sick and then overburdened with medical debt. Keeping that family off the streets and in their home is the best solution for them and for our community.
Another way we help prevent homelessness is through our Representative Payee Department. With this service we work with the Social Security Administration to help people who receive Social Security benefits—be it disability or retirement—who are unable to manage their own finances. In the Payee Department we make sure that the client’s rent and utilities are paid before anything else comes out of the client’s funds.
Sometimes a client will come to us already homeless. We have on our staff a Community Resource Specialist, Dennis Powell, who has been in his job for many years and who has formed connections with landlords, social service agencies, housing agencies and others. He can often locate for someone just the right living situation that can be either permanent or a good short-term solution.
Several members of our staff attend meetings of other social service agencies who are working on homelessness in our community. At those meetings we share our stories and listen to others, and we hear about the latest thinking on the problems of those without a home. In this way we are better able to help our clients not only financially, but with counseling and by bringing them together with other resources to find or keep them in a home of their own.
Especially when places in the United States like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands seem to be struggling just to meet basic needs, it can be easy to forget that right here in our own home town there are people who can tell you exactly what it is like to spend a night in a car or tent or some other place not meant for a human habitation (HUD’s definition of homeless). As the days grow shorter and cooler, I think about these things and recommit myself and my office to keeping housed as many families and individuals as possible.
Latest posts by Richard A. Stevenson - Wayne Township Trustee (see all)
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