Letter to the Editor: No easy answers to Dover homelessness

As one who works with those in our community who experience homelessness, I have read with great interest the proposals regarding panhandling as well as public comments. Clearly, there is no easy solution.

Many people are now aware that those who are homeless cannot afford local housing. Some will never be in a position to afford a place to live without scarce assistance.

If not housing, what is available to the homeless? Shelters in the Dover area do not provide enough space for everyone who needs a place to stay. Places such as the Dover Interfaith Mission’s Resource Center, Hopes & Dreams, and the Dover Public Library provide a daytime space for those living on the street to come in from the cold and to access a variety of help, including assistance with job applications.

Jeanine Kleimo

At a minimum, patrons of the Resource Center can shower, do laundry, and have a mailing address. Most can — as a result — access food stamps. This access to food along with a community network of daily meals for the homeless should reduce the need for homeless individuals to beg for food. Housing access is a much greater challenge.

There are at least three ways to look at addressing the issue of homelessness in our community:

1. Continue on the current path in which nonprofit shelters struggle to raise funds to survive, compete with one another for grants, and rely on the considerable generosity of volunteers to provide meals, managerial support, and an array of services aimed at addressing the critical needs of the most destitute members of the community.

2. Devise a more comprehensive strategy with resources for employment and training targeted at employing those able to learn, to work, and to maintain jobs in combination with temporary or long-term housing that is affordable to those earning wages in the entry-level jobs created. This needs to be accompanied by residential facilities for those with mental illnesses or other serious obstacles to self-reliant and productive lives.

3. Recognize the “big picture” of the social costs of homelessness and provide the housing and other resources that can prevent the health, crime, and other costs estimated at $40,000 per homeless person annually by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Until there is the political will to address homelessness in a more holistic manner, compassion and kindness in individual cases is all that is available to those unable to access scarce beds in shelters. The lack of public resources to address the issue of homelessness effectively and completely shifts the burden of meeting the gap in services to individuals, substituting private costs for public ones.

Rarely do we at the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing encounter a homeless person who is violent or dangerous. Most simply struggle to meet their daily needs, though it is true that some will use cash received to buy drugs or alcohol, regardless of whether the funds obtained are from work, contributions, the sale of food stamps or illegal activities.

Now, back to panhandling: when approached by someone, providing food or guidance to access services is helpful. Contributing to existing programs that offer shelter and assistance is better. Certainly, treating each individual whom we encounter with the kindness we hope to receive ourselves may provide the hope and encouragement needed for them to take steps towards self reliance.

Jeanine Kleimo is chairwoman of Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing.

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