Lodge: A plan to end homelessness|
By Richard K. Lodge/ News Editor
Friday, June 16, 2006
Bold? Optimistic? Visionary? Impossible?
number of words could be applied to the two-year plan to create more
affordable housing -- linked to support services -- and close area
homeless shelters detailed by SMOC Executive Director Jim Cuddy at a
meeting of community leaders and social service providers Wednesday.
first proposed closing the Irving Street Common Ground shelter in an
op-ed column in The Daily News in January, just weeks after a woman was
found burned to death in a storage bin where she had been living just
blocks from the shelter in downtown Framingham.
woman was described as having mental illness and problems with
substance abuse and had resisted efforts to help her.
would have been an extreme case. Just 7 percent of the people at the
Common Ground shelter stay for more than 90 days, SMOC officials said
at the meeting. Forty-nine percent stay at the shelter for 10 days or
fewer, usually as a temporary, emergency housing source.
was a surge in the number of homeless adults in the early 1980s when
many public mental health hospitals were closed. Large swaths of
affordable housing were eliminated and the population of people on the
street competing for low-wage jobs grew beyond what the market could
and other agencies responded by opening shelters for the homeless,
something Cuddy said this week was well-intentioned but, in the long
run, only served to enable many chronically homeless people instead of
giving them the support and tools to help themselves.
his plan laid out this week, Cuddy proposed closing shelters in
Framingham, Marlborough and Ashland within two years. But to do so will
require creation of new single-room occupancy housing with wraparound
services, including mental health and substance abuse programs, job
counseling and establishment of "Ready, Willing and Able," a
"non-exploitative day labor" program, as he described it.
appealed to business leaders, local and state government officials and
numerous state agencies to step in to help make this happen.
plan is simple on paper. People need housing they can afford, they need
round-the-clock support services -- mental health, domestic abuse or
substance abuse counseling -- and they need job training and
counseling. SMOC's plan would set up a day-labor business so formerly
homeless people can earn money, which goes a long way toward bolstering
self worth, and they can pay at least a portion of their rent, which is
required by SMOC.
small number of chronically homeless people, many of whom are averse to
treatment, need very focused attention to get them on the right track.
benefits if this works? From all appearances, we all do. The people
using homeless shelters now would benefit by having good places to live
and the support that could help them rebuild their lives. Our hospital
emergency rooms and health care system would benefit because fewer
people would use the ER as their last resort. Public safety would
improve as the burden on police and EMT services would be reduced.
As a society, we'd be better off all around.
really talking about public health and the common good for the
community and the individual," Cuddy said.
who rely on homeless shelters have hit the end of the line, in most
cases. They are abused wives and children, with no money and no job,
fleeing from their husbands; they are drug or alcohol abusers who don't
have the will or means to break the cycle on their own; they are people
with mental illness who need a whole network of help; and they are
unemployed or under-employed people who have hit the wall financially
and can't afford to keep a roof over their heads.
MetroWest residents may see the wet shelter in Framingham as Jim
Cuddy's albatross. But Cuddy and his staff, to their credit, have no
interest in running warehouses or dormitories for people who have no
resources and no hope.
the end of the presentation held at the United Church of Christ
Conference Center in Framingham, Cuddy flashed a slide on the screen
that showed a neat row of cots, a photo taken at the Common Ground
goal is to turn the lights out in that dormitory and never turn them on
again," he said. Then to turn them out in the Marlborough shelter and
finally, at Shadows and Meadows shelter in Ashland.
a noble and attainable goal, but people and businesses throughout
MetroWest need to be on board to help make it happen.
Lodge is editor of The Daily News and writes a column published
Fridays. His e-mail is email@example.com.