Guest essay: ‘Housing first’ for city’s homeless
Tom Malthaner, Sr. Grace Miller and Deacon David Palma Guest essayists
The realities of Rochester as the fifth poorest city in the nation have recently been a focus in this newspaper. The growing disparity between the very affluent and the rest of us shows evidence of unwise decisions in our public policies as well as in our individual choices.
One aspect of poverty in Rochester, people who are homeless, is not even documented in the census or in the December 2013 poverty report by Rochester Area Community Foundation. The city administration is now attempting to do so, having identified at least 140 persons as of mid-February.
The homeless also include uncounted teenagers whose parents shut them out because they cannot deal with their behavior or sexual orientation. The eventual closing of the Civic Center Garage as an unofficial shelter has spurred efforts to develop alternatives.
Many organizations have developed separately over time to address various needs, offering services, outreach and advocacy for policy change. Examples include health clinics, shelters, food or clothing cupboards, and literacy/tutoring programs. In spite of limited staff time, many of these agencies struggle to develop cooperation with others (e.g., the Homeless Network), trying to build bridges instead of maintaining “silos” that compete for support, volunteers and funding.
The House of Mercy, St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality and St. Mary’s Church have already collaborated to open Dorothy Day House on South Avenue, currently serving eight people. The House of Mercy has also developed its North Street House for five people who were previously living outside the Amtrak station.
These models of what is known nationwide as “Housing First” now demonstrate here the same results as found elsewhere: after people acquire safe housing, they are more able to devote time and energy to addressing their other problems, including mental illness and addiction. Recent reports of the growing number of people addicted to heroin, and concerns about insurance coverage for adequate treatment, indicate that the need for “housing first” will increase.
The three sponsoring organizations are now building collaboration with city officials and other institutions to meet the needs of those who are homeless, particularly people who currently depend on the heated floors of the Civic Center Garage — a place obviously preferable to sleeping under a bridge or in a tunnel during this severe winter.
We ask readers to contact city and county officials, urging them to work together with community groups to develop more “housing first” facilities. In addition to prayer, you can also contact us to collaborate, volunteer, share expertise in various ways, donate basic necessities, and offer financial assistance.
Malthaner is a staff member, St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality. Miller, a Rochester Sister of Mercy, is director, House of Mercy. Palma is pastoral administrator, St. Mary’s Church.