Rochester’s homeless need creative answers
For years, the Civic Center Garage in Rochester served as a de facto homeless shelter until a new protocol by operators Mapco Auto Parks locked the doors in August, sparking a firestorm of protest from homeless advocates.
Many of those who took refuge in the garage were recently staying in tents at a homeless encampment known as Sanctuary Village near the Douglass-Anthony Bridge until that camp was cleared last weekend by the city, citing unsafe conditions. Another firestorm of controversy ensued.
But neither a garage nor a tent encampment — which the city will now temporarily allow to remain — should be acceptable solutions in our community. Surely, this is not the best we can do.
As 2014 closes and 2015 begins, the challenge for local government, advocates, agencies and the faith community is to work more closely to develop creative strategies to decrease homelessness, putting more feet on the path of stability and self-sufficiency. It won’t be easy: Homelessness is an age-old problem in our society.
Locally and nationally, the homeless population can range from families in financial crisis to veterans to those struggling with mental illness and addictions. By all accounts, the chronically homeless are the most difficult population to serve.
Government and agency outreach workers are swarming places like the tent encampment, offering beds and access to services. Some members of the homeless community accept the offer, others refuse. The restrictions and guidelines that are in place at shelters are, for some, more onerous than being out on the street. Wiping away all restrictions and guidelines is certainly not the answer, but being as flexible as possible is critical.
Advocates have called on local government to create shelters with minimal restrictions. But advocates must do more to raise funds through private donors to open and staff facilities regulated with the looser guidelines. A recent campaign successfully reached a $60,000 goal and the House of Mercy plans to open and staff a new facility for the homeless. That’s a great start and our community needs more advocates to be the solution they seek.
No one-size-fits-all approach will solve the problem of shelter for the homeless; that is why creative public and private partnerships are needed. City and county government, for their part, must not only continue to contract with agencies for emergency housing, they must work to find new partnerships and increase the conversations and strategy building with advocates and the private sector.
Mayor Lovely Warren met with homeless advocates this week after the clearing of Sanctuary Village and agreed to take steps to find short- and long-term solutions to help the homeless population. Those types of collaborations must continue if additional solutions are to be found.
Our community cannot be content with our homeless citizens finding refuge in garages and tent villages. We’re better than that. We have to be.
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