Homelessness needs help of the community

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
Posted 3/20/19

Representatives of the United Way of the Ocoee Region’s Housing Coalition Homeless Task Force say homelessness is a complex issue that will not go away without a great deal of help from the …

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Homelessness needs help of the community

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Representatives of the United Way of the Ocoee Region’s Housing Coalition Homeless Task Force say homelessness is a complex issue that will not go away without a great deal of help from the community. 

Matt Ryerson, president and CEO of the local United Way, and members of the Homeless Coalition recently shared their work with MainStreet Cleveland. He stressed there are multiple reasons people find themselves homeless. 

“The reality is, it isn’t as simple as, ‘This person doesn’t have a home,’” Ryerson said. “More often than not, the issues go much deeper and are much more complex than that.” 

About a year ago, Ryerson began meeting with representatives of the Cleveland Police Department to address “what seemed like an increase in the local homeless population.” 

Discussions on the need for collaboration prompted United Way of the Ocoee Region Housing Coalition's Homeless Task Force to begin meeting with more regularity. 

Recent efforts have included discussions on which services are available to help the homeless and on the possible causes for homelessness locally. The group has also conducted a Point In Time Count to gauge how many people in Bradley County are homeless. 

“This really seeks to identify those facing chronic homelessness,” said Elena Lattner, an AmeriCorps VISTA with the United Way.

Corinne Freeman, executive director of The Caring Place, described how those working to address homelessness cannot ignore the fact that there is trauma involved. 

Because of the fear that can come from unfamiliar situations, she said some who do move into homes or apartments “self-sabotage” and end up homeless again. 

“Usually, people who are chronically homeless are experiencing a lot of complexities,” Freeman said. “Being homeless in and of itself is traumatic, and that trauma affects their response.”

The Housing Coalition is now looking at ways it can help provide training on “trauma-informed care” for officers with the Cleveland Police Department. While Freeman said CPD officers “are doing a wonderful job,” this would help them learn how to better interact with the homeless and others who have endured trauma. 

Eva VanHook, executive director of Family Promise of Bradley County, said there are many reasons people can become homeless. Contributing factors can include job loss, single parenthood, high medical bills and more. 

“It is a very complex issue, and there a lot of things that come into it,” VanHook said. 

Freeman also said helping address homelessness requires looking at more than just making sure people have places to live. It will take “a lot of creative strategy by a lot of strategic partners.”

Part of the coalition’s work involves creating a “continuum of care” to not only get people out of homelessness but to help people stay in housing. Freeman added the group is looking at how the community can address issues such as its “real lack of affordable housing.” 

She added the cost of living in the Cleveland area is also a problem for many in the community — and not just those who are currently homeless. The paychecks local jobs offer do not always constitute “a living wage.” 

“According to the MIT Family Research Center, the living wage for a single parent with two children is $22 an hour,” Freeman said. “That’s how much it would take for someone to afford childcare, housing, necessities and a car payment — which they see as an essential because you often have to have private transportation in this area.” 

MainStreet Cleveland also heard from a few others who are working with the Coalition: Jennifer Newell, pastor First Cumberland Presbyterian Church pastor; Carla Nuñez, AmeriCorps VISTA Leader for the United Way; and Monica Luithle, social service worker at the Salvation Army of Cleveland. 

They helped answer the audience’s questions about homelessness, which resources are available now to help the homeless and what could be done to help more people live stable lifestyles. 

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