Rhetoric won't solve homeless dilemma

Feb. 24, 2013 @ 09:11 PM

Too many people are homeless.

One is too many, but in Durham we've got at least 759 people bouncing from one shelter to the next, living in transitional housing or huddling in the woods or on our streets.

Local officials led an annual search in January to try to pin down numbers for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

They found that the homeless population seems to have grown by about 8.7 percent, up from 698 last year.

But those were just the people they could put eyes on. It rained the night of the count, which may have driven some to dry shelter. Even in good weather, though, at best this is a representative sample. It can't take into account the homeless who - for one reason or another - go out of their way to remain unseen, squatting in abandoned buildings, living in cars or camping in the woods.

"One night, the nation counts," said Minnie Forte-Brown, a member of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education who also serves on the city/county Homeless Services Advisory Committee. "No way does that say we've counted everybody."

It's understandable that some might want to point blame at the state's Republican lawmakers who are cutting unemployment benefits, rejecting Medicaid expansion and targeting the state's earned-income tax credit.

The Herald-Sun's Ray Gronberg reported on Saturday that Bo Glenn, chairman of the advisory committee, accused Republicans of shoving people in need "a little bit closer to that time when they can't pay the rent."

It's not strictly a Republican problem, though. They're just the ones in power now. We had people living on our streets and panhandling at major intersections when Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue was in office. We had homeless for the many years that Democrats held sway on Jones Street.

While Glenn is right to an extent that that the policies put forth by Gov. Pat McCrory and the General Assembly won 't help people in that downward spiral, we're not convinced that they're causing homelessness.

A 2012 statewide report from the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness showed that of 10,290 sheltered and unsheltered homeless adults that could be counted, more than 2,000 suffered from mental illness, more than 3,200 abused drugs, more than 1,400 were military veterans and nearly 1,300 were domestic violence victims.

We've got a lot of people out there who need help and we must go beyond political rhetoric to make a real difference in these numbers.