Officials involved with working with the homeless are talking about what they’re legislative and policy priorities are going to be following the elections next week. Houston Public Radio’s Capella Tucker reports many are hoping to start a community dialogue about services for the homeless.
The recommendations from SEARCH look at what can be done at all levels of government from the local to federal levels. On the national level, homeless advocates are looking for an increase in Homeless Assistance Grants and the authorization of the Ending Long-Term Homelessness Act. Both would help in providing housing for the homeless. SEARCH President and CEO Laurence Payne says Houston’s response to tens of thousands of Katrina evacuees shows what can be done for the estimated 14,000 homeless in Houston.
“The political will and the community will that got us ramped up to serve the Katrina homeless people, that’s really what they were, and allowed us to serve them so well a model to the rest of the country a model to the rest of the world. We can do this for our own homeless Houstonians, the 14,000 plus we need to put this plan together from the political, corporate, community side, and the congregations.”
Payne says the region should address the homeless situation because the numbers are likely to go up after federal assistance comes to an end for Katrina evacuees.
“The numbers are there 14,000 from the blue ribbon study will be more after the Katrina money runs out and that will be more after the Katrina money runs out for the funding of apartments after the first of the year. What we’re trying to say now proactively give us what we need to serve the population we have now and plan it now for that new population we are going to have after the first of the year which will take additional funding.”
Advocates and some policy makers say the city’s approach to homeless has been criminalizing a social problem. Houston City Councilmember Ada Edwards says it’s a matter of changing policy and providing adequate funds.
“I think we have to build and fly the airplane at the same time. I think we have to do it both. We have people like SEARCH doing one piece, but we have got to get people in policy making decisions that reflect the programmatic approach of SEARCH and policies. How do we support groups like SEARCH, like the homeless coalition? How do we support that policy-wise?”
Edwards says the mind-set of city council has to change.
“I think there’s a lot of fear in our community and we need people who can walk both flying. We can address the public safety fears that people have. We can also address the public health needs that are in this city and the service that is needed in this city.”
A blue-ribbon committee studied the homeless issue in Houston and is expected to present its report to Houston City Council sometime after the elections. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.