We Need To Address Homelessness Our Community
Last year, John O'Neill Jr. was hit by a vehicle on 21st street and passed away. A few months later, a homeless woman, to keep herself out of the cold, sought shelter in an outhouse and froze to death. These are grim milestones our city is recording and despite unprecedented revenue, due to rising property appraisals, city leadership is doing nothing to stop the same thing from happening this upcoming winter.
Now, I don't believe anybody in our city wants this to happen. But, I also believe there is a lack of knowledge among our leaders on how to address the issue of homelessness in the community.
A case in point of this would be the City allocating $20,000 on a homeless study they never even completed. This is less than they allocated for a wages study which found some low level employees should be paid a few dollars more per hour ($26,000). This speaks to just how little priority this problem carries among our elected leadership.
It also should not even be needed considering we know the costs of homelessness in our community (let alone the lack of housing and supportive services). Want a few? Well, I have them.
The cost to our community of serving one chronically homeless individual can exceed $35,000 in services rendered (jail, medial care, transportation, etc.).
Establishing some sort of temporary shelter could cut these costs by half.
Using figures from the Blue Mountain Housing Council and looking at veterans specifically, the cost savings could be upwards of 55 percent of the community if they are simply temporarily sheltered.
Also consider who are likely to be chronically homeless - even here in Lewiston.
Estimates put almost half (40 percent) of the homeless population being under the age of 18.
Children and teens in homeless situations, unsurprisingly, are far more likely to suffer major medical and mental health ailments.
Now consider the benefits of addressing homelessness in our community.
Individuals who receive support and even temporary housing can bounce back, receive needed services and contribute to the local economy.
The estimated return on investment according to the Blue Mountain Housing Council could be 152 percent for some communities.
Even in the absence of a homelessness study by the city we know the problem exists. The Point In Time (PIT) Count mandated by Congress and conducted by Homes for Hope and dedicated volunteers found 268 unhoused individuals in our county.
There absolutely is money to address this issue and true to what I have preached it would not cost to the residents of Lewiston a dime. There are millions in unspent Rescue Act Funds which could be spent on a shelter and supportive programs. Further, the City has $9 million in reserves. Imagine what just $170,000 of that money being spent on a warming shelter (the estimated cost of a four month program) could do for our community. This could easily be done in conjunction with keeping property taxes flat or even a cut (something I strongly advocate for).
I am proud and excited to be working on bringing a warming shelter to Lewiston which will provide basic services to the homeless community. I am also grateful to have the opportunity to work with so many talented and compassionate individuals in our community looking beyond this winter to develop a long - term, sustainable solution.
It is time we have somebody on the Council who understands a community is judged by how we treat the least fortunate. That sometimes the only thing that could be standing between us, any of us, and homelessness, is help when they or us need it. It is time we have somebody on the Council who understands the problem, works with the agencies involved, and will actively work to bring change to the situation.
Lewiston is not unique in having to deal with this problem. Year over year, it has been a challenge to develop sustainable programs and a temporary warming shelter to prevent more needless deaths. We will be unique if we do not try to deal with the problem.
With your help and support, we can! God bless and thank you!