Solutions sought to end homelessness

September 23, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- The day he was evicted after spending the last of the proceeds from the sale of his house, Dale Hunter drove from northern Virginia to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., and checked in to the homeless program there.

Almost three years later, he is living off $1,228 a month in VA disability and lives in a subsidized apartment at Potomac Towers in Hagerstown. The $285 a month he pays in rent is based on his income.

For Hunter, the system worked when he needed it.

The availability of more low-income housing subsidies would be a crucial step in reducing homelessness, according to Michael Stoops, who until August was executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, a national network of people based in Washington, D.C., who work to end homelessness. He is now the organization's director of community organizing.

A scarcity of affordable housing coupled with small paychecks means there are people who cannot afford housing, said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, organization committed to preventing and ending homelessness in the United States.


Roman listed the following steps that she said could help prevent homelessness:

o Intervention when people initially have a housing crisis such as an eviction notice or a job loss.

o Assistance paying rent when needed.

o Payment of adequate wages. Paychecks haven't kept up with living costs, and as a result people often have no cushion if they lose their jobs, she said.

o Housing search assistance. Many people are discharged from jails, prisons and mental health institutions without receiving help finding housing. Such assistance could reduce homelessness, Roman said.

o Increase in the supply of adequate housing.

Roman's organization recommends increasing the supply of Section 8 vouchers, which enable people in need to obtain subsidized housing. Studies have shown the United States wouldn't have a homelessness issue if all eligible people could get Section 8 vouchers, she said.

Under Section 8, local public housing authorities (PHA) generally pay the landlord the difference between 30 percent of household income and the PHA-determined payment standard, which is about 80 percent to 100 percent of the fair market rent, according to information available at the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Web site,

Because the private sector can't make money by creating affordable housing, the need at the lower end of the income spectrum hasn't been addressed, Roman said.

People need to be paid a living wage, Stoops said.

Klaus Kneeland was making $8 an hour cleaning for a local business, working 40 hours a week, he told a reporter from inside his tent in a wooded area of Hagerstown in the spring. The location of the wooded area is not being printed to protect those camping there.

A family of five this spring stayed in a shelter provided by the Community Action Council. The father's $10-an-hour wage couldn't support his family, although he usually worked almost 40 hours a week.

Pastor Justin Repp, who leads a group from Lifehouse West Church on Salem Avenue to the woods each week as part of a homeless ministry, said he does not think homelessness will ever be eradicated.

Repp said that after months of taking bagged lunches and tents to local homeless people, and praying with them, he believes some people are homeless because they want to be.

"There are people who like being off the grid, so to speak," he said.

But Repp said he believes that if the faith community and government work together, it would go a long way to keeping people off the streets.

"More teamwork can help solve it," he said.

The community must be willing to provide a place for people who want to make a change, Repp said.

He suggested a day center or job training center where people can learn a trade.

"There have got to be Christian businessmen out there willing to teach what they know, help save a life," he said.

Web contacts

o The National Coalition for the Homeless --

o National Alliance to End Homelessness --

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