On Wednesday January 26 while most of us were busy prepping for the impending snowstorm and trying to decide the best way to get home some folks in our region were trying to figure out how best to stay warm and dry during the storm. Two COG Housing Planners took part in the annual count of the region’s homeless population. Below is Sophie Mintier’s recount of her day participating in Prince George’s County’s count and how meeting Region Forward goals can help reduce the region’s homeless population.
As members of COG staff which puts out the annual report on the region’s homeless population every year we decided to get some first-hand experience this year by taking part in Prince George’s County’s count. The count provides a snapshot of the homeless population including their backgrounds the causes of their homelessness and their needs. The process also provided an opportunity for us to consider Region Forward’s themes of accessibility sustainability prosperity and livability through the lens of homelessness.
In the previous blog post Alicia discussed how supportive housing for the homeless could be part of the region’s affordable housing goals. We should also consider how the homeless can ultimately be participants in the sustainable economic development we seek to achieve. As we strive to increase our prosperity competitiveness and quality of life we must ensure that our progress is inclusive of all residents of the region including the homeless.
The homeless people we met included veterans parents the formerly incarcerated and seniors without sustainable wages. All were men in their 50s and 60s. One veteran was honorably discharged from the U.S. military but didn’t have access to his benefits; another veteran was struggling with chronic pain and disability. One older gentleman became homeless after losing his job a couple of years ago. And another had been in jail before and received a small amount of money from Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Each of these people – similar to other homeless people we met – expressed interest in participating in educational advancement or job readiness programs.
One of RF’s prosperity targets is the improved access to vocational training and educational options throughout the region. Admittedly the people I had in mind for these opportunities were young or were folks who’d been working dead-in jobs. Prior to participating in the region’s homeless enumeration I had never considered such programs targeting the area’s homeless population. Our region’s prosperity goals and subsequent programs must also target our most vulnerable populations – sheltered or unsheltered.
Another of the region’s prosperity goals is a 1 to 3 percent annual increase in the number of jobs within the region. A resounding comment social service providers and public servants often hear is that job training is futile and disingenuous when there aren’t any jobs. Therefore educational and employment supports should also be linked to job creation for folks of varied backgrounds and skills. One of the men we met on Wednesday was a veteran who had spent some time in jail; he expressed his despair that his jail time would forever prevent him from finding a decent job particularly given the current state of the economy. There are major challenges to helping such people secure supportive housing and decent employment but the benefits of their participation in the workforce – for themselves and the wider community – outweigh the costs of continuing to live in poverty and homelessness.
This is part one of Sophie’s report. Read part one here. COG staff is also updating their Facebook page with photos and reactions from the count.