Saturday, January 24, 2009

Solutions That Work

Homelessness and hopelessness are often closely allied. And the despair reaches past the men, women and children who don't have a roof to call their own. It impacts business owners who worry that visible vagrancy will hurt their chances of bringing customers to their door. It falls heavily on city officials who struggle with conflicting emotions of compassion and concern for public safety.

Too many cities let that despondency discourage them from action -- or adopt cruelly punitive "get tough" policies in the vain hope of pushing the problem out of town. But some local leaders are looking past that knee-jerk reaction, seeking ways to lift people off the streets.

Daytona Beach can be proud of one such program. Downtown Streets offers homeless men food and shelter in exchange for a promise of sobriety, and work picking up cans and bottles around the Beach Street area. The program -- a brainchild of City Commissioner Rick Shiver, sponsored by the city and the Salvation Army, is modeled after a successful pilot in Palo Alto, Calif. That city's "Streets Team" now holds contracts for maintaining several city parks and other sites -- and puts a heavy focus on helping its clients transition into full-time employment with the potential to support themselves and live independently.

It's worth noting that many of the homeless people in Volusia and Flagler counties already work -- which is why an annual 24-hour homeless survey set to begin Thursday at noon will visit local day-labor facilities early Friday morning.

The difference in the Palo Alto program is that it focuses on finding sustainable employment, and moving people into permanent housing. As of April, 250 people had gone through the Palo Alto program and 42 had gone on to find jobs outside the program. Daytona Beach -- which paid the California city $2,500 for the right to use its model -- should take the same focus if its efforts are to succeed.

Daytona Beach is not the only local government taking a creative approach toward homelessness. Deltona recently held a forum focusing on the needs of homeless people in that city, and opened a "one-stop shop" social-services center aimed at connecting people with services they need, including drug counseling and food stamps.

There's no magic spell to end homelessness in Volusia or Flagler counties, and tough economic times mean that the need for help will be even greater than a year ago. But local officials deserve credit for seeking compassionate, common-sense solutions.

An Editorial from the Daytona News Jounal

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