Gazette opinion: Be part of ending homelessness in Billings

2012-03-02T00:10:00Z Gazette opinion: Be part of ending homelessness in Billings The Billings Gazette
March 02, 2012 12:10 am

A steady job is what homeless Billings people say they most need to end their homelessness.

People responding to the city’s annual homeless survey were asked what they most need to become housed again:

  • 38 percent said a job.
  • 33 percent said help with finding a home.
  • 29 percent said money for a security deposit.
  • 28 percent said rental assistance for more than four months, while 20 percent said rental help for up to three months.

Other needs cited by more than 10 percent of respondents included utility deposits, utility payments, credit repair, case management, mental health care, substance abuse treatment or other health care.

Only about 11 percent of the homeless surveyed were working full time, and 15 percent were working part time.

Homeless workers outnumbered those receiving welfare (5 percent), Social Security (6 percent) or disability income (14 percent). Half of those surveyed reported zero income.

The proportion of people reporting disabilities far outstrips the number receiving disability assistance. Forty-three percent said they have a physical disability, 45 percent reported mental health problems and 37 percent said they have substance abuse problems. Among those reporting disability, most had more than one disability, according to Andrew Proctor, an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer working with the Mayor’s Committee on Homelessness.

The survey data counters a common belief that Billings attracts homeless people. Seventy-five percent had lived in the community for more than one year, according to Lynda Woods, city homeless liaison in the Community Development Office.

The survey outreach and Billings Community Connect, both held on Jan. 27, are among the projects promoted through members of the Mayor’s Committee on Homelessness. The volunteer committee developed a 10-year plan for ending homelessness in Billings. About 200 U.S. cities have taken up that challenge for their communities.

The Billings strategic goals are:

Increase the city’s supply of decent, affordable housing.

Provide adequate emergency homeless programs.

Expand treatment and service capacity.

Increase personal income levels and economic opportunities.

Member organizations have made progress. As previously reported by The Gazette, the number of subsidized housing vouchers for U.S. veterans has been increased, Volunteers of America, working with the VA, opened Independence Hall transitional housing for veterans, a new veterans treatment court has started in District Court, Interfaith Hospitality Network used a zero-interest loan through city community development to rehab four apartments for homeless families to transition back to independent living, additional housing vouchers have become available through the Billings Housing Authority, Rimrock Foundation and Salvation Army teamed up on another grant to start a composting business that employs several recovering alcoholics who previously were homeless and unemployed, the community development office successfully recruited AmeriCorps Vista volunteers.

Sadly, while efforts to combat homelessness ramped up, the recession hit and swelled the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed. People who had been barely getting by couldn’t any more. Demand for crisis mental health services has been climbing. The wait for Section 8 subsidized housing is 18 months to two years, Woods said. With a Section 8 voucher, low-income households pay 30 percent of their income for housing. Those without a voucher may pay much more.

Concerned community members can take heart that the homeless are not forgotten, but our efforts to end homelessness must be intensified.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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