Friday, February 8, 2013

Local Leaders Join Forces To Assess The Scope Homelessness

l to r: Library Director Mike Matochik, Mayor Cornelia Olive,
and CodeEnforcement Superintendent Carl Anglin study
local maps to pinpoint areas of known homelessness.
The Sanford/Lee County Planning & Development Department met this week with agencies providing services to the area’s homeless population.

If one overall theme emerged it was this: There are many agencies working on the components of homelessness that are specific to our area, and they’re all doing the best they can with their resources.

“Our goal was to get everyone in one room so that we could identify what’s needed, but we also wanted to give everyone else an awareness of the services available in Sanford and Lee County,” explains Karen Kennedy, Community Development Manager for the department.

“As a result of this meeting, we hope to see more collaboration, more partnerships, and more cohesiveness between service providers,” she says.

The Hidden Homeless

While the availability of services in our area is wonderful, there are some steep problems. One of them is that the face of homelessness in our area is not the typical one. According to the meeting’s participants, Sanford/Lee County doesn’t have a large population of homeless individuals sleeping in parks or vacant lots.

Rather, homelessness in our area is more hidden, and therefore more difficult to tackle. For example, homelessness in Sanford/Lee County is more likely to look like a family sleeping in their car or a motel room. It looks like people sleeping in a family member’s spare room, but no idea whether they can stay another night.

Layered Challenges

Not only is homelessness hidden, it is complicated by lack of public resources and no long-term options. For instance, an adult without adequate transportation may not be able to work a steady job or drive a child across town to take advantage of early education opportunities. Without a public transportation system, there’s not much agencies can do to address an issue like transportation.

Similarly, even if an agency can provide shelter for a night, there’s no place for families or adults to go during the day – and no promise of shelter when that agency’s services hit their limits. Without day services or long-term resources, the population struggles to break the cycle of homelessness.

Of course, all agencies and staff present at the meeting agreed that the best way to curb homelessness is by eliminating their root causes, noted Warren Wooten, public sector management professional with the Raleigh-based Wooten Company. Causes of homelessness in our area include unemployment, military re-entry, substance abuse, mental illness, inmate re-entry, and domestic violence.

Next Step: Focus Groups

These areas are where the Planning & Development Department hopes to help. Kennedy will now work with focus groups to determine whether a day center or shelter that offers day programs (or a combination of both) could be viable for our area.

“We want these focus groups to help us decide a) which type of facility will provide the greatest benefit to our local homeless population or b) if there’s a better way to address homelessness in our area,” Kennedy says. Meeting times and locations for these focus groups will be determined soon.

Join The Discussion

Anyone interested in helping to address this issue is encouraged to contact Kennedy at or 919-777-1113.

You can read a great recap of the meeting in the Thursday, Feb. 7 edition of The Sanford Herald and see photos from the meeting on our Facebook page.

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