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Struggle against homelessness has brought victories.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Pearl Wolfe For The Register-Guard

Homelessness hurts us as a community. Hardworking people should be able to pay the rent and have enough left over for food, medicine and other necessities. Yet rents are already out of reach for many people, and the result is homelessness.

We welcome the conversation started by Linda Fuller's March 22 guest viewpoint. There is much to do to end homelessness. And it is important to understand the efforts of Eugene, Springfield, Lane County and local agencies who work together daily to respond to homelessness among youth, adults and families. Those of us who have been doing this work for decades would like to describe some of our efforts.

Since 1988, homelessness has been the focus of such groups as the Homeless Action Coalition, the Intergovernmental Task Force to End Homelessness in Lane County, the Homeless Prevention Task Force and the Eugene City Council Committee on Homelessness and Youth.

Lane County's Continuum of Care Planning Process has held 12 work sessions since July to address housing and outreach services to homeless people, and it hosted a series of community forums designed to listen to homeless people themselves. These efforts will result in strategies to be included in Lane County's soon-to-be-released 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, a new federal planning requirement.

Over the past 18 years, our local efforts have consistently focused on creating permanent affordable housing - an approach regarded nationally as a "best practice." More than 2,000 new subsidized homes have been added for the working poor, people with disabilities and those on fixed incomes. Our local efforts are second to none in the state. The housing plan adopted in 1988, with extensive public involvement, was so visionary that it continues to be valid today.

At the same time, our most struggling community members deserve an immediate response to their basic needs. Government agencies and nonprofit groups cooperate daily to provide assistance, despite shrinking funding. We strive to find a balance between funding longer-term solutions, such as prevention and intervention, while also helping those who are suffering right this moment.

Day-and-night-access centers and veterans' service centers meet the immediate, basic needs for meals, a dry and safe place to be, showers, mail, phones, clothing and laundry. We also offer emergency energy assistance to keep people housed, and community health centers to provide low-cost medical services. Temporary fixes won't solve the larger problem of homelessness. But for many, they soften the hardship of day-to-day survival.

Ending homelessness defies any quick fixes or one-size-fits-all solutions. We need creative solutions from creative thinkers. We look to our provider community - the Human Services Network, a seasoned team of service providers that has found innovative and caring solutions to homelessness and other poverty-based problems. The federal government has acknowledged these efforts with "best practice" awards.

But make no mistake: Creativity and coordination only go so far. Homelessness is a symptom of severe poverty, and solving it will take money.

The Eugene City Council has identified "developing a strategy to help people who are homeless in Eugene" as one of its strategic initiatives. The council has had a working committee for the past year, demonstrating political leadership.

In Springfield, an Emergency Rental Assistance Program helps to keep families from becoming homeless by providing last-resort assistance to prevent evictions. However, the need far exceeds the available resources, and funding that was intended to run Springfield's program through June was depleted in January. Springfield also supports the Springfield Community Center, where food boxes and energy assistance programs help families to bridge the gap between rising housing costs and lagging wages.

As Phillip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Interagency Council on Homelessness, so eloquently says: 'We need to treat homelessness like slavery; we have to abolish it."

That is our charge as well in Lane County.

Pearl Wolfe is supervisor of the Lane County Human Services Commission and former director of Looking Glass' New Roads Program for homeless youth. She wrote this column with the help of Susan Ban, executive director of ShelterCare; Richie Weinman, urban services manager for the city of Eugene; Nancy Waggoner, program services coordinator for the Lane County Human Services Commission, and John Van Landingham, chairman of the Housing Policy Board.
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Title Annotation:Commentary
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 7, 2006
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