Homelessness is still a problem in the area

Homelessness is still a problem in the area

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By Toni Stauffer

In 2018, there were 276 homeless people counted by HUD. Out of that number, only nine were chronic substance abusers. Of that total, 101 were White and 144 were Black, 159 were male, and 114 female. 

With all of the programs to help, why is the problem not going away?  

“Housing is unaffordable. We have a housing crisis,” Homeless Resource Network Executive Director Elizabeth Dillard explained. “Please see the great work by the National Low Income Housing Coalition ‘Out of Reach.’ The solution to homelessness is housing. Anyone can become homeless. Just ask anyone who survived the recent tornadoes. Poverty is the best indicator of homelessness but not everyone in poverty is homeless.” 

Someone on a limited income, when you consider rent, utilities, transportation, food, medicine, etc., cannot afford housing. Even those who work minimum wage jobs cannot afford it. 

Dillard said there is a lot people can do to help combat homelessness and gave the following suggestions: 

Encourage policies, elected officials, people they know to take an interest in making housing affordable to more people. 

Become educated about homelessness. Don’t just look at affected people as “homeless,” which carries a lot of stigma and blame. 

People who are landlords can partner with the homeless housing programs and housing coordinators. 

Volunteer. Non-profits need Board Members. 

Donate. Financial contributions are essential for non-profits to stay in operation. 

Suitcases and backpacks are always needed. A variety of programs accept clothes, household items, food, etc. 

Get involved. The Homeless Resource Network facilitates a monthly meeting the third Thursday of the month at 4 p.m. The site varies. The public is invited.

Organizations like Home for Good provide services under a program called Coordinated Entry, in which someone experiencing homelessness can call 211 for housing assistance. Home for Good executive director Pat Frey said the biggest need right now is housing for families, particularly veterans and their families. 

In Phenix City, 20.9 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, compared to 21.5 percent in Columbus. In Phenix City, a one-bedroom apartment goes for $685 on average. At the current minimum wage, a person would have to work 72 hours a week to afford it. So, either the rents are too high, or the minimum wage is too low. 

Dillard said there are so many obstacles that are difficult to overcome, such as trauma, where to sleep at night, where to eat, how to get there, where to shower, how to get clean clothes, and even more stress if you have children or other family members depending on you. 

She said it is also difficult to get good information and find employment. And add to that problems such as low literacy skills, mental health and/or substance abuse issues. There are people who are homeless, but hide it—living in their car, but going to work every day. 

“A great deal of homelessness is invisible,” she said.  

For more information on HRN, go to www.homelessresourcenetwork.org. Some other resources can be found at the HUD website: www.hudexchange.info under Resources. The Homeless Resource Network is located at 2221 Second Avenue in Columbus. Their phone number is 706-571-3399. They are open weekdays 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET, except for Wednesday.