Opinion

How to help the homeless

Thirty people, mainly representatives from several community churches and support groups, met at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Arlington Oct. 30 to assess the extent of homeless and other severely ‘at need’ individuals and families in the north county community.

A number of those present spoke about the needs they were encountering on a daily basis. Churches reported an increase in the number of phone calls and walk-in requests for immediate and urgent help. Many of these requests are from people who have been working, but have become un-employed and who are homeless for the first time, or who are on the verge of being homeless. With the recent plant closures, the feeling is that this number will continue to grow.

As much as they would like to help, the number of requests and the broad range of services needed are beyond the capacity of individual churches to meet. Each church and group attempts to respond, but their resources are simply too limited to meet the need.

The goal of this meeting was to identify which services are already available, which are not, and of those available, which are most effective.

Fortunately, identifying what services are being provided and by whom has become much easier than it was in the past. Arlington and Marysville and the rest of north Snohomish County are under the umbrella of the ‘211’ phone number which serves as a central point for listing all agencies and their services for people in crisis. Now a single phone call will provide the name of the most appropriate agency or agencies for an individual’s particular needs. Operators at the ‘211’ number also serve as a central collection point for compiling a list of people needing housing, and helping match the need to the housing that becomes available through various agencies. This phone call for housing must be made by the homeless themselves, and not by another individual on their behalf.

Sadly, even though there are a number of agencies providing services, they too are being stretched and many are unable to serve all who are in need, or lack the ability to respond immediately. Meeting participants were keenly aware of these shortfalls, and greatly concerned that with the current downturn in the economy and facing winter months, the number of people needing food, shelter, and other emergency services will certainly increase.

The group agreed to begin by cooperatively and effectively working on a specific need rather than scattering efforts in various directions. It was decided that the most immediate action should focus on helping make food available to those in need, and the logical place to start is to increase support to the Arlington Food Bank.

Dedicated volunteers at the Food Bank have steadfastly and determinedly provided food for families in our community for years. Now they are seeing a dramatic rise in the number of people needing their services. The committee agreed that the goal of the next meeting would be to develop an organized plan to increase support to food banks and to develop additional ways of providing food for those in need.

While the current surge of those in need is by recently homeless or near-homeless, the working poor, and unemployed, Officer DeWitt of the Arlington Police Department noted two additional homeless groups. The first are those that are ‘habitually homeless’, and currently there are only six or seven people in this group. This chronically homeless group is principally individuals with mental and emotional issues who have been unable to adapt to being in a shelter. Police officers maintain a dialogue with these individuals and are familiar with their routines. Additionally, there are the ‘transient homeless’ who regularly travel from one community to another or who pass through Arlington after a ‘sweep’ of the homeless in a larger metropolitan area. It is this latter group that most often create problems that require police intervention.

DeWitt also reported that the number of homeless teenagers is down from a decade ago. In is uncertain what all the factors are in this decrease, but certainly a major reason would be the additional services that have been established during this time.

The group has scheduled another meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at the same place, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church on Highland Drive in Arlington.

For information call Anna Pritchard at 360-925-6209.

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