Affordable housing could put dent in homelessness






More than 800 homeless people have settled in Tallahassee, according to  the Big Bend Homeless Coalition. Photo by Kishanda L. Burns

More than 800 homeless people have settled in Tallahassee, according to the Big Bend Homeless Coalition. Photo by Kishanda L. Burns

By Kishanda L. Burns
Outlook Writer

While local government agencies and volunteer organizations work to find refuse for the homeless in Tallahassee, there is a consensus that more affordable housing could have a huge impact on reducing the number of people who live on the streets.

“The main cause of homelessness; the number one reason is we don’t have enough affordable housing,” said Marie Vandenberg, a director at HOPE Community. “Affordable housing is our biggest issue.”

One of the documented reasons that affordable housing is difficult to attain is a waiting list that stretches several years. Even those who qualify for government subsidized housing known as Section 8 have to wait several years.

Add to that, are more than 1,000 people who rely on the services of HOPE Community and the affordable housing problem is compounded.

The number of homeless served by Hope Community has tripled in recent years. Most people housed by Hope Community would prefer to have their own homes, said Vandenberg.

While many homeless people might be criticized for being unmotivated, Vandenberg said that is not always the case. It could be as simple as being unable to handle life’s circumstance, she said.
“One little bump in the road can throw somebody off,” said Vandenberg.

However, Danielle Shultz, spokesperson for Hope Community, is optimistic that the Tallahassee community can fix the housing situation to help the homeless.

“I think the Tallahassee community can work with policy makers to have more affordable housing in our area,” she said.

Meanwhile, homelessness in this country is becoming worst each day. According to the Big Bend Homeless Coalition, a nonprofit community-based organization in Tallahassee, there are 805 people experiencing homelessness in the city. As many as 73 percent are men, 26 percent are women, 10 percent are children, 9 percent are over 60 years old and 62 percent have a disabling condition; 188 of them are sleeping outside according to the 2014 report.

Many of them are subjected to hate crimes, which are committed on a daily. Several of those cases go unreported.

The National Coalition for the Homeless found 1,435 violent hate crimes were committed against homeless people, including 375 victims who were murdered, according to ThinkProgress, an American political news blog, over the past 15 years,

“Florida has the highest incident of violent attacks on the homeless of any of the states,” said Shultz.
She insisted that homelessness should not happen, especially in a city like Tallahassee.
“I think that homelessness in America is becoming a bigger problem because of income gap issues,” said Shultz.

Shultz has seen more homelessness in Tallahassee than in Gainesville, where she lived before moving to Tallahassee. What’s baffling is that Tallahassee has more assistance for the homeless, including The Shelter.

“After coming here, I just learned so much,” said Shultz. “One of the biggest things that I’ve learned is that it can happen to anyone, honestly. It’s something that doesn’t have to happen in the United States. If we would have more affordable housing, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

HOPE Community primarily provides service to families looking for shelter. Out of 170 families that use the facility, 100 of them are children.

HOPE Community works with many campaign agencies, including the Zero Campaign which says that there will be zero homelessness in Tallahassee. The campaign is an effort to eliminate homelessness among military veterans.

JaKeya Lawson, a student at FAMU, could also relate to homelessness.

“I have experienced homelessness when I had outside family members put my immediate family out our home and we had to sleep in a car for a night. We were able to find an affordable motel room to sleep in,” said Lawson

Lawson agrees that homelessness is an economic issue.

“I feel like our government is completely responsible for taking that action,” she said.
Others who are homeless like a lady who identifies herself only as “Ms. K,” have found ways to endure being homeless.

“I treat life like it’s a mind over matter,” she said. “I never pity myself because I’m at a low point in my life. I just appreciated the strangers that are nice to me.

“By me dealing with homelessness is by keeping faith that God will keep me protected at all times. I go days without eating on some occasions, or I may ask a close friend for food. I sleep alone aside an abandoned property when I want to get some good sleep and I sleep in a McDonald’s booth if I want to nap.”

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