Since I last wrote about homelessness in Hickory, I’ve spoken with a great many people and researched more. The problem is INCREDIBLY complex.
First, we know that many of our homeless population lost their homes and jobs when our economy crashed. We also know that while our economy is improving in leaps and bounds, our homeless population is staying steady in numbers.
I’ve said that we need to find the place that humanity meets reality, and build our solution there.
Hickory GIVES. There are enough money and resources being given already to address the problem in a truly meaningful way. We have some major organizations that are leading the way: Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministries (CCM) and the Hickory Soup Kitchen immediately spring to mind. They are very hands-on and know our homeless population very well. CCM has a vetting process which I find very useful. They are working to give a hand up, not just hand outs. They are opening a new Whole Life Center which pairs people with a case manager who helps them make forward progress. The soup kitchen is currently serving about 265 people every day at lunch, which in a very real way is keeping these people alive. They are also working with Greenway to help this community find jobs and then get to those jobs daily, and the program is very successful. The goal for both organizations is to help these people get their life back on track.
A problem we have here is duplication of services. On the one hand, it’s easy to ignore that this is a problem, as it means more food and services are available. But as we help some people work their way out of homelessness, more arrive from elsewhere, enticed by the many things Hickory provides for people. If we continue to duplicate services, we will continue to be a destination for homeless people.
So I have a big idea. First, we make a commission and strongly encourage every helpful group to join. Then, we decide we aren’t going to duplicate services, and we combine or adjust what we offer based on what is already being offered elsewhere. We need an extensive computer program that all groups use, so that we know who is being helped and how. We will save a lot of money if we don’t duplicate, and that money can be spent to purchase an old big box store, which can be turned into a modified homeless shelter. We can certainly house 260 people, and using a model that encourages participation, we can keep families together, and actually help people. Part of this would be moving the many services to the same geographical location and getting a caseworker for everyone there. It’s a big proposal, and it would take a while to get there, but we could afford it if we stopped duplicating. The real question is: can we afford NOT to do this? What will Hickory look like in 10 years if we don’t actually help this population?