The problem of homelessness is front and center in Frederick right now, with citizen complaints about what they perceive to be a growing problem, and many ideas for how best to address the issue.

For that reason, The News-Post recently sent reporter Colin McGuire to two cities of similar size in December to see how others are coming at the issue.

Both Asheville, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina, have similar questions facing them, and their solutions appear to diverge somewhat, based on our reporting.

Frederick has a slightly smaller homeless population than either of the other two cities, according to figures given to our reporter.

In January 2019, Asheville counted about 560 homeless people on any given night. A housing advocate in Greenville estimated there are between 700 and 800 homeless people in the city throughout the year and between 300 and 400 at one time.

According to a point-in-time count for Frederick County, the number of homeless people locally in January 2019 was 286. It might have surprised some readers to learn that number has remained fairly stable for several years.

That does not mean we can ignore homelessness, but understanding the reality might make it easier to make headway.

Homelessness is such a difficult problem to address in large part because people can be homeless for many different reasons.

Temporary, short-term homelessness can be caused by sudden financial reverses. These can result in a family being evicted from their home, and they can end up in a shelter for a time while trying to find more permanent quarters.

For many people in this situation, the affordability of housing is probably the greatest challenge. It is related to homelessness, but it is not the same. People living close to the edge can be pushed into homelessness by a layoff, unexpected medical bills or major car repair, but most can get on their feet with a little time and some public assistance.

Long-term homelessness is more difficult. It can be the result of mental illness, drug addiction, alcoholism, and any number of other factors. These people need treatment to overcome those problems, and many are resistant to being treated.

Others prefer to live on the streets, sometimes because they don’t feel safe in shelters, sometimes because they have established a camp in the woods away from neighborhoods where they feel more comfortable. Many are alienated from family.

These problems are complicated, and the solutions are neither obvious nor simple.

At minimum, the city needs safe, clean and welcoming shelters for all of these people, with sufficient beds available when they are needed. Then, we have to look at the problem of housing affordability, so that working families can live in the Frederick community without stretching their finances to the limit.

Affordable housing should include public housing for the very poor as well as planning and zoning rules that encourage the construction of private projects aimed at people of moderate means.

Frederick is ahead of Asheville and Greenville in another important way, and that is the role each city government plays in the battle against homelessness. Asheville and Greenville occasionally allocate funds for services, while Frederick has an agency addressing the problems, the Frederick Community Action Agency.

Our community has six shelter programs — the Rescue Mission, the Religious Coalition, the FCAA’s transitional shelter, Heartly House, Advocates for Homeless Families and SHIP of Frederick County.

This is a community that cares about and is trying to do something about homelessness. But the problem of housing the homeless does not recognize the boundary between the city and the county.

The two governments should consider putting together a homelessness task force to continually assess the problems and make recommendations to both the County Council and the city’s Board of Aldermen every year. Solutions must involve drug treatment and mental health centers, as well as shelters and affordable housing.

We also need to acknowledge that because people end up on the streets or in shelters for many disparate reasons, we are never going to end homelessness, even as we strive to help those who are living on the streets.

(17) comments

Captain Yossarian

We need to help the struggling American breadwinner, for when he falls through the cracks due to illness, he sees very little of that tax money that he had contributed.

Most of the welfare is attuned to help single mothers. The "professional" welfare recipients constitute a whole socioeconomic class.

Meanwhile, a man who loses his health and with it, his ability to work, or gets fired as he approaches retirement age, becomes receives very little help from the state. His trust that the State is able to distribute collected taxes fairly also diminishes

You don't see the working homeless hanging out "on the Creek", yet they exist and they deserve to be helped in the first place. Also, they have very little free time to represent themselves in the government.

Dmulholl

The population has remained stable at 286? I know this data is now over a year old but I have to believe the number is higher. Take a walk down Carroll Creek at just about any time on any given day. Two- three years ago there was no one loitering there. Now you can find about a dozen or so at the entrance alone, doing nothing but just hanging around.

gdunn

Wrong, there's always be homeless on the creek. There are more now because the police cleaned out Mullinex park and installed cameras. So the 25 that used to hang out there all day are now on the creek.

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gabrielshorn2013

Sam, User and jag are correct. The 11th paragraph states:

"Others prefer to live on the streets, sometimes because they don’t feel safe in shelters, sometimes because they have established a camp in the woods away from neighborhoods where they feel more comfortable. Many are alienated from family."

Anecdotally, I had a childhood friend who did just that. He gave up the rat race and lived in the woods. His name was Tony Bosco, and they made a short film about him: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6316822/.

jagman

This article is refreshingly straightforward in describing the homeless problem...here or anywhere else. The fact is there are many reasons for those who choose to be homeless and fewer reasons for those who don't so choose. For many there is no real solution. Maybe the "well meaning" folks just need to leave them alone. If some tire of the free lifestyle they are welcome to change that and now is a good time to do it. As others have pointed out, enabling the problem will guarantee it's continuance.

It also needs to be noted that the current unemployment rate for Frederick county is UNDER 3% Which is statistically FULL employment. Anyone motivated to find a job can.

Frederick is also full of giant houses with very few people living within. Those who are overly concerned about the homeless are welcome to bring some of them to live in those giant houses. My guess is there are few willing to make that offer and a similar few willing to accept.

In a free society everyone can make their own choice as to how they want their lives to play out. For the very few who cannot make such a rational choice, help should be available. For all the rest, just leave them alone.

sevenstones1000

People with mental health issues cannot make their own choices. Shame on you.

gdunn

Wrong.

richardlyons

Wrong.

jagman

Well 7, you obviously did not read the second sentence in the last paragraph of my comment.

No surprise, by the way.

User1

Tell you what ALICE.....instead of criticizing every comment why don’t you offer suggestions? Or can you? Being homeless does not mean that you cannot afford to own a house. Sometimes the reasons behind an issue ARE “as simple as that”. Again, stop criticizing and provide solutions...or do you have any?

sevenstones1000

Free Narcan? It saves lives. Of course if should be free. You just want people to die?how very Republican of you.

gdunn

Yet problem was caused by Dems...….

richardlyons

Wrong again.

jagman

To be accurate, Narcan is not "free". The taxpayers are paying for it.

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Alice Jones

Such an overly simplistic view, user. You can do better. Put a little effort in next time. Thank you.

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Alice Jones

When you make a blanket statement like that it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the problems surrounding homelessness.

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User1

Read paragraphs 11 and 12 in the article, providing you read the whole article. The author says EXACTLY that! And as long as the government continues to “subsidize” their lifestyles it will continue. Free Narcan, free needles, so they can continue to spend what money they have on drugs and cigarettes. The first step in solving the homeless problem is the individual must want to be helped. That doesn’t mean free housing!

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