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Local homelessness focus of supervisors

Terri Harber
Appeal Staff Writer

Two people who used to be homeless explained to the Carson City Board of Supervisors on Thursday how they were able to get their lives back on track – with a lot of help.

“I never dreamed I’d be a homeless person,” said Wendy Wilkey, who at one point ended up living in her truck with her dog. Wilkey had just made her way out of a relationship with a batterer, and had trouble obtaining assistance from governmental sources but found crucial help available at Do Drop In.

“I was scared, nervous frightened and didn’t know where my next meal would be,” said David Sorensen, who is disabled and deals with other challenges, such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder and bipolar disorder. He spent time living at a local residence hotel and the Friends In Service Helping shelter before eventually finding his own apartment.

Both of these people found a solution to their homelessness through non-governmental means. Wilkey was so grateful for the help she received that she now volunteers at the Do Drop In.

The city recently obtained a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of $101,580 for sheltering those who are chronically homeless and intends to examine how other cities are attempting to meet this goal.

Carson City will create a plan to alleviate homelessness as part of its grant requirements. It might be Carson City that provides the ultimate plan for similar-size communities throughout the nation, said Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

The city is off to a “good start,” he said.

Homeless population counts began last year, and a coalition of various community members, service providers and people who are and used to be homeless is forming to ascertain local homeless population needs.

Homelessness will only yield to local solutions, Mangano said, and non-governmental efforts will be extremely important in reaching this goal. He also cited involvement by faith-based groups and business associations as crucial in finding an answer that would best suit individual communities.

“We’ve all grown tired of shuffling homeless people,” Mangano said, emphasizing the belief of “tolerance of homeless people, but intolerance of homelessness.”

Mangano became head of the interagency in 2002. Among solutions he advocates is the use of permanent housing to help the chronically homeless stop moving among streets, shelters, transitional residences, hospitals and jails. Not only is it a dangerous existence for the people, it’s expensive for taxpayers to provide these services.

Current focus is on stopping chronic homelessness because it is so costly, he said. Once this situation is stabilized, more attention and resources can be provided to other types of homeless people.

He told of a study in San Diego that followed 15 homeless people as they made their way from one government resource to another. The average annual cost to support each of these people was $200,000.

Enough money “to rent a condo on the beach,” cover other expenses and even provide for some luxuries, he said.

Dee Dee Foremaster, director of the Rural Center for Independent Living and the Do Drop In, provided the board with some facts about homelessness and emphasized that substantial numbers of them are seniors, women and disabled people.

Most people on the streets “have disabilities and don’t know how to access services,” she said, which is why the services she directs and FISH are so important.

While more than 200 U.S. cities have partnered with the interagency, most of them are large cities. Some of the plans these and other communities have devised might help Carson City create its own plan, but the hope is that Carson might find a solution viable for smaller cities and communities. More cities have homeless problems more comparable to Carson City’s than New York’s or Los Angeles’, Mangano said.

Supervisor Shelly Aldean asked whether a count could be conducted when the weather is warmer, when it would be more accurate. Mangano told her the city would benefit from doing more counts throughout the year because it would provide more information about the people and the patterns of the local homeless population.

— Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber @nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111, ext. 215.