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EDITORIAL: Homelessness not an issue that’s going to go away

May 4, 2011

Over the past four weeks, we’ve taken a special look at the issue of homelessness in North Kingstown. More specifically, homelessness and the effect it has on local children in the North Kingstown School District.
What we’ve learned is that the issue isn’t a simple one.
Perhaps it’s the economy. Maybe it’s the increased costs of basic necessities like food and gas. Whatever the reason, the signs all point to homelessness being an issue that will continue to grow over the next couple of years unless something is done to stop it.
If the past four weeks have taught us anything, it’s that homelessness is a complex topic, one that isn’t going to go away any time soon, and needs more attention paid to it to truly figure out the long-lasting effects it has both on children individually and as a community collectively.
Perhaps most important, the past four weeks have shown us that while community support exists to combat the effects of this problem—namely, volunteers from several walks of life working thanklessly to try to even the playing field as much as possible between children and families who are and are not homeless—more must be done to support these efforts.
This was evident in just about every interview done in conjunction with this series.
Whether it was Washington County Coalition for Children representatives Lori Duffy and Susan Orban showing the statistics and figures related to homelessness and poverty—since 2005, the percent of children in NK participating in the SNAP program has grown 107 percent—or NK’s Title I coordinator Donna Thompson describing the ways in which the Child Operating Zone (COZ) has helped students, it’s clear the problem extends beyond just the classroom.
That was the overriding message in our feature on the Crossroads Family housing complex on Navy Drive—a feature that looked at how the housing development helps students and also helps families get back on the right foot. That messages continues in this week’s profile of the NK Food Pantry and Reach Out center.
In essence, homelessness is an issue in North Kingstown that has the full attention of a wide variety of people and, yet, things still seem to be getting worse.
Nearly every person interviewed for this series was asked: “What can be done to eliminate homelessness in North Kingstown?” and though everyone had ideas on how to alleviate some of the effects of the problem, no one came up with a solution.
And that’s just it. There is no solution. Homelessness is not a problem that is going to be solved by throwing money at people or programs.
Even if all the conditions were right—if unemployment didn’t exist, if the economy was booming, if every family had access to a college education—some people would still need help and need assistance.
So, with that in mind, it’s more important to accept that this issue will be around forever and try to provide solutions that aid one family or one person at a time.
Part of that acceptance is coming to grips with the fact that homelessness isn’t just about poor people or people who live on Navy Drive.
In fact, attitude is a big obstacle many agencies have to overcome to even begin tackling the issue and that has to change.
“I think the first step is getting information out so that people know what’s going on,” Duffy said. “And then it’s about being open minded when programs come through that will help low income individuals.”
With times the way they are, it’s easy to say funding should be cut both on a federal, state and local level for social services that are not “essential” to the everyday operation of said agency.
But with homelessness, and poverty in general, growing at an alarming rate both here in NK and beyond, there comes a point when the well-being of a society has to play a role in budget discussions, even if it is far easier to pretend the problem only exists for a small portion of people.
In the end, whether it’s something as small as donating canned goods to your local food pantry or something as big as local and state funding for afterschool programs for children at risk, there are a lot of things we can do as a society and as individuals to try to battle homelessness.
And, make no mistake about it, if we don’t battle homelessness and poverty, we all lose.

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