On a recent Q&A session, one question that garnered a lot of attention was in regards to combating the rising epidemic of homelessness in our area.
Homelessness is an uncomfortable topic that is largely ignored in local politics. However, the fact that it’s uncomfortable does not change the fact that it must be discussed. As a city leader, one has to be prepared to tackle both softball and hardball scenarios and answer to the community about one’s choices.
Looming over the homelessness debate is the uncomfortable fact that increased funding attracts homeless populations from outside the area. According to a study by UC Davis, “locally, more funding leads to greater family homelessness because families move to regions with more generous funding. In the presence of such migration, local governments may be incentivized to under-provide homeless services.”
For fear of being swarmed beyond their individual capabilities, many municipalities simply avoid the issue. However, I am of the opinion that this fact is no excuse to ignore a fellow human being in need.
Battling homelessness is no easy task, but with the right mindset we can do our part.
Point Number One: To overcome this barrier to a solution, we must ensure the cooperation of adjacent municipalities. Without the cooperation of our neighboring towns and cities, we cannot cause meaningful change. Homelessness is not something that Johnson City can tackle alone – we need all local communities to do their part. Johnson City does not have the capability to support all the homeless of Appalachia – other cities surrounding us must increase their response efforts in tandem with ours in order to fairly spread the burden and prevent a ‘run on resources’ that does nothing but cause more harm in the long run.
Point Number Two: Our solution to homelessness must involve upward mobility for those we seek to assist. If our homelessness plan of action does not include addiction services, mental health services, and job training services, we will make no progress on the binds that keep those in need in the cycle of homelessness: drug addiction, mental health crises, and simply falling through the cracks of society’s safety nets.
As Commissioner, I will advocate for goal-oriented policies that seek to reduce the homeless population instead of simply manage it. We must cooperate with the numerous aid organizations in our area to move as one cohesive unit on all fronts simultaneously: emergency shelter, temporary housing, long term housing, food, medical, mental health, addiction, and workforce re-entry. A failure on any one front compromises the mission of healing and rehabilitation of our neighbors in need.
Developing sustainable, long term approaches to community problems is an integral part of Building For Tomorrow.