August 6, 2013
Government leaders in Charlottesville and Albemarle County are looking for ideas to increase cooperation among the various agencies that serve the homeless population.
The city has placed a request for proposal on its web site, asking for ideas. City leaders say, the winning idea could get up to $65,000 of funding.
Marco Brown says he has been homeless for several years. He spent Tuesday afternoon asking for money on Hydraulic Road.
"I had it all at one time," Brown said. "I looked down on the homeless, but now I'm homeless myself."
Brown says he became homeless after he was released from prison. As a convicted felon he found it impossible to find a job.
"I didn't realize the consequences," Brown said. "It's very hurtful. My pride is more hurt than anything."
Brown says standing on the side of the street begging for money usually brings him about $30 a day. Sometimes, he makes enough money to share a motel room with another homeless person. On days when he doesn't get that much money, he says he sleeps "underneath bridges or just hide out in the woods."
Brown says he would prefer to sleep in the Salvation Army shelter, but it's always full.
Shelter director Ben Houchens confirms that.
"Probably twenty or thirty people are calling everyday to check on openings," Houchens said. The shelter has 58 beds, but Houchens estimates there are up to 400 homeless people in the city.
Houchens is a big advocate for more collaboration, to get the Salvation Army working more closely with other agencies to solve this problem.
"There's so many resources out there," Houchens said. "But we're kind of all going in different directions.
Ronnie White, Albemarle County's housing chief, says the lack of collaboration is costing money.
"State and federal funding requires that cooperation," White said. White says he has seen examples of grant money being denied because the city and county's homeless agencies were not meeting collaboration guidelines.
However, even with cooperation, White and Houchens are skeptical whether homelessness can be completely eliminated in this area.
"I don't think you'll get rid of it," White said. "There are some people that, that's their way of life."
Brown says, he doesn't want it to be his way of life, anymore. He has other job skills to offer.
"Maintenance skills, landscaping skills, building and maintenance," Brown said. "Just a jack of all trades. But just getting the opportunity to work."
White expressed concern that, becoming better at helping the homeless may bring an unwelcome side effect.
"If we have an area that's providing good services, we may entice other people in," White said.
In other words, working harder to deal with the homeless population may just end up increasing the homeless population.