April 29, 2005
"I was a drug addict, drug dealer for 45 years of my life," confessed homeless man Mike Myers.
Myers is one of at least 175 homeless people living in the Charlottesville area.
Yet Charlottesville boasts having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. Evan Scully from the Thomas Jefferson Planning District says this statistic is misleading.
"Forty-one percent of homeless people in Charlottesville are employed," he said. Therefore they are counted as employed, even though they can not find a place to live.
"We can barely afford to pay rent. We can barely afford a roof over our heads," said Myers.
In addition to low unemployment, Charlottesville also boasts skyrocketing housing costs, making it next to impossible to earn minimum wage and find a place to live.
"This is not the place for them. They are living in a dream world," said one homeless man, talking about people trying to raise a family on a minimum wage paycheck.
Public, private, and non-profit partnerships such as the Piedmont Housing Alliance are making efforts to develop places where these people can live.
The Fifeville neighborhood at the intersection of 10th Street and Cherry Avenue is an example of these partnerships at work.
Piedmont asked the private developer to build some extra, but cheaper apartments. The builder receives more rent checks and Piedmont's clients, with their monetary assistance, get a place to live. Everyone wins.
But affordable housing only solves part of the problem. "The programs that we have for addiction, primarily, are jails," professed Scully.
While forty-one percent of the homeless have jobs, the other 59 percent may not be able to work because of mental illness or addiction. Currently, there is no place for them to get treatment.
"There's a lot of people who have fallen through the cracks left and right who aren't getting the treatment that they need in order to maintain a stable living environment," said Dave Norris from PACEM, organization of churches the provides shelter for homeless men in the winter.
This is something the city has yet to begin to tackle.
This is the second of a 2-part series on our own city's battle with homelessness. For details, please see part 1, entitled 'Homelessness On Rise.'