Guest Opinions

Homelessness is increasing in the Tri-Cities

How you can help the homeless?

There is no one-size-fits-all plan that works for helping the homeless. But rather than ignore those living on the streets, use these suggestions to guide your desire to reach out.
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There is no one-size-fits-all plan that works for helping the homeless. But rather than ignore those living on the streets, use these suggestions to guide your desire to reach out.

“Not in my backyard.” That’s often a comfortable mindset when locals think about “big city” challenges — like hunger and homelessness — that just can’t be a real problem in the Tri-Cities. But, signs of our increasing homeless population are popping up in our parks, roadways, shelters and schools.

The number of local people who lack an adequate nighttime residence is increasing, particularly among minors. Although our January 2018 Point-in-Time Count of homeless persons revealed 163 homeless persons in our bi-county area, our school districts reported 1,112 homeless students in the 2017-18 school year. This demonstrates how difficult it is to understand the scope of our local challenge.

The face of homelessness is changing in our community. It is no longer just the single male who is “down on his luck.” Single-parent families and youth are the fastest growing segments of our unstably housed population.

For fragile families, rents are growing faster than incomes. High rents and low vacancy rates continue to push people living at the margins into homelessness.

For every $100 increase in rent, there is a 6 percent increase in homelessness in an urban area and a 32 percent increase in rural areas (Journal of Urban Affairs).

In the smaller communities of our two counties, few rental options and rising rents drove more families to move to the “big city” this fall to seek better opportunities for their children.

Our three largest school districts experienced a surge in families moving to the Tri-Cities from outlying communities. But, housing is tight in the Tri-Cities as well, so many families were forced to live in motels, camp grounds, substandard housing, shelters and cars.

Data from public safety, our shelters, and school districts also show that homelessness is growing among unaccompanied minors and young adults. Data show that:

• 70 percent of homeless youth are from homes characterized by high levels of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or neglect;

• 50 percent have been in foster care or the juvenile justice system;

• 40 percent identify as LGBTQ; and

• 75 percent are from the local area.

Given the growth the wide range of people finding themselves without safe and adequate housing, what can we do to reduce homelessness?

There is good news! Right in our backyard our shelters are adapting to meet changing needs.

Our United Way is helping local donors invest with high impact non-profits to fuel expanded shelter capacity and re-housing support. We connect volunteers with coalitions who are rebuilding transition planning and expanding supportive housing for vulnerable persons coming from foster care, jail, and sobriety treatment.

I believe that all people deserve a safe place to live, and together, we can build solutions to address this growing challenge, right in our backyard.

Learn more at “A Snapshot of Homelessness in the Tri-Cities,” a community forum sponsored by the Columbia Basin Badger Club at 11:30 a.m. on June 27, see www.columbiabasinbadgers.com.

LoAnn Ayers is President and CEO, United Way of Benton & Franklin Counties

If you go

When: 11:30 a.m., Thursday, June 27

Where: Shilo Inn, 50 Comstock St., Richland

Cost: $25 for Badger Club members, $30 for nonmembers, $35 day of the event. Registration is required.

RSVP: Call 628-6011 or go to www.columbiabasinbadgers.com.

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