By: Joe D’Amore – October, 2016
The city of Lawrence and several Cape Ann communities have an almost intractable homelessness problem not unlike other urban centers in the United States. The twin primary drivers are lack of affordable housing and an economy that does not produce sufficient jobs for people looking for them throughout the entire economic spectrum. Concurrent with these two issues are the raging drug epidemic and lack of social programs to care for the mentally ill which independently produce their own subsets of homeless people.
These problems are very familiar throughout numerous Cape Ann communities.
And so specific to Lawrence- at the Casey Bridge, Jackson Street Bridge all along Broadway, the Common and various other locations throughout the city, as well as emergency shelters, homelessness is in open display.
What is ultimately not a sustainable condition is the incubation of areas where the homeless live, virtually permanently. Casey Bridge has gained regional notoriety as the most glaring example, but many Cape Ann communities have their own well known places too. In fact, people residing under bridges, along railroad corridors and in abandoned buildings simply create public health risks to the general public , increase crime and also degrade economic and community development.
And even though there is a growing dedicated contingency of faith based groups, volunteers, independent humanitarians and caring individuals who deliver basic necessities to people living outdoors, increasing the level of comfort can only be a temporary measure.
Consider a metaphorical view of the problem. If someone fell into a manhole, you could send food and water down to help sustain them, but ultimately, the better approach is to send down a ladder to help them climb out of their predicament. And in this regard, Lawrence has several key advantages that can potentially lead to helping everyone find a roof over their heads.
Most urban communities are truly blessed with a mosaic of shelters, transitional housing units, agencies, non-profit organizations, food and clothing outlets and a strong network of faith -based communities. An innovation in Lawrence is that the City Council has recently approved a position of Homelessness Initiative Coordinator that can help coordinate and bolster these services to enable people to get the help they need . Cape Ann communities should contact their counterparts to learn more about this concept. Additionally , a recent, phenomena is that service agencies are now implementing outreach versions of their resources, where literally, social workers walk the streets and engage people who need assistance. It is a wonderful vision to further encourage this and coordinating with the new position holds great promise. This would be the “ladder” concept in practice, mentioned earlier.
Many communities have several urban areas where through thoughtful bidding of acquired tax-title properties, affordable housing and transitional housing can be developed primarily through rehabilitation projects of abandoned or run-down buildings and properties.
Lastly, many police departments continue successfully fighting crime related to drugs. Related to this would be an opportunity to build a community policing model, supported by special available federal grants, where directing focus and care to homeless people in coordination with agencies to deliver services, could be facilitated.
The homelessness problem, in light of these possibilities, simply is not that intractable. In the end, what Lawrence has demonstrated- which can be replicated- is patience, compassion and a genuine will to address the issue. Now is the time to bring all these promising elements into sharp focus and implement them in concert. It’s time to send down ladders to those who want to climb out of their holes.
Joe D’Amore writes from Groveland