How do we best help the homeless?

12/11/2013 5:58 PM

12/11/2013 11:26 PM

Jason’s patch of real estate is a metal park bench.

He has become a project in caring for the Coleman Highlands neighborhood in midtown Kansas City.

People noticed the bearded man, his bedroll, the cart of possessions camped out in the park. Then the brutal cold kicked in.

A child wanted to give him a T-shirt. Adults left him food, blankets, a coat, a thermos, hand warmers and sleeping bags. Others called local shelters for help.

And the questions keep nagging: What’s appeasing a middle-class itch to “give back” and what’s substantially helping? Does the broader picture even matter when the wind chill is 9 degrees?

Jason is well aware that he and his homeless brethren are a dilemma not only for the midtown residents he has met these past few days, but also for the city and the nation. On Wednesday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors predicted a twofold problem: a greater demand for homeless and hunger services, along with tighter budgets.

Next week, a group from the Colorado Springs, Colo., Police Department will meet with police, city and social service groups on both sides of the state line. In Colorado, a team of officers connects the homeless to services, an approach that might start here.

In January, Kansas City will unroll a comprehensive plan to rethink homelessness. The goal is finding effective ways to feed people and find them housing, jobs and other help. No one strategy alone is sufficient, said Councilman Scott Wagner, who has helped coordinate a year of study.

Jason, by describing his day-to-day routine, agreed with many of Wagner’s findings.

Safety is his top concern. He won’t live in camps of homeless people. Now police check on him. He complains about shelters that have kicked people out during the day.

“Yeah, I know,” is his reply to the reasoning that all-day shelters might discourage some from seeking work.

Nights are easy, he said. Finding places OK with his presence during the daylight is hard. Sunday, he chuckles at the irony, is the most difficult day to find a meal.

He is from Kansas City but has shuffled through Bentonville, Ark., Joplin (pre-tornado) and San Antonio. He said a divorce, the inability to pay two rents and problems carried from his personal life into the workplace started his spiral.

He is not in touch with family and said lacking a network of friends piled on.

So for now at least, he is partially in the care of strangers.

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