We’ve all had growing awareness of homeless people in Cherokee County, including children and veterans. A statue dedicated in January at Veteran’s Park depicts two homeless veterans. It’s a beautiful yet cold and constant reminder of this problem. At that dedication, I pledged to help in some way. I don’t think we can stand by with vulnerable and better-deserving folks suffering.
A spot-count, taken two years ago, showed almost 300 homeless people in our county. Most of them had found somewhere indoor to sleep for that night, mostly with friends or relatives. But they had no real place to live. Tragically, about 67 were unsheltered − literally out in the cold. Another count was taken recently. We don’t have the results yet, but no one expects lower numbers.
I talked about the problem with Kendall Jones and Greg Elder of MUST Ministries. They’re doing great work in this area. They don’t have an emergency shelter in Cherokee, but they can provide motel vouchers to a limited number of people for up to 30 days. They also can provide some emergency help to people who are facing eviction, to help them to stay in their homes. And, they provide longer-term housing support for others, to help them get back on their feet and transition into stable independent housing.
But, they’re forced to turn many away. On the night of the spot-count in January 2017, there were 67 people living in cars, in the woods, or otherwise out in the cold. Kendall, Greg and I talked about ways the county could help. One option we discussed was renting apartments to use for emergency sheltering, longer-term transitional housing, or both, as needed. The daily cost of each unit would be far less than the $75 per day that motel rooms cost. We discussed that $100,000 per year could rent up to 20 such apartments that could house two to four people each. In theory, at least, they could house most of the 67 people who were out in the cold at the last known count. We discussed that $100,000 is less than one tenth of 1 percent of the county’s operating budget. It seems like we can afford that.
It’s just a concept at this point. I want the county to help in a meaningful way, with priority given to veterans and children. But, there might be other, more effective ways. What do you think? Can and should we commit one tenth of 1 percent of the county’s budget to significantly close the unsheltered homelessness gap in our county? Can we afford not to? Please email me about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Harry Johnston is chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners.