Thursday, February 14, 2008
Another homeless death-- while vouchers cut and the Governor plans shelter closings
40 year old Timothy Curtiss was found dead in Springfield, Massachusetts this morning by the banks of the Connecticut River-- a not uncommon place in this city for homeless people to die. Mr. Curtiss had most recently stayed at the Springfield Rescue Mission, but left the shelter last evening and didn't return, according to Gerry McCafferty, Deputy Director of Housing, in an email this afternoon. The police say his death appears to be from natural causes.
Just how natural can the death of a homeless person be?
It was lousy weather yesterday-- cold and it rained all day and the ground was saturated-- not the kind of night that a homeless person might choose to spend outside instead of in a shelter.
Was Mr. Curtiss intoxicated? If so, he would have had to leave the Rescue Mission-- you have to be sober to stay there. Was he too tired and cold to walk up the hill to Worthington St. Shelter, or had he been banned? If so, he was out of luck and out of shelter options and his life dwindled down to a matter of hours.
I was writing earlier this week about the decline in homelessness in Springfield-- two fewer people this year than in 2006. Today, reading about Mr. Curtiss, it hit me that if a couple of dozen homeless people hadn't died in the last two years, we would have seen an increase, not a decrease. If only Mr. Curtiss had been accommodating enough to die 30 days earlier, he would have been one less homeless person to be counted in the Annual Point-in-Time count.
The craziness of our strategies for solving homelessness continue to blow me away. Springfield gets its model of ending homelessness from Phil Mangano, head of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and flunky for the Bush Administration. When Mangano was in Springfield talking about how wonderful our Ten Year Plan for Ending Homelessness is, he neglected to mention how Bush had slashed funding for affordable housing. Because Springfield has chosen to focus on those so-called 10% who are "chronically homeless," that is, those people who have multiple issues playing into their homelessness-- the real lack of affordable housing in Springfield hasn't yet been a stumbling block for the Ten Year Plan. Twenty-two homeless people have been placed into housing, with plans for more-- don't remember the exact number.
But what happens to the other 90% of homeless people who need help?
Governor Patrick is out with a "Five Year" plan to end homelessness in the Commonwealth. He will start by decommissioning 20% of the shelter beds in the first year, and using the saved money to help people retain the housing they're in or find other affordable housing. Sounds good, doesn't it? Yet my experience tells me that as the state and the city move toward tighter control of homeless services, statistics and strategies, the real truth of the situation, the real solutions, will be buried under the muck of rhetoric and self-congratulation.
Photo from Stoneth at Flickr