Free Press editorial on addressing homelessness cites our program as model

January 10th, 2010
Homeless woman in Roosevelt Park in southwest Detroit

Detroit must be more proactive on homeless problem

Detroit Free Press EDITORIAL

Rising tensions between some businesses, developers, residents and homeless people in the resurgent Corktown neighborhood underscore the need for Mayor Dave Bing’s administration to get more involved with meeting the needs of the city’s nearly 20,000 homeless people.

Detroit has an effective and committed network of nonprofits — including Southwest Housing Solutions, Neighborhood Service Organization and Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries — that has worked to house and support the homeless.

But city government must become a bigger player in coordinating and advocating for such services and routing state and federal dollars into homeless programs that work. As it stands, there are too many holes in the safety net. The dearth of warming centers in Detroit, for example, is inexcusable.

Despite some of the rhetoric, gentrification is not the real problem in Detroit. In fact, the city continues to lose more than 10,000 mostly middle-class residents a year. Detroit needs a stronger tax base if it wants to assist poor people and provide city services used by low-income and working-class residents, including public transportation and decent public schools.

Even so, it’s true that developing neighborhoods such as the Cass Corridor and Corktown have experienced cultural and social clashes between developers, middle-class residents and homeless people, who are neighborhood residents, too.

In Corktown recently, some business owners and residents complained about panhandling and other problems. Last fall, a homeless man in Corktown was beaten with a baseball bat.

A formal working relationship between homeless people, social service providers, business owners, developers and other residents can eliminate many problems. Communications between service providers for the homeless and business interests in Detroit’s Midtown district, north of downtown, have improved and can provide a model for Corktown.

Effectively criminalizing homelessness is not the answer. Assaulting homeless people is disgraceful. Pushing them out of a neighborhood is not only immoral but also impractical because it simply moves the problem to another part of the city. Providing affordable housing, along with support services such as drug and mental health treatment, is the only real solution.

City government must become more active in pushing that agenda. A good start would be for the city to appoint a high-level representative, such as the mayor’s group executive for planning, to the board of the Homeless Action Network of Detroit. That would instantly improve communication and coordination between city government and community non-profits.

To ease homelessness, Detroit’s nonprofits need more help from city government, especially as Detroit redevelops and reshapes itself.

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