Self-confidence key to ending homelessness, advocates say

We thought this article was both interesting as well as timely as it makes reference to testimony regarding the Services for Ending Long-term Homelessness Act, legislation that would combine housing, mental health services and employment opportunities for homeless individuals.

Self-confidence key to ending homelessness, advocates say
by Colleen Freyvogel

May 08, 2007

WASHINGTON—Alphonso Williams had a drug addiction and was homeless for nearly 25 years. Now Williams works as a homeless advocate for Housing for New Hope in Durham.

“You can’t change a person but you can change their surroundings so they can allow themselves to change,” he said.

Williams lived in New Hope’s Phoenix House, a transitional home for men, and said a family-like atmosphere helped him build the self-confidence he needed to find a job and change his life.

“A job helps build self-esteem and you feel like you can take care of yourself,” he said.

Williams, now a homeowner, came to Washington as a living demonstration that substance abuse and mental heath care services can help the homeless get their lives back on track.

In Washington Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee continued hearings for the nation’s substance abuse and mental health care delivery system.

Terry Allebaugh, executive director of the Housing for New Hope, said there are nearly 540 homeless people in Durham, 11,165 in North Carolina and more than 744,000 across the country. He said between 15 and 20 percent of the homeless population in Durham are veterans.

“Nobody at any time chooses to be homeless,” he said. “Piecemeal services, congregate shelters and spare change do not lead to transformative systems of are… They need real homes where they are leaseholders with rights and responsibilities. They need real change, not spare change.”

Allebaugh said 23 percent of the homeless population are chronically homeless, meaning they have lived on the streets with disabling conditions for long periods of times.

“They are there because they are poor and lack access to needed health care systems and affordable housing and services,” he said.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said today’s system of mental health, substance abuse and homelessness services are “fragmented and disconnected” because of a number of policy changes throughout the years.

“The solutions for treating and preventing mental health issues, substance abuse and homelessness lie within the states, communities and individuals who see first hand, everyday, the destruction and challenges these issues can cause,” he said.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said it’s apparent that every state and region has unique issues with substance abuse and mental health problems.

“The objective is how do we help as many people and how do we keep them as part of the community and more importantly productive parts of the community,” he said. “We do that with the real understanding that we have challenges.”

In February, Burr introduced the Services for Ending Long-term Homelessness Act, legislation to combine housing, mental health services and employment opportunities for homeless individuals.