While local officials are not able to say with certainty how many people in Allegany County are homeless, an article in last Saturday’s Times-News leaves no doubt that the problem is not going away. If anything, it is growing worse.
According to a composite counted by local agencies that deal with homelessness, 153 people have no place of their own to stay.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Deanna Clark, speaking of homelessness in Allegany County. She has 15 years’ experience as director of housing opportunity for the Allegany County Human Resources Development Commission.
A number of agencies and organizations are in the thick of trying to help the homeless. Among them are the Union Rescue Mission, Allegany County Department of Social Services, the Western Maryland Food Bank and other local food pantries, HRDC and various agencies funded by United Way.
“I don’t know whether homelessness is increasing or not, but I know we are full,” the Rev. Dan Taylor of the Union Rescue Mission said. “We (provide shelter for) 300 men, women and children a year. Same number year after year, but the faces are different.”
Taylor and others believe much of the problem stems from the struggling economy and the lack of job opportunities. Another factor is the reduction or elimination of federal grants that subsidize low-income housing.
There are no easy answers to reducing the homeless population. What is clear, though, is that the social agencies and nonprofit groups who are trying to help the disadvantaged in our area need the community’s help more than ever before — especially given the cuts in federal aid.
The year 2014 will be an election year. It behooves candidates from the federal level on down to make the homelessness issue an important part of their conversation with voters.