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Homelessness is anything but "intractable" [Letter]

Laws and LegislationFinanceCulture

Thanks to The Sun for drawing attention to the crisis of homelessness in our community ("Addressing the intractable problem of homelessness in Baltimore," Dec. 2). Clearly we face daunting challenges and limited resources to meet the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors. But the plight of thousands of people experiencing homelessness — our fellow citizens who sleep in shelters, doorways, cars, and on couches and floors in the homes of relatives and friends — is anything but "intractable."

The most tragic and visible symptom of poverty, homelessness is fueled by the lack of affordable housing, incomes insufficient to pay for housing, and restricted access to medical and behavioral health services. Deliberate policy decisions in these areas created contemporary homelessness over the past four decades. And while a struggling economy and partisan gridlock may lead to the perception of intractability, each of these problems can most certainly be solved.

Three of the policy changes necessary to reduce homelessness are close at hand: the expansion of Medicaid, the National Housing Trust Fund, and an increase in the minimum wage. On Jan. 1, more than 84,000 low-income Marylanders — including many people experiencing homelessness — will be enrolled automatically in health insurance through an expanded Medicaid program, with thousands more gaining eligibility throughout the year. Greater access to services like medical care and addiction treatment will improve health and lower overall costs.

The National Housing Trust Fund, passed by Congress in 2008 and signed into law by President George W. Bush, would significantly increase the amount of affordable housing in Maryland and Baltimore, but it has been unfunded to date. In October, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake endorsed the national campaign to fund the Trust Fund, which would contribute tens of millions for housing construction each year in Maryland alone. And as was well articulated by Adam Schneider ("Supplement charity with advocacy," Dec 1), increasing the minimum wage — as a step toward more comprehensive wage reforms — would provide incomes sufficient to reduce homelessness in many of Maryland's counties.

A strong coalition of public, private and nonprofit leaders shares the belief that homelessness need not be permanent and has united behind The Journey Home, Baltimore's Plan to End Homelessness, which calls upon us to increase access to housing, health care and jobs, and to strengthen our social safety net. We urge everyone concerned about the health and well-being of our community to join with us to enact policies that make homelessness rare and brief. Homelessness is only intractable when we fail to act.

Adrienne Breidenstine, Antonia Fasanelli and Kevin Lindamood, Baltimore

Ms. Breidenstine is executive director of The Journey Home, Baltimore's Plan to End Homelessness; Ms. Fasanelli is executive director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project; and Mr. Lindamood is president and CEO of Health Care for the Homeless.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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