Homeless Fear

Metro Pulse has given Joe Minichiello a platform to whip up fear with the argument that all persons who are chronically homeless are potential murderers or are otherwise dangerously violent people. ["Homeless Housing Hullabaloo," Citybeat by Rose Kennedy, Feb. 11, 2009] He went further in Thursday's Metropolitan Planning Commission meeting, equating persons who are homeless with "toxic waste."

Ironically, if Mr. Minichiello's unconscionable stereotypes of mentally disabled people were accurate, then the faith-based community would hardly be equipped, as he suggests, to "provide for" such a population. Furthermore, Mr. Minichiello's examples are all of people who were untreated and unhoused. Had his examples been residents of permanent supportive housing, working with case managers and receiving the treatment they needed, the incidents described almost certainly would not have occurred.

Homeless people probably live within a pretty short walk of where you live, and the ones who are chronically homeless cost our community around $40,000 per year. The question is not, "Do you want people with mental disabilities and/or substance abuse issues to move into your neighborhood?" They're already there, whether you live in South Knox, North Knox, Corryton, or Farragut. The question is, "Do you really want these people to continue wandering your neighborhood untreated, unmanaged, and unhoused, at such a high cost?"

Homelessness is a serious and pressing social issue. We recognize that this issue belongs to our whole community, not just a few agencies or a few neighborhoods. We would surely all agree that we should be working to solve the problem rather than just wishing it would move somewhere else. We will only solve it by doing everything we reasonably can to end it.

The strategy adopted by the Ten-Year Plan, permanent supportive housing, is proven to be effective at ending chronic homelessness. It isn't perfect, but it works. It ends the homelessness of the majority of the disabled people who enter it. It's not an experimental idea. It's been done, studied, and proven to end disabled people's homelessness and reduce costs in communities of all sizes across the nation, including ours.

We are committed to providing more affordable housing for the disabled homeless people who are already living outdoors in our community. We are also committed to spreading that housing throughout the community instead of simply putting it in a few neighborhoods. The Site Consideration Task Force, which will first meet on March 12, will help make that happen. This important group, composed of City Council members, County Commissioners, neighborhood representatives, developers, residents of permanent supportive housing, and others, will hammer out a set of siting considerations that developers of permanent supportive housing can use to guide their decisions. We look forward to that first meeting, and to a good community-based process that will help us move closer to ending chronic homelessness in our community.

Robert Finley, Mayors' Office of the Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, Knoxville