Group seeks to eliminate homelessness


Published: Friday, April 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 31, 2005 at 11:40 p.m.

governments, business interests, homeless advocates and service providers, mulled the thorny issue of how best to deal with Alachua County's homeless population at a summit Thursday morning.

About 40 delegates, many of whom have previously clashed about homeless strategies, agreed to begin developing plans to eliminate homelessness in the county during the next 10 years.

About 100 more people, including a handful of homeless residents, also were in attendance, watching as summit participants heard of the efforts of other communities to stamp out homelessness.

Though organizers of the summit were optimistic, they acknowledged it would be a challenge.

"I don't know if we'll obtain it, but that's always the goal," said County Commissioner Rodney Long, who co-chaired the summit with Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan.

About 900 homeless people live in Alachua County, according to a January census taken by the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry.

Local governments should approach the process with an eye toward both developing housing for existing homeless populations and programs to prevent more people from losing their homes, said Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the summit's keynote speaker.

Mangano, who has been promoting the development of similar, 10-year plans throughout the country, pointed to studies conducted in other cities showing it can be more costly to mitigate the effects of homelessness than to simply build housing for the homeless.

About 200 local governments have adopted some variation of the plan, he said.

Working to end the problem should be the goal from both a financial and moral point of view, he said.

"That's not the appropriate response to a social wrong: to maintain it, to manage it," Mangano said. "The appropriate response is to end it."

In coming weeks, those at the summit will begin discussing solutions to homelessness in the county in four subcommittees, each focusing on a different aspect of the problem: services, sustainable housing, mental health care, and substance abuse treatment and law enforcement. A fifth committee, made up of most of those in attendance and chaired by Long and Hanrahan, will oversee the efforts.

Long said this process will not be completed overnight and the committees are expected to meet again at a second summit in six months to discuss their conclusions. But he warned the work must not end with just the development of a plan.

"We will be overly criticized if we come up with a plan and don't implement it," Long said.

Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5098 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com

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