Homeless put in focus

MONDAY, JUNE 1, 2009

CdA plan outlines multipronged effort

Homelessness in Kootenai County costs taxpayers some $6.5 million annually for social and government services, according to a recently completed draft plan aimed at addressing the problem in the region over the next decade.

Coeur d’Alene City Councilman Mike Kennedy says he aims to get surrounding communities involved.

The struggle with homelessness was highlighted last October, when law enforcement officials in Coeur d’Alene gave about two dozen homeless people one day to clear out of “Hobo Alley,” a makeshift camp for the destitute on the outskirts of town.

According to the city’s new plan, homelessness in the region is getting worse, not better, due to the state of both the national and local economies.

“It is a critical issue,” said Jim Brannon, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of North Idaho. “People who are hungry, who don’t have adequate shelter, don’t have much of a life. The city has taken the right approach to addressing the issue.”

The plan estimates there are 639 homeless people in the county.

According to the plan, the city should adopt a program of “Housing First,” a national model that’s found success in other communities; create a so-called “one-stop shop” to coordinate services to help people who are struggling and to keep them from becoming homeless; and work with businesses, nonprofit agencies, churches and local government to make sure that people on the brink of losing their homes don’t fall through the safety net.

Even though police often intervene only when there’s a problem – including litter left along busy streets by panhandlers, theft, trespassing and nuisance complaints – many homeless people do not cause trouble, said Coeur d’Alene Police Capt. Steve Childers.

The plan will help deal with a wide variety of individuals and conditions, Childers said, and while completely eliminating homelessness is the goal, that is unlikely.

“There are individuals we see, that is their lifestyle,” he said.

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