Voice of the Poor gets heard on editorial page

by | Dec 19, 2014 | Justice and Peace, Society of St. Vincent de Paul

Voice poor squareVoice of the Poor Advocacy gets heard on the Editorial Page

Sometimes we wonder whether we have to stand on our heads for what to get people to listen.  This story by Tom Dwyer, Northeast Region SVdP Voice of the Poor Coordinator celebrates the message picked up on an Editorial page.

Though it may often seem to Vincentians as advocates for the needs of the poor that we are empty voices crying out in the desert, to use John the Baptist imagery in this Advent season, a recent
experience in the Attleboro SVdP District (Fall River, MA Central Council) demonstrates that is not the case.

After forcefully expressing her concern about youth homelessness in the area during a Self-Sufficiency Coalition meeting covered by the press, Central Council President Irene Frechette found herself quoted not only in the news article but even more importantly in a strong editorial which followed five days later entitled “Keep Working for Homeless Shelter in Attleboro.” The editorial and the news article are found below.

Her experience reminds us that our voices, quiet though they may seem at times, are often heard in ways unknown and can be magnified in most unexpected ways through the powerfully mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit. So if we get discouraged, we do well to recall the image and the impact of the voice of John the Baptist as our model for the Voice of the Poor. Editorial and New Story from The Attleboro (MA) Sun Chronicle Citing St. Vincent de Paul Society

Editorial and New Story from The Attleboro (MA) Sun Chronicle Citing St. Vincent de Paul Society
Keep Working for Homeless Shelter in Attleboro
Editorial – Dec. 11, 2014

It’s a good start toward responding to the problem of homelessness in Attleboro that plans for a 10-bed shelter are nearing completion. Such a facility would be a start toward addressing what appears to be a growing problem.

News of the temporary shelter emerged during a recent meeting with state Rep. Paul Heroux, D Attleboro, and members of the Attleboro Area Self Sufficiency Coalition about the problem of homelessness.

The overriding message of that meeting was that the rise in homelessness, which is often complicated by mental health issues and substance abuse, is placing a greater strain on the limited resources that are available to local human services organizations to deal with the problems.

Heroux met with the officials, because he intends to file a bill to offer grants to local housing authorities to build more permanent housing. But those officials – representing the city’s health department, housing authority and area non-profit groups – responded that although expanded housing would be a positive, the homelessness crisis has reached such a point where an emergency shelter is a more pressing need.

That was the view of someone who deals with the area’s homeless, Sue Smith of the Attleboro Area Council of Churches and Homes with a Heart shelter program. She said that even though you may not see the homeless, they’re here, which is why she said the city needs a 25-bed shelter to get the homeless off the streets.

“We have anywhere from 16 to 20 people living on the streets at any one time,” she said, because existing shelters are either full or limited to the long-term homeless. Hence the need for the
aforementioned 10-bed shelter, which would be an immediate answer to what appears to be a growing problem. It would be a short-term solution designed to get the homeless off the streets when weather conditions such as a snowstorm or bitter-cold temperatures make living on the streets a health and safety risk.

Such a shelter would be an important first step toward meeting what appears to be a problem that is worse than people may have realized. For instance, Irene Frechette of the St. Vincent de Paul Society said youth homelessness also is on the rise, leading to more teens and young adults living on the streets.

That’s why she said an awareness campaign is being planned for February to urge the public to “take another look” at the less fortunate around them.

That’s part of the problem; the other is bureaucratic, with the city’s health department outreach coordinator, June Fleishman, pointing out that changes with MassHealth have led to the needy being unable to access mental health services, while others who find themselves needing emergency shelter have been turned away for applying for state assistance too late in the afternoon.
We urge Heroux and other state legislators to do whatever it takes to cut through the red tape that’s been preventing people who desperately need the help from receiving it. In the meantime, we commend the involvement of the local agencies in going ahead with the 10-bed temporary shelter, something that’s sorely needed with the coldest days of winter ahead of us.
Social Service Agencies Cite Need for Emergency Shelter For Homeless in Attleboro area

ATTLEBORO – Increasing homelessness, often complicated by mental health issues and substance abuse, is placing an ever greater strain on limited resources in the Attleboro area, according to leaders of local human services organizations.

Meeting with state Rep. Paul Heroux earlier this week, members of the Attleboro Area Self Sufficiency Coalition cited a need for additional shelter beds, better coordination of state-funded services and greater support for the mentally ill.

Heroux, D-Attleboro, who said he is planning to file a bill to provide competitive grants to permit local housing authorities to build additional permanent housing, said he was on a listening mission to gather information about urgent concerns and legislative priorities.

He got an earful.

Leaders, who included representatives from the Attleboro Health Department, Attleboro Housing Authorityand a number of nonprofits, said expanding housing is a good thing, but that the need for emergency shelter is more immediate.

Sue Smith of the Attleboro Area Council of Churches and Homes With Heart shelter program said a lackof shelter accommodations is a growing problem, and that Attleboro needs a 25-bed shelter to get of shelter accommodations is a growing problem, and that Attleboro needs a 25-bed shelter to get homeless people off the streets.

She said people may not see the homeless, but they’re here. “We have anywhere from 16 to 20 people living on the streets at any one time,” she said.Existing shelters often are full, or are limited to the long-term homeless, Smith said.

Preparations are nearing completion for a seasonal, 10-bed shelter in Attleboro that would accommodate homeless people on a short-term basis when there is a snowstorm or when the temperature falls below 15 degrees.

Some reported that those who qualify for services often have trouble getting them because of limited hours to apply for admission to shelters or glitches in healthcare delivery. June Fleishman, outreach coordinator for the city’s health department, said changes within MassHealth have led to the needy being unable to access mental health services.

Others who urgently need emergency shelter have been turned away because they applied for stateassistance later than mid-afternoon, she said.

Irene Frechette of the St. Vincent de Paul Society said youth homelessness is an increasing problem in the area, leading to more teens and young adults living on the streets.

She said an awareness campaign is being readied for February to urge the public to “take another look” at the less fortunate around them.

Many of those in attendance cited a lack of sufficient mental health services and follow-up care for people trying to get off drugs.

Lisa Nelson of U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy’s office said there is a need for “step-down” care for people recovering from substance abuse to help them keep away from drugs long-term.

Heroux said he couldn’t promise legislative action on all of the priorities cited, but said he plans to work closely with agencies and local officials to seek solutions on a variety of levels.

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