Beaulieu: Progress still to be made with homeless population, but some of it’s up to them

Mack Beaulieu

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

The homeless in Fort Collins are often unfairly prosecuted. As much as this is true, it doesn’t mean letting them live outside our doors is an option either. In between being good, considerate people we have to stop and think about who deserves our resources and who might just waste them. Some people deserve our help, but they also need to do the work to lift themselves up.

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According to the 2016 Point in Time study 68 percent of homeless people in Fort Collins identified themselves as disabled. This is troubling, but perhaps less troubling when you take out those who are self-identifying as having a substance abuse or mental disorder. I say this because only 42% self identified as disabled in 2015 and because it becomes more socially acceptable to be homeless if you’re disabled. People have motivation to self-identify when asked these questions, mental illness is easy to point to.

Self identifying illnesses is a slippery slope as a way to determine who really can’t take care of themselves without help from the government or others. Mental health disorders aren’t something we should just take someones word for and just lump together as wholly debilitating.

In the study, those who have schizophrenia are grouped in the same category as those with depression. As serious as depression is; that grouping just isn’t ok. People who struggle with more minor mental illnesses should be able to take advantage of the shelters and programs available to them and hopefully progress. However, those with things like schizophrenia might need indefinite care.

Substance abuse problems are similar to mental illnesses in that they may need definite care for a period of time, but different in that they provide something concrete to keep at bay. Unlike those with schizophrenia, the problem isn’t just a function of the mind.

Those with substance abuse have a better chance at a normal life, if they can take advantage of their resources. Hopefully more are becoming available now that Fort Collins has moved to a Housing First approach. Under this new approach, those being helped won’t have to complete prerequisite programs, which means the homeless may not have to get arrested in order to get treatment.

When people do get arrested for drug charges they are typically put into one of the ‘halfway houses,’ in town. These houses offer prolonged housing at a cheap rate, work at decent pay, substance abuse programs, therapy, and other tools like budgeting the client’s money for them.

“The halfway house has given me the opportunity to learn tools for everyday life,” protest Larimer County inmate Kelsey Sutton, “. … Before I came to the halfway house I was homeless, jobless and stuck in my addictions, now I’m completing the program and will be getting my own apartment soon. I’m in the process of getting reunited with my son and I will be a year sober in November.”

One should not be naive enough to believe that Sutton is the typical case, but she shows that the program can work if one is willing. There’s no reason that those with serious physical disabilities, mental handicaps, children, veterans or those with serious mental disorders should ever be on the streets but beyond them, others need to take advantage of their resources. 

We should allow the remaining homeless only so many arrest and releases, before they are given the option of a lengthy sentence or moving on to another town. We should put a time limit on those who classify as just passing through before we ask them to move on and make sure those who are ordinary, down on their luck citizens are finding the channels they need to get out of homelessness.

The solution here isn’t a matter of choosing between offering a helping hand or telling them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, it’s both. Given that some people are just passing through and many people go homeless for short and untracked periods, we might not never ‘solve’ homelessness, but it will have be a joint effort between the homeless and those who are not if we hope to make it much better.

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If you are homeless and in need of help or would like to help the homeless in Fort Collins, http://homelessgear.org/help/ is a good place to start.

Mackenzie Beaulieu can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online @Mack_enzie_James