Saturday, June 25, 2005

A Great Idea for Mobile

From the Mobile Register

Village for area homeless proposed
Plan unveiled to construct housing complex on 28 acres off Interstate 65; cost of proposal not released

Saturday, June 25, 2005
Staff Reporter

Members of a task force on homelessness said they hope that an "opportunity village" will provide the stable environment needed to help resolve the problem in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

The Chronic Homeless Task Force presented a new plan Friday at the multi-purpose room of Mobile Government Plaza in downtown Mobile. The plan includes 11 goals -- with the most ambitious involving construction of a village on 28 acres owned by the city of Mobile off Interstate 65, between Moffett Road and U.S. 45.

Bottom line, advocates say, is that the homeless need housing if they are to get back on their feet.

"We want to help the homeless and address the issues and concerns that we all have in our society," said Ann Bedsole, the task force chairwoman. "We have to be helpful rather than be enablers."

Details, including the cost of the proposed complex, were not released. Bedsole said afterward that the task force hopes to get commitments from agencies that work with or provide assistance to the homeless to help with funding.

Bedsole -- along with Mobile County Commissioner Sam Jones, City Councilman John Peavy and former City Councilwoman Bess Rich -- is running for mayor in the summer election.

The idea of the proposed housing complex, said Dan Williams, executive director of the Homeless Coalition of the Gulf Coast, is to prevent homelessness before it starts,.

Some Mobilians who live and work downtown have expressed concerns about the number of homeless people who frequent the area.

"This plan will eventually eliminate homeless in the county, and that should take care of downtown," said Vanessa Shoots, president of the homeless coalition.

"No. 1 (the village) is intended to provide the homeless with all the services they need under one roof," said Al Stokes, Dow's chief of staff. "It will be a much larger place and serve more people and may be more attractive to the homeless."

According to the overall plan, the task force hopes by September to transfer the land from the city of Mobile to the homeless coalition.

An alternative site that was mentioned consists of three parcels totaling 40 acres on the other side of I-65, directly across from the 29-acre site, said Bill Demouy, director of real estate assessment management for the city.

Task force officials said that residents of the complex would receive job and life skills training in order to get back on their feet.

The goal is to develop a safety net for the homeless before individual situations become chronic, said Janice Small, who helped develop the plan. The goals include more intensive outreach to those living on the street, those who have run-ins with law enforcement and end up in jail, or who have been diagnosed with mental health problems, Small said.

According to the Web site for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the chronic homeless are persons who have been homeless for more than a year, who are disabled by addiction, chronic physical ill ness or disability or developmental disability, frequent histories of hospitalization, unstable employ- ment or incarceration, with an average age in their 40s.

The chronic homeless tend to consume more of the resources used to assist the homeless, the Web site said, and have "a more visible impact on (a) community's safety and attractiveness."

"We do have a challenge with homelessness in Baldwin County and we do need your help," Foley Mayor Tim Russell said. "We need a big sister to help us."

Bedsole recounted a story about hiring some homeless men to help clean bricks that were part of a wall that collapsed during Hurricane Ivan in September. One made enough money to buy a pair of steel-toed boots that were required for his construction job, and another earned enough money to buy a ticket back home, Bedsole said.

Most homeless are similar to these men and "just hit a snag in life, and we want to get them past that snag," she said.

The task force was created last year when Mobile Mayor Mike Dow appointed elected officials and advocates for the homeless from throughout the area to tackle the problem.

© 2005 The Mobile Register
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