Doing the decent thing

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Staff report

It was fitting that Gov. Mark Warner on Tuesday announced that the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development would provide $1 million in federal funds over the next two years to start a pilot program to address the problem of chronic homelessness.

The governor’s comments come at a time when the City of Suffolk is taking a public beating for what critics have called its neglect of the homeless and poor management of public housing funds.

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Under the program, announced at the 2004 Governor’s Housing Conference in Norfolk, the money will be distributed by the state to Total Action Against Poverty in Roanoke, the Waynesboro Redevelopment and Housing Authority and Piedmont Community Services in Martinsville. The agencies will implement a local Housing First model, which provides shelter for the chronically homeless and helps them become self-sufficient by treating their mental and physical illnesses.

Traditional shelters do not provide treatment, only a bed and food, which, while they do not alleviate the problem, are certainly preferable to Suffolk’s program of sending the homeless packing to other jurisdictions. Hey, at least we’re picking up the cab fare.

The governor announced several other housing initiatives Monday including the creation of an online registry to make it easier for disabled people to find accessible housing, and the creation of a bank in which the state would work with private-sector lenders to finance housing and community development projects.

These are all compassionate, common sense approaches to a problem that impacts every community in Virginia. What’s more, it’s the decent thing to do. It’s time for Suffolk to join the state and other communities in taking the problem seriously and trying to address it.

By investing millions in championship golf courses and luxury hotels, Suffolk has opened itself up to criticism for its neglect of its poorer residents, and as recent events have shown, that criticism is not unjustifiable. Decency demands we do a better job.