ForKids change is a loss for Suffolk

Published 10:29 pm Friday, June 3, 2011

Providing a shelter for homeless families in the middle of a 1,400-square-mile area that lacks a robust public transportation system was probably always an idea with a limited chance of success. Add a poor economy to the mix, resulting in the sharp reduction of available taxpayer funds, and the prospect of continued success became vanishingly small.

It all finally came undone on Thursday, when ForKids Inc. Chief Executive Officer Thaler McCormick announced that the organization would shutter the residential portion of Suffolk House, the homeless shelter for families that it has operated since merging with the troubled Center for Hope and New Beginnings in late 2008.

McCormick has put on a brave face and worked to spin the news in as positive a light as possible — ForKids officials always suspected they’d eventually need a different operating plan in Suffolk than they use so effectively in Norfolk, she has said — but the fact remains that at least for the foreseeable future there will be no sanctioned shelter for the homeless in Suffolk.

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ForKids plans a variety of non-residential programs to help people who find themselves on the verge of losing their homes or out on the streets. There will be voucher programs offering up to 30 days in local hotels, temporary help with utilities and rent and even help with security deposits for those who are trying to transition from homelessness to residences.

All of these are admirable programs, and they will be valuable resources to the growing number of families that find themselves at risk of being out on the street as America heads toward a double-dip recession or even depression. With measured unemployment at 9.1 percent nationwide and uncounted thousands having given up on their search for work, more and more people will be in this frightening position, and even temporary help — constrained as it will be by ForKids’ own tight budgets — will be welcome.

But Suffolk should mourn the loss of the classic ForKids program, which took a holistic approach toward families’ homelessness, leveraging the time folks spent in the shelter to teach them important life skills designed to keep them from falling back into homelessness and to help them have better-adjusted children with a greater chance of success in the future.

Local, state and national news has been filled with similar stories in recent months, as governing bodies wrestle with the desire to fund programs like ForKids and the need to give suffering taxpayers a break. Solutions are elusive, yet the problems continue to grow.

But even as we find ourselves struggling to provide societal solutions to problems such as homelessness, the moral obligation remains to help those who truly need it. And that moral obligation falls upon each of us individually.

Do you mourn the loss of the full ForKids program? Then send a check. Stipulate, if you wish, that the money be used in Suffolk. But know that whatever support the organization might have received from local governments is nothing compared to the potential money available if everyone who said “Something should be done” actually sat down and did something.