Tackling Homelessness Requires Social and Political Courage

"People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes." — Sheila McKechnie

By Al Robinson - Hatcityblog.com

As trees shed their leaves and stores start to stock their shelves with Christmas decorations, and with the winter season and colder temperatures fast approaching, we must address the homelessness crisis that's growing exponentially in Connecticut and across the country. 

According to the State Department of Education, the number of students experiencing homelessness rose from 3,984 during the 2021-22 school year to 5,093, or one percent of all students, in 2022-23. The latest point-in-time count data from the state that analyzes the number of homeless people in one day (January 24) shows a three percent increase in the number of people who reside in Connecticut without a home.

These grim statistics in one of the wealthiest states in the country should outrage everyone and result in a demand for action; unfortunately, the opposite is true, as calls for action is traditionally met with resistance and a lack of compassion for the state's most vulnerable residents.

For the past two years, I've written several opinion pieces on the dehumanization of the city's homeless population by residents in Danbury who have used fear and misleading information in their pursuit to block the opening of a homeless shelter at the site of the Super 8 Hotel on Mill Plain Road. 

A years-long campaign built on lies, misinformation, and shamelessness succeeded in scuttling one of the most ambitious plans to tackle homelessness in Danbury in decades, with no comparable proposal being offered for the city in sight in the near future. 

The lack of compassion toward the ever-growing homeless population is not exclusive to residents who don't want people in need residing in their neighborhood; indeed, politicians at the State Capitol have taken a non-serious approach to the crisis. 

During the last legislative session, state lawmakers approved five million dollars for cold-weather funding for shelters that provide relief for people experiencing homelessness, a figure far lower than what service providers across the state need to sustain sufficient services throughout the winter season. Equally unacceptable was our state representatives and senators' lack of political courage and will to tackle the lack of low-income housing in the state, which is one of the most significant contributors to homelessness in a state with one of the country's highest rental rates.

We have to do better than this, as ANYONE can find themselves in a homeless situation in the blink of an eye.