A Personal Message on Homelessness

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Article Contributed by
Josiah Lamp, Chairperson,
Chautauqua County Homeless Coalition

Attention has been drawn to the rise in homelessness in Jamestown. I’m here to tell you that homelessness is indeed on the rise—and it may be much more common than you realize. In the past year, the Chautauqua County Homeless Coalition served over 1,200 homeless persons in the county, which is a significant increase from the year before. To paint a picture, about one third of the homeless are children or seniors, and the most common homeless household is a single parent with children.  

When I share these facts, many people are surprised because homelessness doesn’t look like what we expect. We expect to see pan-handlers on the street corner, but in a county like ours, homelessness is a hidden reality. It is families struggling to pay rent,  runaway youth couch surfing with friends, veterans with a persistent mental illness, and women (or men) fleeing domestic violence.  

In most cases, homelessness is a passing situation that can be solved with a little support at the right moment.  For example, three families who had come in homeless several years ago exited out of one of our transitional housing programs this year.  They were able to increase their income, improve their credit, and graduate from the program to buy their own home.   Another program took in a young woman who had dropped out of college homeless, helped her stabilize, and this fall she re-enrolled at SUNY Fredonia.  These are the successes that are possible with a little timely support.

Instead of being threatened by the homeless—who will be in our community regardless of whether we support them or not—let’s get behind the organizations that are making a difference.  We can benefit from the Gateway Lofts development, from the expansion of the Salvation Army’s Anew Center, and from the ongoing programs of many local organizations.  They are working to fight the rise of homelessness head-on rather than sweep it under the rug.