There has been a significant debate percolating in the county’s nonprofit and social services community over the efforts to quantify the number of homeless people hidden behind the McMansion communities in the nation’s wealthiest county.
The release of the latest homeless count figures—data defined by narrow parameters established by inside-the-beltway bureaucrats—will do little to temper that debate. After all, buckets of federal dollars potentially are at stake. The higher the number, the more money local agencies might expect to have at their disposal. This has resulted in cross accusations about some authorities downplaying the homeless totals and others inflating them.
While that debate puts the focus on the funding (who is getting how much), it takes away efforts to get those most concerned with addressing the complex problem to work better together.
Much of the effort is focused on keeping families in their homes as they weather tough times. Those critical services include the food pantries, charities that help with medical bills, and those who keep the light on and heat running. Despite the county’s statistically significant wealth, many of its families are only a missed paycheck or two from finding their own housing in jeopardy. Keeping the homeless rate down during a prolonged period of economic stagnation is a testament to the work of those groups.
As with any community challenge, more can be done. It starts with finding ways to use existing resources—volunteers, donations, government grants—more efficiently and effectively. That’s proven to be a tougher challenge than one might believe given the wide range of organizational philosophies practiced by the area’s charities. At the core, they share common goals that provide a foundation on which to build a stronger support network, working in concert rather than in competition.