Herald-Leader Editorial

Good first step on homelessness

Mayor, council should follow through

March 7, 2013 

It's almost too simple — the best solution to homelessness is homes.

Eliminate the chaos of homelessness from an individual's or family's life and it becomes quicker and cheaper to stabilize their medical, mental health and social crises.

This "housing-first" approach is producing an 85 percent success rate in some cities, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Mayor Jim Gray and Lexington's council should pursue "housing first" here, as recently recommended by the Mayor's Commission on Homelessness.

In response, Gray has committed to creating an office that could begin coordinating some of the now disjointed services for the homeless while developing a detailed plan based on expert advice and successful practices in other places. That's a good first step.

The commission recommended a penny increase in the city's insurance tax to generate $4 million a year, most of which would go into providing more housing through new construction, rehabbing existing housing and providing rent assistance.

The commission also recommended ending the tax increase after five years to evaluate how it worked.

Gray is holding off on deciding about funding until he has more information and a fleshed-out plan.

The commission's recommendations would also relieve the burden on working people in Lexington who are just a bad break or two away from having to sleep in their cars because rent consumes such a large portion of their paychecks.

In 2008, another commission figured that 9,000 Lexington renters, or 18 percent, spent more than 50 percent of their gross income on housing and another 36 percent spent more than 30 percent.

These are people who are working in Lexington's large service sector, in child and health care, retail and restaurants.

When they have to scrimp on other essentials to pay the rent, or disrupt their children's lives with frequent moves, the social and economic costs ripple through the community.

That's even more true of those who are chronically homeless. The U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2008 said the "random ricocheting" of the chronically homeless through health care, treatment and law enforcement systems costs $35,000 to $150,000 per person per year.

Providing permanent housing with wrap-around support services reduces the costs to between $13,500 and $25,000.

Thanks to the commission for providing the city with some good ideas. The mayor and council should follow through.

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