GOSHEN — Homelessness isn’t going to go away in Goshen, advocates say, but they are never going to let the issue mushroom as it did earlier this year.
During the process of removing the homeless from the Millrace and Abshire Park areas in June, advocates learned several ways to continue to help the city’s homeless, but the fight is far from over, according to Kevin Farmwald, chair of the Goshen Coalition for the Homeless.
“We did the best we could with the resources we had available,” he said. “There’s plenty more to do.”
Various organizations worked together on the issue, and will continue providing services and helping where they can, he said.
“We did more together as a coalition than we could have ever done as different agencies,” he said. “Even though we often work together and many of the clients are the same, until the end of last year we never really sat down and communicated with each other, and that was helpful.”
One of the most valuable ideas the coalition developed was resources fairs. They held three of them in the weeks leading up to the city’s eviction of the homeless.
“We learned that different times and different locations would be helpful – soup kitchens and places we know the homeless are,” he said.
Resource fairs will continue every quarter or so, with the next one likely in conjunction with one of Operation Treehouse’s weekly dinners at Rogers Park.
Interfaith Hospitality Network’s Mindy Morehead said community groups are “piggybacking” on existing services so the homeless can see what is available.
“One of the veterans got housing that he could have been in two years ago, but he didn’t know the resources were there,” she said. “We want to make sure they realize what resources are out there and where they can go for help.”
Morehead recalled the story of one man who had been homeless for 12 years who made the decision to enter into a six-month treatment program just ahead of the eviction ordered by the city.
“It made people face things they didn’t want to face or just hadn’t faced in the past,” she said. “Some went into treatments and are furthering that. A few got their own houses. There’s a lot of good that came from this.”
Still, much work remains, advocates agreed.
“We are continuing to look forward at what we need to be doing in Goshen to make sure we’re prepared to offer assistance to help the nonprofits that are doing great work for the homeless,” Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman said.
The coalition continues to meet regularly to discuss homelessness in the city.
“Our goal was never to just get them out of Goshen but to help them with the situations that they were in at the time,” Stutsman said. “We went into it realizing not everybody would take us up on these offers. We went into it realizing there is a multitude of reasons people become homeless.”
The mayor said organizers hoped to reach a majority of the homeless and get them in touch with services.
“We want to do what we can to help as many people as possible,” he said. “The issue of homelessneeess is pretty pervasive throughout the United States and if anyone had the solution for it, it would be a discussion we’d be having in our communities.”
Goshen Interfaith Hospitality Network takes single women and single parents, including single fathers but not men in general. They also allow guests only so long as they participate in their program.
“There’s a huge need for a low barrier shelter,” Morehead said.
The city has been talking for some time about the need for an affordable housing complex, Stutsman said. La Casa’s buildings – the Hawks, Hattle and Shoots – offered housing for several residents, but it’s not nearly enough. Stutsman said developers for low-income housing just aren’t coming to their city, so the coalition is working toward creating a shelter for those in need of it.
“There’s a lot to figure out,” he said. “There’s definitely a desire to figure it out and move it forward. There’s so many moving pieces. Even in an existing building it would take some pretty heavy renovations. The last thing we want to do it rush into a project like this and put people in a building that is not safe.”
Stutsman urged those who want to help to get in touch with nonprofits immediately.
“We’ve noticed during discussions of trying to get these areas cleared that we have a lot less interest from the public in general in finding solutions,” he said. “We need you now as much as we need you when it’s cold or when it’s really hot.”