By Stacy Arlain
I write today in response to a My View concerning the plight of an individual experiencing homelessness in the Town of Tonawanda at Ellicott Creek Park. The frustration illustrated in that article is valid and shared by those of us who work every day to eradicate homelessness. The concern for this human being in crisis at the very least gives my colleagues and me some sense of hope that people do care about all our citizens, even the most marginalized. Thank you to the writer of that article.
In reading your article, it occurred to me that this is an excellent learning opportunity. Allow me to introduce our team. We are Homeless Outreach. We are comprised of eight homeless outreach specialists and case managers who work hand in hand with our citizens experiencing homelessness to empower them to self-sufficiency. We perform emergency triage and attempt to meet their immediate and most basic needs: food, water, clothing, shelter. We connect them to other services including, but not limited to, care coordination, emergency cash assistance, SNAP benefits, addiction recovery services and, of course, permanent, stable housing.
We engage, establish relationships with, and earn trust from our most vulnerable population. Sometimes this is done quickly. Sometimes it takes months of persistence. However, we remain tireless in the pursuit, and we never give up on anyone.
We deal with medical issues, mental health issues and active addiction issues our clients face. We visit our clients in the hospitals and in the Holding Center. We even go to court when needed.
We visit the shelters. We walk the streets. We enter the abandoned buildings. We go under bridges and sit with the downtrodden most people never know exist. We know they exist.
We work for two different agencies, but we operate together as a single mechanism united in the goal of ending chronic homelessness.
We fall under the umbrella of the Homeless Alliance of Western New York, which collects the data and writes the reports and submits the applications to the government bureaucracies that pay for most of what we do.
We are members of the Western New York Homeless Coalition that meets once a month to discuss the homeless situation in our communities. We ensure we are reaching out to our clients, advocating for our clients, educating the community and addressing the specific needs of all.
We work closely with housing agencies, shelters, free legal services providers, mental health providers, the Department of Social Services staff and hundreds of other amazing workers from too many outstanding agencies to name individually without forgetting to mention a few.
The system is not perfect and we have a long way to go. But we are here giving it all we’ve got! In the meantime, rest assured we will reach out to the agencies you named so that when another concerned citizen calls in they are pointed in the right direction.
Stacy Arlain is a homeless outreach specialist-street outreach and Outreach Committee chairwoman of the Western New York Homeless Coalition.