Sunday, June 13, 2004

Festival shows homeless resources are available

By Travis Gettys
Enquirer contributor

COVINGTON - There are plenty of ways a person can wind up on the streets, without a home.

Many homeless people are mentally ill or addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some are veterans traumatized by combat. Some just caught a bad break.

"They could have lost their job, or lost their housing because of a building code violation that they can't pay to get fixed," said Chad Brinkley of Covington, a volunteer with Recovery Network of Northern Kentucky.

Brinkley was homeless himself for three years. But seven years ago, Recovery Network helped him find a job, a home and a fresh start.

So on Saturday, Brinkley spent time giving back as part of the second annual Homeless Awareness Day at Goebel Park.

The event, which featured live music and free food, offered homeless people a chance to learn about services without pressure.

Agencies that try to help homeless people get jobs, shelter and treatment also say funding is running thin.

The Northern Kentucky mental health system is underfunded by $2.8 million a year, a problem made worse by the state budget impasse, said Recovery Network board chair Elaine Chisholm.

"Of course, nobody wants to raise taxes, so money's tight," Chisholm said.

Even when funding is available, competition between social service agencies can create gaps.

Congress last year mandated that some funding for the Runway and Homeless Youth Act must go to faith-based providers, which cut some youth outreach services at Brighton Center.

"We lost one of our primary grants to a faith-based organization that wrote us a letter requesting our handbook and operation manual," said Tom Curran, street outreach specialist. "In the big scheme of things, youth are still being served, but we had to drop some of our programs."

While the exact number of homeless people in Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati is not known, about a third are 21 or younger, advocates said.

Joshua "Jamie" Curry, 20, has lived on the streets since a lease violation left him homeless a year ago.

He hopes to apply for a scholarship to Northern Kentucky University on the strength of a high ACT score, but for now he spends his days at the library and his nights trying to avoid police.

"When I'm not looking for a job, I go through novels," Curry said.

One-third of homeless people are veterans, including some returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, said Iola Green, coordinator of housing programs at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Fort Thomas.

Green said some veterans are not prepared to deal with situations they've encountered in combat.

"Seeing someone without limbs is hard to see, but once you've seen it, it's hard to erase from your mind," Green said.

Many veterans stop going to counseling, she said, because reliving the painful episodes is too difficult.

"The biggest challenge is encouraging veterans to get help," Green said.

"That's why I come out to things like this."

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