PABLO — The Homeless Task Force met in person and through Zoom on September 8 to discuss the primary aim of putting an end to homelessness on the Flathead Reservation.
The Homeless Task Force will begin examining methods to expand on previous acts of compassion performed by Tribal Programs and employees over the past years to assist the homeless and others who are not being served. Staff from many Tribal Programs are already hard at work identifying resources and financing to guarantee that every person of the tribal community has a house and the resources to maintain it.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy has suffered greatly, and the number of individuals facing homelessness has grown. However, previous to COVID-19, homelessness was on the rise. According to figures from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were 586,000 homeless individuals in the United States in January 2019, a rise of nearly 15,000 over the previous year. Homelessness has grown even more worrisome since those who do not have a place to live are at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19.
Jody Perez, Executive Director of Salish Kootenai Housing Authority, assisted in putting focus on the community’s pre-existing homelessness problem. According to Perez, the homeless voice has been considerably louder since the COVID-19 pandemic. “COVID is pushing homelessness into the open,” Perez added.
Perez feels that the majority of the homeless are those who have run out of alternatives or have none and are struggling with addiction. They have either ‘burnt all of their bridges’ or are ineligible for aid. Others in the meeting agree that there is a worry for the same demographic and have suggested shelters or rehabilitation houses.
Chief of Staff of the Executive Support Team Ryan Rusche guided the discussion by brainstorming to establish goals, determine objectives, and establish timelines. With so many topics to cover, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
CSKT Executive Officer Rick Eneas highlighted how this endeavor in eradicating homelessness will be a marathon, but the group can condense and break down their main goal to end homelessness. “We can’t necessarily put homelessness and its resolution in a box,” Eneas added.
Eneas emphasizes not allowing funds to be a burden, since getting financing is a concern. “If we can build it, we can fund it,” Eneas said. There are possibilities to leverage other people’s skills to obtain outside assistance. According to Eneas, funding should not prevent the group from attaining or planning for the aim of eradicating homelessness.
He said it is not just a goal to create homes, shelters, or rehabilitation communities for those who are unable to get assistance for any reason, but it is also a goal to identify the common barriers, such as the causes of homelessness and what happens to individuals who go to treatment off the reservation and return with nothing to look forward to.
A home secure and homeless research is being developed so that the Homeless Task Force can have data to refer to when determining their goals and areas of concentration. Thus far, $50,000 has been funded, but further financing is needed, which is now being sought. Perez is hopeful that the funds will be approved, and that research will be conducted since data will point the Homeless Task Force in the right path.
Hiring a coordinator or someone to manage ideas, objectives, timelines, and other details came up many times throughout the discussion. It became obvious that someone is required to assist in the management of such a large endeavor
Meanwhile, the homeless task force is brainstorming ideas and concerns. The Homeless Task Force will continue to meet every other week; all members are dedicated to ending homelessness.