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Focusing on homeless important

Homelessness is a problem in the Altoona area, although the vibrancy of the city and its surrounding area amid everyday comings and goings might seem to indicate otherwise.

The Mirror has touched on the issue in the past, but the real scope of the problem has not gotten under the proverbial microscope in a way that could help area residents understand vividly that homelessness also is a serious affliction here, not only in other places.

An article in the May 3 Mirror, “Group looks to help homeless,” ramped up the needed understanding, but there is much more to tell, at least some of which will surface if a proposed local effort is successful.

In the article in question, reporter William Kibler began with what can be regarded as startling facts for a city of Altoona’s general prosperity and overall character.

It is appropriate to reprint the first two paragraphs of that article here to once again emphasize how much dealing with homelessness needs to move up on the area’s agenda.

The two paragraphs:

“Since July of last year, the 16-bed Family Services Inc. shelter in Altoona has served 101 individuals, according to Family Services Executive Director Lisa Hann.

“But the shelter has turned away 1,327 people for lack of room.”

The article reported later that “the homeless here include single individuals, mothers with children and couples with children, as well as people who’ve lived here for a long time and people passing through.

Some have been staying in cars, couch surfing or staying in hotels that agencies pay for.”

The size of the problem evidenced by those paragraphs might be regarded as mind-boggling even to some people here who are struggling every day to make ends meet, but nevertheless are succeeding amid their challenges.

They might wonder what the homeless are able to do to help themselves escape from their misery but also whether there is enough guidance within the community to provide a window for that escape.

The main point of Kibler’s May 3 article was that a local group consisting mainly of social service agency leaders in Blair County is seeking faith-based organizations willing and able to offer facilities for sheltering homeless people, along with organizations able to provide volunteers, cots, food and funding.

The local group aims to build its effort in a way similar to a program called Out of the Cold that operates in State College. The target time for getting the local program in place is Nov. 1.

But the local program probably could do even more than what its leaders currently envision.

While the effort to identify available facilities, volunteers and funding continues in the months to come, the local leaders also should reach out to local individuals who could become a source of guidance to help the homeless adults turn their lives around — to point them in right directions in terms of how to find jobs and stable living arrangements.

This area has plenty of talented individuals capable of helping with that mission.

Kibler quoted Sonny Consiglio, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Altoona-Johnstown, who described the homeless problem here as “kind of overwhelming.”

This area should strive to support what the local group in question is attempting to do.

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