Chief: SH may find help in Lebanon’s efforts to deal with its homeless

Audrey Caro Gomez

Sweet Home Police Chief Jeff Lynn was one of some 300 people who attended the Summit on Homelessness in Lebanon on Oct. 27 at the

Robert G. Marbut Jr., Ph.D., a nationally-recognized consultant on homelessness, spoke at the event.

Marbut gathered Lebanon-specific information about the community’s street-level homeless population and its current resources.

While the summit was geared toward the issues in Lebanon, much of the information may be applied in other communities.

One of the points that stood out to Lynn, he said, was the emphasis on engagement versus enabling.

Marbut said panhandling is one such enabling activity that must be stopped.

“There is a lot of enabling that occurs probably in all communities,” Lynn said.

People feel compassionate and want to help, he said, but sometimes they don’t get the results they would hope.

Lynn said he hopes to learn from what Lebanon is doing.

Marbut said many communities struggle with making small tactical decisions that don’t yield results, get stuck in a cycle of analysis and pursue idealistic programs that are not sustainable.

The main goal is to help people “graduate from homelessness forever,” he said. To do that, communities need to consider how many people are homeless and also who is homeless.

In Lebanon, for example, Marbut and the Lebanon Police Department found that 20 percent of their homeless population are veterans. They will be able to access different services, and may have different needs than a homeless family.

Lynn said officials have tried to assess the homeless situation in Sweet Home.

“We didn’t come up with significant numbers,” he said. “I don’t have a true or accurate number as far as the amount of homeless. We all probably have a different perception. I think Lebanon found out there was significantly more than they thought.”

Lynn said he plans to talk with new City Manager Ray Towry and the City Council to get their take on the situation and try to come up with some true figures, he said. He wants community input as well.

“We might not have been getting the full scope,” he said.

Lynn also was interested in the number of people who are homeless that are suffering from mental illness and substance abuse.

Marbut stressed treating the root causes of homelessness.

He said about half of the people who are homeless have major mental health issues. This figure includes veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Seventy to 80 percent have substance abuse issues and about 90 percent have one or both of those issues, he said.

Loss of housing and lack of food are the symptoms, not the causes of homelessness, Marbut said.

As for mental illness and substance abuse, he said recovery does not happen on a jail cell floor.

Treatment plans should be customized to individuals he said. One way to help that happen is to have a master case management system. The different groups in a community that are working with individuals need to communicate and help with each individual’s circumstances.

“Sweet Home has very few resources for people who are street-level homeless,” Lynn said.

He would like to figure out what resources people need that Sweet Home is missing.

While Lebanon’s approach will be specific to its population’s needs, Lynn is not opposed to seeing what they do.

“Is there something that they’re doing that we can bring to our community and get us a step a head of any issues we may be having with homeless?” Lynn said.

He hopes Lebanon can get a group together that makes a significant impact.

Some of the resources that Lebanon will be tapping are county-wide.

“Maybe we’ll be able to piggyback on some of that,” Lynn said.

For now, Lynn said one thing people can do is stop enabling and start engaging people.

There are a number of different faith-based options in Sweet Home, he said.

Other options are United Way, and the 211 information system.

“Those are where I would suggest people would focus on,” Lynn said.