Solving the problem of the hard-core homeless is complex, even with the small population in Portage County.
"It's a very difficult population," said Cathey DeBord, head of shelter services for Family & Community Service Inc.
"The ones that can't get into (permanent) housing are generally people with mental illness issues." It's not a large population, but it's a thorny issue.
"The whole issue becomes there's no place for them. They're not going to change their way of living." Debord said social agencies know many of the long-term homeless. They resist efforts to get them into permanent housing because they don't want rules or trouble with landlords.
DeBord said "support systems are very skimpy." Many of the long-term homeless have places to go, but only on a temporary basis, she said.
It's only when age and health issues become too much that they will agree to take shelter. For some, it comes too late.
"We've lost several people in the last couple years," DeBord said. They have died in nursing facilities as a result of medical issues made worse by living on the street.
"We're looking for alternative ways to provide a safety net that does not include traditional housing," DeBord said. "It's trying to put a square peg in a round hole. We're trying to find solutions that give them a safe place but don't infringe on their need to have their own freedom of movement."
She said the solution is going to take the effort of the wider community, not just the social service agencies.
"These are our community members. They are people in our community who have barriers and issues and we need to find a way to meet them halfway," she said.
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