This past weekend, our nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the all-American gripe, “If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they ... ?”
One of the “why can’t theys ...” now bedeviling Utah and Salt Lake County is " ... solve homelessness?"
Of course, after going six for seven on moon landing attempts, we basically lost interest and quit going.
When dealing with homelessness, and its related causes, symptoms and effects, that’s not going to be an option.
And homelessness is a more difficult problem.
Going to the moon was a matter of physics, math and engineering. And courage. And a large but relatively short-lived political and financial commitment from our elected leaders.
The moon did not resist being landed on. It was never difficult to find. We didn’t land on one moon only to discover that there was another one, and another one, and another, that also needed to be landed on. Or that each one of those landings required a whole different set of calculations and inventions.
In the Salt Lake City area, state and local officials, charities and volunteers, are getting ready to flip the switch and move the focus of how we as a community deal with homelessness from a big barn on the west edge of downtown to a more disbursed and, in theory, much more active approach. An approach that, we have reason to hope, will go beyond never-ending stop-gap efforts to keep people from starving or freezing to death and into successes in moving people off the street, through a limited period of sheltered living and on to independence and permanent housing.
Done right, and with a commitment to ongoing funding and oversight, there is much hope that, for a great many individuals, the new approach will be a turning point.
For the overall matter of homelessness, though, there will never be an end.
That’s why the three new service centers will need the ongoing support, not only of the state and local governments that help fund them, but also of charitable donations large and small, and the ongoing service of volunteers to do everything from assemble hygiene kits to serve meals.
Larger matters of transportation for those who are hoping, working, striving to get out of homelessness, and the creation of thousands more affordable housing units so fewer people will face being homeless to begin with, have not been solved.
A few years ago, with successful efforts to help homeless veterans and some other long-term homeless people to find permanent housing, Salt Lake City gained a reputation as the place that had “solved homelessness.” We had so much fun solving that problem that we decided to solve it again.
Solved it will not be. Managed, in better ways, with more and better-targeted resources, it must be. For some, the transition to real and decent housing will be permanent. For others, it will be an ongoing struggle, with poverty, illness and addiction.
So celebrate the opening of the county’s three new homeless service centers. But don’t think it’s mission accomplished. It isn’t. And never will be.