My Turn, Alison Ketchie: Homelessness a systemic problem

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 20, 2023

Homelessness in the United States affects hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people.

In Rowan County, around 250 residents are unhoused overnight. This is regardless of the shelter that we have located in the heart of downtown due to overpopulation and underfunding. Nevertheless, Salisbury, thanks to contributions from private donors as well as the local government, recently constructed a $13 million park.

But how is this connected?

The construction of this space not only means there is now no budget for a new homeless shelter or initiative, there was also a deliberate choice for the incorporation of anti-homeless architecture since the Bell Tower Green was built a few blocks from the existing shelter.

You will notice the benches and swings have a bar through the middle which is not designed for comfort, but to prohibit homeless people from sleeping on them. You will also notice the chair seats sloped backwards and uneven granite slabs for seating, both also designed to prohibit sleeping. And the gazebo in the park is beautiful, but includes no seating under it so that there is no shelter from the weather for the homeless.

But why are people in Rowan County homeless? There are many reasons, from rampant drug addiction, to mental health, but also due to foreclosure and raising of home prices in the current market. Lack of affordable housing is where the housing crisis in Rowan County stems from. When the housing market in the county rises, so does the rent controlled by landlords. When people who can afford the new housing move into the communities, many businesses raise their prices. The original community can no longer afford to live in the area. This leads to either eviction, foreclosure, or the inability to maintain the housing conditions they are living in.

When people are kicked out of their homes or their homes become unlivable, they are sent to the (already full) homeless shelter and/or the housing authority. Their needs will be assessed and then referred to the proper resources. From there, the resources may or may not be available due to the housing crisis aforementioned.

Habitat for Humanity is currently building multiple houses in Rowan County, but although this is positive for the families that are going to be housed there, it neglects the systemic issues surrounding the reasons for their homelessness.

Alison Ketchie lives inSalisbury