Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Courtney & Homelessness

As recently as four years ago, it was hard to get anyone to acknowledge that Howard County had a homeless population.  In fact, the entire 2010 election went by with nary a policy proposal, concern, or plan addressing the homeless being uttered.

About three years ago, we heard about the "Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in Howard County" (PDF), which many of our less empathetic neighbors responded to with one word "move".  Many forget this, but the Plan was paired with an advocacy campaign, sending postcards to County Executive Ken Ulman to convince him to adopt the Plan and include money in his budget.  All five of the County Council members were invited to the Route One Day Resource Center to show them the need and the inadequate resources allocated to triage that need, which unfortunately did very little to solve anything. 

Two years ago, the County Executive took on this challenge by including $400,000 in his operating budget for getting the Plan in place.  At that year's Spring Party, he mentioned to me that a new housing complex was in the works, but "I better not see that on your blog".

A little over one year ago, we heard about that project which was, as expected, met with controversy.  Not only did this plan require the residents of Beachcrest Mobile Park to move, but it was next to a neighborhood.  "We can't have homeless next to neighbors!"

In January of this year, the Council faced an unnecessarily contentious vote of whether to allow the County to apply for a $700,000 grant to move forward with the Beachcrest development.  I received word that due to the controversial location, the Council may vote down the measure seeking a grant.  I called/texted/e-mailed the members of the Council to advocate for the measure and let them know that there was a "silent majority" of people who wanted to see this project (or a project like it) move forward.

Courtney Watson called me.  "Why are you contacting me?  Get me two more votes."  It was the direct confident style that most of us have become accustomed to with the Council-member from District 1.  It is also what drives her opponent's crazy. "I've got this covered."

The grant vote passed, but the Beachcrest development was replaced by a much more ambitious, holistic approach to housing the homeless that looks to have all the pieces in place to take people from the streets and get them back into stable living.

As recently as four years ago, it was hard to get anyone to acknowledge that Howard County had a homeless population.  On Saturday, Courtney Watson declared her intention to run for County Executive and made ending homelessness one of her top objectives.  I was in the room and had read reports in the Howard section that homelessness would be mentioned in the speech.  I thought about that phone call and that once Courtney told me she had it covered, I had no worries about whether she would waiver.  She had it covered.

Many will characterize a Watson Administration as merely a continuation of Ken Ulman's eight years in office.  I think we're in for much more.  I have approached Courtney with problems, issues, and challenges for which I didn't think there was a solution.  Every time she would respond "Let me think about it."  Sometimes there wasn't an answer, but more often than not Courtney would try to find a solution even if it meant meeting with people who didn't like her, doing things "popular opinion" said we shouldn't do, or being the lone voice in support of a losing cause.

To end homelessness, we need that advocate.  We need that kind of leadership.  We need someone who will see virtue in the attempt, because there are no easy answers. We need someone with confidence that Howard County will never face a problem without a solution.  Courtney Watson has it covered.

That's all for today.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!