Norton's Homeless Rely On Homes With Heart
There are homeless people in Norton and neighboring communities that need help.
We try not to notice them on benches, in the woods, pushing shopping carts filled with tattered possessions, but there they are, the homeless.
Times are tough everywhere but no one has it worse than those people who, for whatever reason, have found themselves homeless. Yes, even in Norton, hidden behind deserted buildings, there are people living in makeshift tents, tree houses and abandoned cars and trucks.
Most of us can bear winter's icy cold for barely an hour-long while shoveling snow, while some of Norton area's homeless population are living outdoors all day and all night, all year long.
How did these men and women find themselves in such dire straits? Some are homeless by choice, others by situation.
In Attleboro, Susan Smith administers the federally funded Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), programs "Homes With Heart" and "New Opportunities," under the auspices of the Community Counseling of Bristol County and the Attleboro Area Council of Churches.
She explains, "In the Attleboro area, including North Attleboro, Norton, Seekonk and Mansfield, I have fourteen clients, most of which are homeless due to substance abuse along with mental illnesses compounded by physical and mental disabilities.
"In other areas of the state, homelessness occurs due to high cost of housing and low income," she added. "Failure of housing programs, substance abuse programs and mental health programs also contribute to homelessness."
To qualify for services offered in Smith's programs, "A prospective client must fit the HUD definition of chronic homelessness: Homeless for more than a year or has had more than four episodes of homelessness in the last three years."
Homes With Heart
The purpose of the "Homes With Heart" program is first finding the homeless person stable housing. Once they are settled, Smith works with them arranging for employment, health insurance, health care and counseling. She also arranges transportation to appointments and substance abuse programs.
In order to remain in the program, the individuals must check in with Smith weekly and perform two hours of weekly community service.
"Finding them a job is difficult because many of my clients have never worked," Smith said. "They have never had to follow rules and there are strict rules that my clients sometimes unfortunately don't like following. Consequently, they are removed from the program."
Some of Smith's clients return to the program, but others rather live outdoors than be accountable to rules, she said.
Homeless Are Younger
While the average age of a homeless individual in the Norton area is 45, Smith has seen an increase in homelessness in a younger age group (16-25), both in the state and nationwide.
"Kids 'age out' of Department of Children, Youth and Their Families' (DCYF) programs and have no where to go or they are kicked out of the house by their family or in some cases kids emancipate themselves from their parents.
Smith said that getting an accurate count of homeless high school can be tricky. "Kids won't reveal their situation for fear of being ridiculed by their peers.
"One student who became homeless and wanted to finish his education at Attleboro High spent the year living in his car with his mother. They washed up at the rest area on route 295 and slept in their car."
Not all stories, however, are of doom and gloom.
One man, who worked in construction, became homeless after his truck and tools were stolen. After losing his home, he joined the Attleboro homeless tent community until he was accepted into the program, according to Smith. Now, he is working again and speaks to youth groups about his experience.
In order to qualify for federal funding, a "point in time" homeless census is performed every year in every Massachusetts community except for Boston, on the last Wednesday of January.
A Helping Hand
Mark Falugo of Attleboro participated in Attleboro's homeless census last year. He became interested in their plight of the homeless while reading about the homeless people being evicted from their tents pitched under the Crawford Bridge in Providence, RI.
Falugo became involved by assisting 33 of the more than 80 homeless individuals by relocating them to a site in Providence owned by his family. When a few months later, they were evicted from that property, Falugo worked tirelessly finding employment and housing for 27 of them. For the younger of the homeless, he bought bus tickets and sent them home.
Falugo learned compassion for all people down on their luck from his parents. "I've always helped out everywhere that I could, soup kitchens, sober houses, with the veterans and multiple fundraisers activities," he said. "My parents are extremely giving. This is what I learned growing up."
Homeless people are just like everyone else, some fit the stereotype, alcoholic, drug addict, panhandler or mentally disabled but others are victims of circumstance struggling to survive.