News in Brief (09.01.2010)

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Photo by Erica Minton; user rrrrred via flickr.

Fairfax County Homeless Population Falls  

Homeless activists in Fairfax County have made progress since 2007 in their efforts to end homelessness in the region. An annual tally of the county’s homeless population, taken in January, amounted to about 1,500 people, a drop from 1,800 a year ago, the Washington Post reports.  

A community partnership was formed as part of the county’s plan to end homelessness in the area by December 2018. Its goal is to engage the community in the effort and coordinate resources among county, nonprofit, faith, business and community leaders.  

“We are seeing partnership in a totally different way,” said Amanda Andere, executive director of FACETS, a Fairfax-based nonprofit. “We are meeting together on a regular basis. . . . We’re applying for grants together.”  

The next item on the partnership’s agenda is to attract more area businesses to have them help the cause.  

Former Homeless Man Uses Internet to Raise Awareness  

About 15 years ago, Mark Horvath was just another homeless man on the streets of California. And after getting his life back together as a video producer, he found himself again out of the job in November 2008, CBS News reports. But this time, Horvath didn’t let himself fall back into the cycle of homelessness.  

With a camera and a laptop in hand, Horvath went to homeless shelters, the streets and various tent cities to interview the homeless. He launched InvisiblePeople.TV as a space to share their stories and educate the public about the plight of the homeless, CBS reports.  

“The goal is to make the ‘invisible people’ in society more visible by bringing them out of the shadows where they are ignored,” Horvath told CBS. “We’re using social media to expose the pain, hardship and hopelessness that millions of people face each day.”  

‘Homeless Park’ in Maine Town Raises Concerns  

Residents in a central Maine town say they are upset that a landowner who can’t build on his quarter-acre plot is opening up his land as a so-called “nature park” for the homeless, the Boston Herald reports. Already an 84-year-old homeless man and his dog have set up camp on the property in Skowhegan, where a banner reads: “Nature Park, Nature Trails for the Homeless People of Somerset County.”  

The land’s owner, Bruce Obert, said that zoning laws have barred him from building on the land. He says that since he can’t build, he decided to turn his land into a park for the homeless, complete with a picnic table and a portable toilet, the Herald reports.  

Calif. Approves Homeless Civil Rights Protection  

Attacks on the homeless could violate California’s civil rights law under a bill approved by the state senate, the Associated Press reports.  

The bill that passed would allow the state’s roughly 157,000 homeless sue for higher damages if they are a target of assault because they are homeless. The bill, AB2706, designates the homeless as a protected class. It stops short, however, of declaring attacks on the homeless as hate crime.  

It passed on a 21-12 vote, without debate. It now returns to the assembly for final action, the AP reports.  

Shinseki Pledges to Help Homeless Vets  

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs head Eric Shinseki says the department is committed to increase veterans’ access to benefits and services and to clear up the backlog of disability claims, the Providence Journal reports.  

Speaking at the Paralyzed Veterans of America’s 64th annual convention, Shinseki said that the VA’s $114 billion budget for 2010 – 16% greater than the previous year – provides “much-needed firepower” to begin addressing those issues. He added that his department will ask for $125 billion in 2011.  

Canada Town Builds Home to Solve Youth Homelessness  

A new transitional housing facility for local female youths is being built in Saskatchewan, a result of collaboration between its local government and Canada’s national one. Aimed at helping teenage girls vulnerable to homelessness, especially those of Aboriginal ancestry, the project will create a Saskatoon facility with ten new transitional beds.  

“Our government is giving a hand-up to Canadians with housing needs, and is helping those seeking to break free from the cycle of homelessness and poverty,” said Maurice Vellacott, Member of Parliament for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin. “We are pleased to be working with the Saskatoon Downtown Youth Centre, which will provide female youth who are homeless or at risk of homelessness with transitional housing to help them on their way to achieving independence.”  

Compiled by Dianna Heitz, from previously published reports. 

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