The homeless camp on a sliver of land wedged between the Merrimack River and the ramp leading from the Hunt’s Fall Bridge to Route 110 east appears abandoned now.
But at one time in the not too distant past, the place was very active.
Now, all that’s left is torn tarps, sleeping bags, tents, boxes, chairs and trash everywhere.
It’s hard to believe that people called the place home. There’s other camps like it scattered across the outskirts of the downtown. One of the biggest camps lies just about a mile upstream, on the same side of the river, near UMass Lowell. Regular encampments have existed just west of the School Street Bridge, and in abandoned rail cars just down the tracks from the Gallagher Transportation Terminal.
The annual homeless census conducted by city officials and human service advocates on Jan. 25 determined that on that given night that were 530 homeless people in Lowell. The actual number, however, is believed to be much higher.
Federal officials estimated that a homeless person costs taxpayers about $40,000 a year.
Several years ago, the city launched a 10-year initiative to end homelessness. Linda King, a community development specialist in the city’s Division of Planning and Development who has worked in the initiative, knows homeless will never be eradicated. But the city, with several key partners, can work toward reducing that census number.
The effort continues Friday morning with the sixth installment of the Keys to Ending Homelessness Conference. The 9 a.m. event at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center will focus on veterans who are homeless.
The keynote address will be given by Coleman Nee, state secretary of veterans services.
Workshops will discuss such topics as federal and state veterans’ benefits; outreach efforts; customizing services for different cultures, genders and generations of veterans.
“The federal government had made it a commitment to end veterans ‘homeless in five years, there’s a real full-court press to do that,” said King.
Of the 530 homeless people counted in January, 30 were veterans. Most of Lowell’s homeless vets are from the Vietnam era.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs estimate that over 67,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.
Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness. Only eight percent of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly one-fifth of the homeless population are veterans.
Besides being homeless, the federal government said the majority of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders.
Although most of Lowell’s homeless veterans are from the Vietnam era, the nation’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era.
Previous conferences have focused Social Security, housing, and criminal justice. Future conferences will focus on homelessness involving senior citizens and food.Explore posts in the same categories: The Column