To the Editor:
Traditionally in Southern Illinois, homelessness has been thought of as something that happens in “other” places. However, many of our local communities are waking up to find that homelessness is very much present in many rural Southern Illinois communities. I serve as the director of a small, grassroots not-for-profit that began in response to the passing of a homeless individual in West Frankfort back in 2019.
Homelessness is complex because it is both a contributing factor and the culmination of other factors. We often see mental health challenges, chronic substance use, incarceration, and significant trauma intersect in the homeless experience. Unfortunately for people experiencing these challenges in Southern Illinois, help is hard to find. Many of our counties are primary care and mental health deserts where poverty, chronic substance use, overdose, and crime flourish.
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It is time for us as community members to come together in the development of community-first solutions that remove barriers to resources and services for people experiencing chronic homelessness, substance use, and mental health challenges. Community–first approaches capitalize on current resource capacity to build collaborative partnerships that empower rural communities to overcome these challenges together. Community-first approaches create an environment where recovery is the expectation and support is the framework.