For a multitude of unkind reasons, getting down is much easier than getting back up. Ask anybody on the street. Or ask the people who are trying to feed, lobby, legislate and pray for them.
At a get-together he engineered this week, homeless activist Gary “Gypsy” Susich hoped, simply, to make a start. He spent hours at public library and church computers, inviting everyone he could think of.
He needed someone — lots of someones — to help start a discussion about ways to improve the lives of the poor and to empower them to get back up.
Davenport Alderman Bill Boom, 3rd Ward, had good news and bad news for the nine homeless people at Gypsy’s first Homeless Roundtable at The Center at St. John's United Methodist Church in Davenport.
The good news: Boom wants to help. In fact, he currently is giving shelter to a man who was ejected from the Humility of Mary Shelter for behavioral problems.
Also, as a longtime representative of Davenport’s downtown, he is aware of the problems, adding, “I have the most transients” in his ward.
The bad news: The city is the incorrect direction to look for help.
“These services they’re needing are not city functions,” he said. “Homeless services are not in our charter. We plow the streets and provide police protection. The county folks are the ones with connections to the state.
“But it’s also a bi-state problem, and it’s a metro problem. I think we can do a better job. I think we can get better organized.
“We rely on the good will of churches and organizations to offer food and shelter. We then make people march across the city to get those services ... migrate back and forth between feeding stations.”
A meandering series of free meal sites was one of several specific problems Gypsy hoped to recognize, so future meetings can focus on solutions.
“I didn’t expect to solve anything in one day, but I did pick up some good information,” he said Wednesday. “We put together a committee of five or six people, which is probably enough for now. We're going to the next (Scott County) Board of Supervisors' meeting. I look forward to hearing what they have to say.”
But County Administrator Dee Bruemmer said she has some bad news, too: Boom's suggestion that homeless supporters petition the county is "misguided," because the county's budget is "locked" by the state.
"We don't need a roomful of people at county board," she said Wednesday. "What's a county board meeting going to do?"
Dependent upon the state for indigent-care funding, county officials know as well as anyone about gaps in services, Bruemmer said. They have their own battles.
"When we're really close to being out of money, we fill a bus and drive them over (to legislators' offices in Des Moines) and show them the people who would lose their services," she said.
But the strategy has lost its impact over the years, because lawmakers grow "hardened," she said.
"Lawmakers are insulated and isolated, and, in some ways, that's understandable, because they have the tough decisions to make about cuts," Bruemmer said.
One piece of Scott County's community services department deals directly with housing, but it is primarily short-term accommodations and rental assistance. The department also has a veterans' assistance coordinator who does considerable outreach at homeless shelters and the jail, she said. There's also help available for utilities and medical care.
"Our psych services and mental health for the jail alone is somewhere between a quarter-million dollars and $300,000-plus annually," she said. "Our programs are really about trying to stabilize people. That's our focus."
With a total general-assistance budget of $550,000 in the fiscal year ending in June, the county's money cannot go far when 1,076 applications for assistance are made. The jail medications and psychiatric services took almost half of the budget, using $254,000. Although many of the nation's homeless are living with mental illness, many are undiagnosed and do not have access to affordable treatment when they are diagnosed.
If city and county officials' hands are tied, and state lawmakers are pressed into making more community-service cuts, then churches and nonprofits are left to cover as much of the remaining need as they can.
St. John's Pennie Kellenberger said that is how it should be.
"Really, my friends, it's not the city's job," she said at Tuesday's roundtable. "It's the church's job. That's why we were created."
She said homelessness is not the most challenging battle churches are trying to help fight.
"How can we change it from 'I need housing' to 'I need purpose, passion and dignity?'" she asked. "With purpose and passion, they would make it. We could do away with emergency shelters."
For now, the need remains great.
Also at the homeless roundtable, Margo Hary of King's Harvest Ministry said she worries what will become of the 60 men, 15 women and four children who live at King's Harvest. The shelter and meal site began several years ago, serving as an "overflow shelter" for the people who could not be accommodated at Humility of Mary. But the overflow status ends April 15.
"The situational homeless (people who have lost jobs, for example) now happens more often than chronic homelessness," she said at Gypsy's meeting. "Even at a minimum-wage job, you will not be able to find housing.
"You just wonder what's going to happen on April 16."