In an effort to keep people from sleeping in Rochester's downtown skyway system, a new warming shelter has opened on Fourth Street Southeast. The shelter, however, is not a permanent solution for those in the city who have no permanent home.   Post Bulletin file photo

The recent survey of homelessness in Rochester was an eye-opener.

For starters, there are twice as many homeless people in the city than authorities were expecting.

"We assumed we would have between 50 and 60 folks," said Trent Fluegel, Olmsted County's housing resource coordinator. Instead, 106 homeless people were contacted, and another 17 were identified but did not take part in the survey.

The actual number of homeless is likely even higher; officials know that some homeless people, for a variety of reasons, simply don't want to be found.

Those who were found were living in a variety of conditions, including one person living in a dog house.

The survey was conducted to help government officials and non-profit organizations as they develop a plan for addressing homelessness in the community.

Overall, the survey backed up what the community is discovering: There are many reasons for homelessness, and there will not be a one-size-fits-all solution for it.

"We have 123 individuals, and the solutions to their problems are 123 different things," Fluegel said.

Some homeless people find housing for a time, only to lose it. Some had long-term housing and lost it. The reasons people are homeless range from financial hardship to mental health issues to chemical dependency. Some have more than one or two issues to solve before finding housing.

How to solve this continues to be a vexing problem. Clearly, short-term shelters are merely stop-gap solutions. They do at least get people out of the weather for a night. But having people drift on a daily basis from the library to a night-time shelter is not really a solution in the long run.

There's no question Rochester's homeless population has increased in recent years, and the survey numbers were further evidence of that.

However, the survey did not turn up any indication that Rochester is attracting homeless people. Only 14 percent of those surveyed have been in the community for less than year. More than half of those surveyed have lived in Rochester for at least 10 years.

It's difficult for a relatively affluent community that is adept at problem solving to come face-to-face with something as seemingly intractable as homelessness. But that's no reason to give up.

As we have said previously on this page, all sectors of the community are going to have to pitch in if we are to find a way to help fellow citizens no longer have to live under bridges -- or in a dog house.

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