Why is addressing homelessness so complex?

The Concept Map graphic illustrates the complexity of Homelessness. At the center are those experiencing homelessness with connecting lines to the agencies who are tasked with responding or providing resources as well as the contributing factors that may provide barriers to finding a pathway out. In order to effectively collaborate on finding solutions, it’s important to first gain an understanding of the issue and ongoing local, county and regional efforts to provide services and support.

Homelessness is a complex issue and can’t be solved with a single approach. The concept map provides an illustration of some of the more significant issues and agencies who are working together with the community to find solutions to homelessness.

City/Local Governments

The City is addressing homelessness with a coordinated, comprehensive approach including the Police, Public Works, and Parks Departments. Some of the specific approaches include regular clean up and trash removal in locations where people experiencing homelessness gather; street sweeping in these areas on a weekly basis; regular cleaning of City-owned bus shelters by a specially-trained and equipped service contractor, and removal of graffiti on City-owned property. Large homeless camps are occasionally reported to the police department and staff work together to determine the best approach for clean-up. Camps sometimes contain biological and other potential hazards so training and the right protective equipment are critical for volunteer groups wishing to assist with cleanup efforts. The City sometimes also uses contracted clean-up crews who are called in to manage the work.


The City is also collaborating with Jefferson County and other county municipalities to build regional partnerships in order to assist an ever-increasing number of people experiencing homelessness. Jefferson County has developed a Homeless Navigator Program in partnership with several cities. Homeless Navigators work with individuals experiencing homelessness to create goals and a plan of action to exit homelessness, as well as facilitate and support efforts to obtain resources and services.

Mental Health

Mental illness and related conditions are a significant factor for many who are experiencing homelessness. Jefferson County has created a Co-Responder program under the leadership of the Jefferson Center, and in partnership with local police agencies, to embed mental health professionals with law enforcement. Co-Responders are trained to quickly recognize mental health issues and help officers de-escalate situations. Currently regional and county mental health resources are limited due to resources and budgetary concerns, however.


Focus from a legislative standpoint is also critical in efforts to address homelessness. Federal protections extend to freedom of speech and access to public rights of way; however local ordinances have helped provide guidance for municipalities and law enforcement.

Food Insecurity, Education, Substance Use/Misuse

Unless people’s basic needs are met such as having access to food and shelter, other concerns including substance use or misuse and mental health become less of a priority while in fact could be significant barriers to a pathway out of homelessness. To address homelessness effectively communities must find ways to approach more holistically by providing access to food, clothing, training/education, and services regarding substance use and mental health counseling and treatment.

Community Involvement

Community volunteers attempt to assist those experiencing homelessness by providing food, clothing and by joining community clean-up efforts. These efforts are only short-term measures and to be effective must be incorporated into an overall approach for finding solutions to homelessness.

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