Leading from the Left

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Duke Energy Responds to Today's Action

Duke Energy issued a press release this afternoon about the Utilities Commission decision. Here it is:

Duke Energy
North Carolina Utilities Commission Approves One Cliffside Unit
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The North Carolina Utilities Commission approved a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) for Duke Energy Carolinas to build one of two proposed new state-of-the-art coal units at the Cliffside Steam Station west of Charlotte.
In a brief “Notice of Decision,” the commission ruled that Duke Energy Carolinas had carried its burden of proof for one unit. A more detailed order is expected from the Commission in the coming weeks.

“We appreciate the Commission’s timely consideration of this matter,” said Ellen T. Ruff, president of Duke Energy Carolinas. “This is one of several significant milestones for the project. We still need to receive timely approval of the air permit. Additionally, our decision will not be made until we have seen the final cost estimates. Our initial estimates were based on two units, and the Commission only authorized one unit. “

Duke Energy Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer James E. Rogers said, “We will review the complete order once it is issued. We’re not making a decision until we see the final overall cost estimate for the project as well as the conditions on the environmental permit. It is only prudent for us to make a decision after all these key facts have been reviewed and validated.”

Rogers added, “We are pleased that the Commission accepted our commitment to invest 1 percent of revenues each year in the Carolinas for energy efficiency subject to appropriate regulatory treatment and our plan to retire older, less efficient units.”

Duke Energy Carolinas relies on a diverse energy portfolio with resources that include coal, natural gas, nuclear, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Energy demand in the region is growing at a rapid pace with Duke Energy Carolinas adding 40,000 to 60,000 new customers every year. The company forecasts the need for an additional 2,120 megawatts of new capacity in 2011 and 6,120 megawatts by 2021.

Duke Energy Corp., one of the largest electric power companies in the United States, supplies and delivers energy to approximately 3.9 million U.S. customers. The company has nearly 37,000 megawatts of electric generating capacity in the Midwest and the Carolinas, and natural gas distribution services in Ohio and Kentucky. In addition, Duke Energy has more than 4,000 megawatts of electric generation in Latin America, and is a joint-venture partner in a U.S. real estate company.

Duke Energy's Carolinas operations include nuclear, coal-fired, natural gas and hydroelectric generation. That diverse fuel mix provides nearly 21,000 megawatts of safe, reliable and competitively priced electricity to more than 2.2 million electric customers in a 22,000-square-mile service area of North Carolina and South Carolina.

Headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., Duke Energy is a Fortune 500 company traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol DUK. More information about the company is available on the Internet at: http://www.duke-energy.com/.

NC Warn Speaks up on Utilities Commission Decision

Following is a press release sent out by NC Warn on today's decision from the Utilities Commission regarding Duke Energy's Cliffside power plant proposal. They bring up some interesting points.

Ruling Could Spell End Of Cliffside Project Since Duke Energy Admits it’s Too Costly To Build Single Coal-Fired Unit

Commissions’ decision is flawed and ill-timed, but could end the project anyway


In light of looming economic uncertainty and a top U.S. climate expert’s warning yesterday, against building coal-fired power plants, today’s NC Utilities Commission permission for Duke Energy to build one out of two large coal-fired unit at Cliffside is badly misguided.

Nevertheless, this should be the end of the project since Duke admitted it cannot build economically just one coal-fired unit. If Duke tries to proceed with a single plant, it would fail the state’s “least cost” requirement even more than did the two-units when compared to other generation scenarios – and especially energy efficiency. Also, because 75% of the project’s pricing has not been firmed up, there is a strong likelihood of continuing price hikes – and the public will be demanding to know what they are.

Due to extremely volatile construction and coal markets, it’s uncertain whether Duke could ever complete this project. If Duke Energy can be taken at its word, it should be ready now to scrap the project, stop blocking the way and let North Carolina get on with the vital business of cutting greenhouse gases by ramping up proven energy efficiency programs. If it proceeds at Cliffside, it faces continuing legal and public opposition.

To the extent the Commission’s full order will require Duke to spend millions on efficiency programs is enforceable, this adds to the likelihood the Cliffside project is over. It’s clear that Duke cannot comply, and has no intention of genuinely pursuing efficiency, despite its corporate PR. Energy-saving programs conflict with Duke’s business model of maximizing sales of electricity. Also, Duke has no expertise in efficiency.

Moreover, a full committing toward efficiency could threaten the financial viability of the Cliffside project, especially in the event of economic downturn. For this state to fully pursue efficiency programs requires a third party administrator such as the State Energy Office.

Given that it would take many months for Duke to obtain a pollution permit, it’s unfortunate the Commission allowed its order to be pushed by Duke Energy’s dubious deadline – without requiring Duke to complete the necessary work to evaluate energy efficiency programs and complete pricing for the majority of the project. In its forthcoming full order, the Commission should require new cost estimates based on the single unit, and another evaluation of the “least cost” standard.

As reported by AP yesterday, “One of the world's top climate scientists [James Hansen] called for an end to building new coal-fired power plants in the United States because of their huge role in spewing out greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.”

We appreciate the courage and clarity that Commissioner Owens showed in opposing business as usual and the power of Duke Energy in these extraordinary times. We look forward to working with the Commission and utilities to restructure the rate system so that Duke and Progress no longer need to block the advancement of renewables and efficiency programs.

Utilities Commission Gives us Half a Loaf

The state Utilities Commission today approved only 1 of Duke Energy's requested 2 new utility plants west of Charlotte. I was rooting for the entire package to be turned down so we could focus NC on energy efficiency and creating renewable energy sources. While I'm a bit disappointed, the Commission's decision is better than some folks expected.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Guest Post on Chaining Dogs

(NOTE: I asked Suzanne Roy, of Hillsborough, to prepare a guest post on the issue of tethering dogs. She and others have been educating me about this concern, specifically why chaining is bad for dogs and what some of the alternatives are. Suzanne's post is below.)

I was walking past the wood frame house when I first saw him. He was chained to a log, had been for years, his owner told me when I asked about this skeletal dog. He resembled a Shepherd. He was perhaps seven or eight, she did not know. I asked if I could take Henry for a walk. "Henry, he's just fine, " she said. For several months I fed Henry (who was actually a girl!) and her owner, an elderly woman with dementia.

Finally, the woman moved to a nursing home and I was able to unhook Henry’s chain-- it was virtually embedded in her fur. At first she seemed tentative, timid, and then suddenly she leapt up, gave me a wet kiss and took her first steps toward a far brighter future.

Henry is one of the lucky few. Free from her chain, she now lives with a kind man on his beautiful 12-acre property in Chapel Hill. Her eyes are bright, her coat is rich and shiny. Sadly many hundreds of dogs in our county continue to languish at the end of a chain.

Dogs are gregarious, social animals. Chaining dogs is cruel, and creates serious problems in our community:

* The American Veterinary Medical Association warns, "Never tether or chain your dog because this can contribute to aggressive behavior." Chained dogs have killed and maimed children who innocently wander up to them.
* Chained dogs have no protection against predators. Restricted by their tether they are easy prey for other animals, including other dogs.
* Chained dogs are often associated with criminal activity: from dog fighting to drug rings; they often are used to guard drug houses.
* Chained dogs are frequently not vaccinated for rabies and other diseases, raising public health concerns.

'The U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits chaining as the primary means of confinement under the federal Animal Welfare Act. Nearly 100 cities, counties and states in the U.S. ban or severely restrict the practice of chaining dogs.

The first meeting of Orange County’s Animal Tethering Committee is Tuesday night. I am hopeful that we can quickly move forward with an ordinance to ban or severely restrict the chaining of dogs as inhumane and dangerous to the public.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Global Warming Commission Makes Recommendations

Global Warming is serious. And let's be honest, few in this country have really begun to address it. Other countries have set high goals, but the US government, most state governments and nearly all local governments have side-stepped taking significant measures to reduce green house gas emissions.

If we're going to be serious about climate change, then every decision we make needs to be seen through the filter of global warming. We have to be asking ourselves, "Does this decision reduce or increase the emissions of green house gases?" We have to ask this question whether we're talking about land-use planning, building construction, transportation, where to site a garbase transfer station, or even what kind of lightbulb to put in our living room lamp.

NC's Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change took a big step forward yesterday when it made a series of recommendations. It's a little early to tell which of these recommendations will make it into law this year, but the momentum seems to be on the right side. Here are some of the key recommendations:

1. State government should reduce energy consumption by 20% in 20 years.
2. New state buildings should meet green standards, such as LEEDS.
3. Place a fee on power bills to fund a program that promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy.
4. Revise building codes to require minimum energy efficiency in new residential and commericial buildings.
5. Create a Renewable Energy Porfolio standard
6. Set new energy efficiency standards for appliances.

I'll keep you posted on how these recommendations progress in the General Assembly.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Guest Post--Senator Ellie Kinnaird

(Note: I am in the process of soliciting guest posts for this blog. Our first guest post is from State Senator Kinnaird, who follows up with her perspective on the Duke Energy's proposed new coal-fired powerplant, Cliffside. Ellie joined a number of other progressive state legislator's this week in asking the Utilities Commission to delay a vote on this project. There will be other guest posts on other topics in the coming weeks.)

Guest Post: State Senator Eleanor Kinnaird

Cliffside Coal Plant

Energy use and production has gained priority in the General Assembly. From the Energy Independence Act to the Global Warming Commission, the awareness of the seriousness of the problem and solutions North Carolina can enact are at the forefront of discussions. The Legislature last session ordered the Utilities Commission to study the issue of energy in our state. The Report found that North Carolina could reduce future need by 10% with a rigorous development of alternate energy and efficiency and just plain not using power.

In the light of the interest and proposed solutions, it is disappointing that Duke Energy is asking for permission to build two coal-fired power plants west of Charlotte. Last session, the environmental community opposed the plants, but the holy grail of "jobs" led to approval by the legislature. It was sold to the legislature by saying the plants could be built right over the line in South Carolina just as easily and there would go millions of dollars of jobs marching south.

But the fact is, Cliffside Plants will pollute (11.5 tons of carbon dioxide that is equal to 1 million autos a year), will cost customers dearly, with a 50% cost overrun estimate. Contrast that with the minimal impact alternate energy and efficiency has and it is hard to justify Duke’s plans. In addition, alternate energy promotes small businesses and creates jobs. Writing to the commission may stop the Cliffside application by showing citizens care about their future and are willing to invest in the right energy policy.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stop Cliffside, Now!

I am strongly opposed to Duke Energy's Cliffside power plant. Here's why you should be too.

1. "The proposed Cliffside project would release 11.5 million tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide a year, equal to nearly 1 million automobiles." (N&0, 2/21/07)

2. If this plant is constructed, consumers will bear the entire cost. Already, cost estimates from Duke Energy have risen 50%--from $2 billion to $3 billion--and the application has yet to be approved. Every dime of these costs will be added to our electric bills, yours and mine. We'll be paying for decades to come.

3. A consultant, hired by the NC Utilities Commission, reported in November that North Carolina could get 10% of our energy through efficiency measures and renewable energy with little impact on electric bills. This would significantly reduce our need for a new coal-fired plant, and perhaps eliminate that need altogether.

4. The legislature is poised to pass a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards bill (REPS) this session. The House version of the bill sets a 20% target, far higher than the 10% the consultant indicated could meet our needs. Twenty five states already have such legislation. If North Carolina adopts REPS it will fundamentally alter the calculus that the Utilities Commission is using to determine whether or not to approve Cliffside.

Here's what you can do: contact the state Utilities Commission today and let your voice be heard. They are set to make a decision next week, so time is of the essence. Ask the Utilities Commission to either turn down the Cliffside application outright or to delay their decision while the legislature debates the REPS bill.

If you only remember one thing from this post, remember this: the green house gas pollution from Cliffside, if it's approved, will equal that from 1 million cars.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More on Waste to Energy Proposal

The press conference yesterday to announce the waste-to-energy proposal from Smithfield Foods and Progress Energy was attended by a handful of environmental lobbyists. Progress Energy did not show up, and the discussion was led by representatives from Smithfield and NC Pork Council.

The proposal is still so sketchy that it's hard to say if it's good or bad. However, it does appear to be a step in the right direction. At least now the debate is shifting from "if" we should produce energy from animal waste to "how" we get started. If we're going to deal with global warming seriously in North Carolina, then we have to be willing to experiment with animal waste as a fuel source.

Below is the AP article on the press conference. I think you'll probably agree with me that the proposal is short on detail.

N.C. Pork Council seeks approval for hog waste conversion program

The Associated Press

The North Carolina Pork Council asked legislators Monday to create a pilot program that would test the feasibility of converting hog waste into electricity.

Raleigh-based utility Progress Energy said it would participate in the program if legislators approve it. Murphy-Brown LLC, the Warsaw-based livestock production subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc., and others developed the technology to capture methane gas from the farms' anaerobic treatment systems and convert it into electricity, the council said.

"This pilot program will help us see if it will be possible for producers to sell energy at a rate that allows them to justify the capital investment and cover the operating expenses for these projects," said R.C. Hunt, president of the North Carolina Pork Council and a contract hog producer.

Under the program, Progress Energy would purchase the electricity generated at about 18 cents per kilowatt hour _ significantly more than the 4.5 cents to the 5.5 cents usually paid by other non-utility generators, said Dana Yeganian, a Progress Energy spokeswoman.

The proposal would call for a seven-year pilot in which Progress Energy would start buying no later than late 2012, Yeganian said.

The program "will help the hog industry determine if converting hog waste to electricity is economical and feasible and will help us develop reliable and safe systems for connecting renewable generating sources to our grid," said Gene Upchurch, vice president, state public affairs and economic development for Progress Energy.

Hunt said he hoped the process would become more efficient with time.

"From an environmental standpoint, this program makes good sense because we're providing a renewable energy source and, by capturing the methane gas, we're lowering greenhouse gas emissions," Hunt said.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Breakthrough Announcement Coming Shortly

I just learned that Progress Energy and Smithfield Foods, the state's leading hog producer, are holding a joint news conference at 5pm today. They will announce a pilot project to create electricity from from hog waste. In the past, utilities have contended that it's too expensive and impractical to produce energy from animal waste.

I don't know the details yet, and we all know that the fine print on projects like this is often critical. However, it does appear to be a major step in the right direction. If this project proceeds, it won't solve every problem associated with hog lagoons and the hog industry. But it will address a key global warming concern--namely, hog waste produces methane, the single largest contributor to global warming. Turning hog waste into electrical energy, recycles the methane for a good purpose, thus addressing a key contributor to global climate change.

Such an agreement could be a win-win for everyone (perhaps, even a win-win-win). The farmer wins because he/she can make money off animal waste, thus augmenting farm income. Rather than a problem, hog waste could become an economic opportunity for farmers.

The utilities could win by purchasing energy from a renewable source; this could potentially reduce the need for new coal or nuclear plants. And the environment wins because methane (the single largest contributor to global warming) is captured and used for energy rather than allowed to simply gas off into the environment.

We don't know the details of this announcement yet, and I'm hesitant to get too excited until we know all the details. However, if true this represents a very positive develop for the environment in North Carolina.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

$25,000 in a bathroom

This just in from the Black plea at the Federal Building in Raleigh....

Details emerged today of some of evidence against for Speaker Black. Apparently, there was evidence that he'd accepted $25,000 in cash in a secret meeting in a bathroom. Now that he's pled to a lesser charge, I suppose we'll never know the extent of the corruption. But even what little we do know is disgusting.

Good Bye and Good Riddance

Well, it's finally over. Former Speaker Jim Black has resigned and will plead guilty today to a charge of accepting 'gratuities.' I for one am glad to see this affair end. Black seriously damaged the reputation of the NC State House and should have left earlier.

One legislator told me the other day that she feels like "a dark cloud has finally lifted." Perhaps now the General Assembly can refocus it's attention on issues that matter to the people: mental health reform, adopting energy and climate change policies, land conservation, teacher pay, and education.

I suppose the silver lining in all this is that the Black scandal embarrassed the legislature into passing reasonably strong ethics and lobbying reform legislation.

Additionally, the scandal forced Black to step aside as speaker and paved the way for the election of a new speaker, Orange County's Joe Hackney. Hackney is clean as a whistle. His election as Speaker helps clear the way for a new, more transparent State House and we'll all be better for it.

The most striking example that a new day has arrived for the House came this week when committee assignments were announced. Roughly 40% of the new committee chairs are women. Women make up only 34% of the Democrats in the State House, so clearly Hackney has gone out of his way to put women in strong leadership roles. While it's unfortunate that no women were selected for upper-echelon leadership positions (Speaker, Caucus Leader, Majority Leader), Hackney's committee assignments help position women to move up to those key positions next time.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Energy Efficiency in the Orange County Schools

There was an article in the Chapel Hill Herald last week about energy savings in the Orange County school system. Apparently the school system has saved nearly $1 million in the last four years in energy costs through energy efficiency.

Hat's off to the Orange County schools for taking these steps.

In addition to the savings to the tax payer, increased energy efficiency reduces our dependence on foreign oil and reduces the amount of green house gases being pumped into the atmosphere. If we're going to get serious about dealing with global warming, then all levels of government--from the federal to state to county to school boards--should take steps like these.

On a related note, I've received a number of emails about heating problems at Stanford Middle School. The HVAC system at Stanford, which was scheduled to be replaced in 2010, is failing. As February temperatures dip into the 20's and 30's, students are studying in frigid classrooms. I've spoken to members of the school board, and they are very concerned about these conditions. Consequently, they are planning to replace the HVAC system this year at an estimated cost of $500,000.

Making this replacement ASAP is in the best interest of the students and staff who are working in these conditions. A new HVAC system will also give us an opportunity to become even more energy efficient because a new system should use significantly less energy to heat the school.

The question becomes, of course, where to find an additional $500,000 for an unexpected HVAC replacement. I support using lottery proceeds for this expenditure. In a previous post, I mentioned that the BOCC is discussing how to disperse lotter monies. The situation at Stanford is a clear example of why the OC school system needs more money for capital improvements--particularly renovations and replacement in older schools.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Untethering dogs

At our last Board of County Commissioners meeting, representatives from the Coalition to Unchain Dogs formally requested that the BOCC adopt an ordinance to prohibit the chaining of dogs. I have to admit that I'm new to this issue. Like most people, I haven't spent much time thinking about how dogs are tethered.

I have learned about this issue this week, however, thanks in large part to information presented by two community advocates. Last Saturday, I met with Suzanne Roy and Jude Reitman both of whom have devoted years of their lives to working for the protection of animals. From discussion at that meeting and from reading subsequent materials Suzanne provided to the BOCC, I've become convinced that Orange County needs an anti-chaining ordinance.

Already in North Carolina, 2 counties and 2 municipalities have passed ordinances prohibiting chaining. We should be the next.

Why is chaining or tethering a bad thing, you ask? When I asked that question, here's some of what I learned:

*chaining is a safety hazard for people. Dogs, like all animals, have a "fight or flight" instinct. When confronted with a threat, they must chose which to do and because chained animals cannot flee, they fight.
*According the the Centers for Disease Control, chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite
*the victims of attacks by chained dogs are often children
*dog tethers can become tangled, leading to choking or chafing of the dog's neck.
*A tangled tether can also prevent a dog from accessing food and water
*The American Veterinary Medical Association is opposed to chaining because "this can contribute to aggressive behavior
*the federal government, under the Animal Welfare Act, prohibits tethering as the principle
means of confinement

While all of these points are valid, the one that most strikes me is the point about dog's 'fight or flight' instinct. It's not hard to imagine a scenario, fairly common I suspect, in which neighborhood children venture into the yard of a chained dog. Since the dog cannot take flight, clearly his only option--from an instinctual standpoint--is to fight. This poses a serious threat to children.

There are easy steps that can be take to confine a dog rather than tether him, namely he can be fenced in or housed indoors while the owners are at work.

The county has set up a committee that will review anti-tethering laws and make a recommendation to the BOCC. I'd like to hear from you all during this process. Please email your opinion on this matter to me at mikenelsonnc@aol.com.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Meeting with Central/Northern Orange African American Leaders

Last Saturday I met with a group of about a dozen African-American leaders who live in or around Hillsborough. I arranged the meeting because I wanted to learn more about what their concerns and interests are. As I'm starting my first year as a County Commissioner, it's helpful to hear first hand what's on people's minds.

The conversation was wide-ranging and covered topics as diverse as housing, homelessness, jobs, water quality, and parks.

The issue that probably got the most discussion was water quality. Judge Beverly Scarlett, along with Mariah McPherson and Frances Dancy, was very concerned about folks in the Hillsborough area who do not have indoor facilities. We think of this area as being pretty advanced, but there are still too many families in Orange County who have outhouses. Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Lowen and Frances Dancy echoed.

Leo Allison and Judge Scarlett were very concerned about folks in Orange County without clean drinking. There far too many families who have well water that is dirty. It may not be contaminated with toxic chemicals like arsenic, but it comes out of the faucet red or brown. These families cannot drink their water, they can't wash their clothes in it, and they don't cook with it. Often families of modest means, they have to buy water at the store just to go about their daily business.

Some of these families live close enough to city water and sewer to connect, but can't afford the steep connection fees. Still others could get access cleaner water by digging their wells deeper, but can't afford the thousands of dollars that would cost.

Judge Scarlett made a passionate plea for clean water, saying "People have a basic human right to clean water!" Our group talked briefly about ways we might help these families and agreed to talk about this issue in greater detail later.

The conversation turned to jobs and economic development. Keith Cook made excellent points about the hardsheps caused in Northern and Central Orange as textile jobs dried up. Keith said the county hasn't done enough to bring in new business that pays decent wages and families are hurting. Commissioner Brian Lowen also made good comments about the need for jobs that pay decent wages.

Tony McKnight and Hazel Lunsford brought up education concerns. Mr. McKnight ran for the Orange County School Board last year and is planning on running again next time. Mrs. Lunsford's years working in Orange County schools taught her the value of a good education. They both want to make sure we take steps to address the drop out rate and keep young people in school.

I want to thank all of the individuals who attended this meeting. It was important to me to hear first hand what's on the minds of my constituents. The enthusiasm the attendees demonstrated was catching. It reminds me that most of the problems we face as a county can be resolved if we sit down and hear what each other is saying.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Straight Talk from an unexpected source

Dick Cheney's investment advisor has written a scathing attack of US energy policy. There's not much I can add, you've got to read this yourself.

Can we end Homelessness?

Following up on Friday's post on Homelessness in Hillsborough, let's dig a little deeper into this problem and potential solutions.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Sally Green sent me this article on homelessness. Here's the bad news: the article is from the Wall Street Journal, and it discusses efforts coming out of the Bush administration. But don't write it off because of that! The good news is that the solutions discussed in this article do seem to be working. Could it be that the Bush administration actually be doing something right?

Sally's been working with a group of local leaders and advocates on a plan to end homelessness in Orange County. My understanding is that many of the ideas discussed in this article are liklely to be recommended by her committee when they issue their report shortly.

We've fallen in to a trap in this country, acting as if homelessness is here to stay. But we can do something about it, and this article shows us a way to get started.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Homeless in Hillsborough

There is an excellent article in this week's News of Orange entitled "Homeless in Hillsborough." Writers Keri Springer and Casey Ferrell begin a series of three articles on homelessness, and in this first article they follow volunteers who recently undertook a sweeping count of the homeless in Orange County. Whereas in Chapel Hill and Carrboro the homeless are more visible and more numerous, we often don't think about the homeless in our county seat. In terms of raising our awareness, this is a very valuable article, and I'm glad the News of Orange is tackling this subject.

About a year ago I was being interviewed by a young reporter for the Daily Tarheel. She was probably around 20 and just starting out as a journalist. In a wide-ranging interview, she eventually got around to asking about Chapel Hill's homeless problem, and I found myself explaining to her that we haven't always had this problem in the US. I explained that when I was her age, we didn't see these large numbers of street people, sleeping in shelters or in the woods or in shop doorways. But the Reagan 'revolution' brought about the closing of substance abuse and mental health programs, particularly halfway houses and the like. Reagan promised a 'social safety net' when these programs were defunded but, perhaps predictably, that safety net never materialized and we saw a spike in the homeless population.

Because substance abuse and mental health issues are often key contributors to leading someone to become homeless, the defunding of these programs meant that people with legitimate illnesses were no longer gettting the help they needed. It was no wonder that they ended up losing jobs and losing their homes.

I think it's important to acknowledge that the homeless issue hasn't always been as bad as it is today, and we don't have to just assume that it's going to continue to exist. We can take steps to change the status quo.

I'm glad folks like Keri and Casey are raising awareness. Homelessness isn't just a problem affecting urban areas; it hits small towns just as hard.