Looking Towards the Future

We’ve come to the end of our time with you on this blog, and hope that over the course of the last few weeks we have presented some interesting arguments and ideas about homelessness in the United States. Obviously homelessness is something that’s much bigger than we are, and something that will take a lot of people, resources, and strength to eradicate. Some states are en route to reducing or totally eliminating homelessness, while others are still trying to figure out what to do and are passing laws that might not help the issue.

In the end, it’s going to take many more voices to bring light to homelessness and propose solutions. Economic downturn and bad situations have the ability to affect everyone, regardless of age or background. Of course, it’s not just us talking about the topic that matters–your voice matters as well. We hope that this blog opens a dialogue about homelessness that you can join, and make a difference in your area or for homeless individuals you know. Whether it’s volunteering at a soup kitchen or shelter, advocating for legislation to help the homeless, or working with individuals to find homes or treatment, every action counts. It’s up to us to do our part for our fellow citizens.

For more information, check out our posts and Twitter to learn a little about the state of homelessness today. The Los Angeles Times and the Huffington Post are also two great sources for learning more about homelessness, as they frequently publish stories about new occurrences and events. From an organizational standpoint, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has a lot of information and resources. Thank you for tuning in, and here’s to a better future for all.

Signing off,

Ben, Auris, Ryan, and Emily

Bringing Beauty to Homelessness Pt. 2: Hygiene as a Right, Not a Luxury

Bringing awareness to homelessness is done in a variety of ways, and has become a global phenomenon. In keeping with my previous post about bringing beauty to homelessness, I want to focus on some trends that have been taking hold to make life more physically beautiful for homeless individuals.

A shave and a haircut can make a person feel great, but it also has the ability to change lives. From New York to Melbourne to London, to even Ogden, Utah, hairdressers have been volunteering their time to give haircuts to homeless individuals. Some go around neighborhoods, meeting individuals and documenting their changes in appearance on Instagram and other forms of social media. Others, like Mandie Barnes in Utah, open their salons and bring in other people to join the event. Barnes’ event, held in 2015, serviced over 100 people and provided them with food, clothing for the holidays, and more. Barnes and the other stylists note the added confidence and dignity the clients experience, as well as the positive impact the stylists experience in knowing they helped someone.

In addition to a haircut, others are helping homeless individuals feel better physically by providing them with places to get clean. Lava Mae, an organization started by Doniece Sandoval, repurposes old buses into mobile shower and hygiene stations for homeless individuals in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Sandoval began the project after hearing a homeless woman’s sadness about possibly never being clean again, and realizing how few public places there were for homeless people to shower. The buses dock in different spots around the cities, and provide homeless individuals with personal treatment and a place to get clean. A similar project is Dignity on Wheels, based out of Palo Alto, California, which also provides laundry services on repurposed buses. All of these innovative services make us think about how lucky we are to have access to water and a consistent place to get clean. Something as simple as a shower has the power to impact someone’s dignity and sense of self, pointing to the importance of something as simple as water and personal hygiene to our lives. Hygiene is a right, not a luxury, and it’s up to us to make a difference and make it possible for those without access to it every day.

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Bringing Beauty to Homelessness

Living on the street or in a shelter doesn’t carry a lot of glamour. An art director in Chicago, who chooses to remain anonymous, wanted to change this, and started the Urban Type Experiment. Each week, he introduced himself to a different homeless individual with a cardboard sign, and redesigned the sign using imagery and typography. He kept up with the individuals he helped and posted updates on his blog of his work and whether or not the signs had helped people raise more money or better their situation.

While the project is no longer active due to the art director moving out of Chicago, his blog and the stories on it are still available for viewing. His work was also featured in the Huffington Post and other news sites. Initiatives like the Urban Type Project are interesting ways to raise awareness, and try to make the day a little brighter for those who do not have a home. These project contribute beauty and creativity, thinking outside the box, and the standard cardboard sign.

Why Long-Term Housing is the Solution

With all of the opinions about what the best way to deal with homelessness is, we can forget about victories that actually demonstrate ideas and policies that work. As reported by NPR and the Los Angeles Times, Utah has demonstrated itself to be a state that knows what works.

In 2005, Utah set out to end chronic homelessness. Kelly McEvers (NPR) notes that chronically homeless individuals are defined as “people who have been living on the streets for more than a year, or four times in the past three years, and who have a ‘disabling condition’ that might include serious mental illness, an addiction or a physical disability or illness.” The state began a housing program that implemented Housing First, which is a “homeless assistance approach  that prioritizes providing people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing as quickly as possible – and then providing voluntary supportive services as needed.” Housing First was first launched in 1988 in Los Angeles, California as a way to help homeless families find stable shelter. Individuals do not have to initially change or clean up to get housing, which can be common.

Utah had a number of factors that worked for it: a comparatively small chronically homeless population, support from the Church of Latter-Day Saints, politicians, and advocates, and agencies that worked together well and were familiar with chronically homeless individuals. Organizations supporting the housing method look at the individuals who qualify for housing and assess their need. In 10 years, Utah reduced its chronic homeless population from 2,000 to around 200. However, despite the progress, there is still not enough housing to cover everyone.

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Long-term housing solutions tend to be pushed aside in dialogues about homelessness in favor of shelters. Shelters can be a good emergency option, but not a long-term one. In a 2012 NPR segment, David Pirtle, a member of the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau, outlines some of his memories about shelters from when he was homeless, including having his shoes stolen and encountering body lice. Pirtle also recalls how an individual in Washington, D.C. died in a hot shelter due to the facility not having any ventilation. Shelters might also have time limits and stay restrictions, which can make it hard for someone to stay for an extended period of time.

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Other long-term options include federal housing assistance and permanent supportive housing, which is specifically helpful for individuals with health problems, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. Long-term housing is also much more cost-effective. As mentioned in previous posts, homeless individuals can cost the state up to $50,000 a year between arrests, hospital visits, and more. Annual housing through the Housing First program in Utah is $11,00o per person. In addition to cutting costs, long-term housing programs reduce the number of people in shelters and have high success rates, with the majority of those in long-term housing remaining in the housing for months and even years. These housing options give people the change to improve their lives, cut out destructive personal habits, and better care for themselves and their environment.

Long-term solutions have been proven to work, and have produced numerous successes. While having multiple options for housing is a great idea, cities should further consider long-term housing for the benefit of both the homeless population and the city for the future. Through initiatives like Housing First, the chronically homeless have the chance to remake themselves and shed the burden of survival, all through the simple act of having a home to call their own.

Families: The Homeless You Don’t See

When driving or walking around a city, you know the familiar figures: individuals sitting on the ground, holding out the cup; war veterans in wheelchairs covered by colorful blankets on the street corner; men and women pacing along a major road median. While we might recognize these faces again and again, something seems to be missing.

These are all individuals. Where are the homeless families?

Families are a part of the homeless population that is not always seen. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that in 2015, “206,286 people in families with children were homeless on a single night…making up 36 percent of all homeless people counted.”While this number has been in decline, this is still a big deal, especially when you consider that this number includes children who do not have access to consistent meals, hygiene, or education.

A recent article from the San Francisco Chronicle outlines a new city plan to house homeless families, an interesting development in fighting homelessness. The article notes that “There are 1,303 homeless families in San Francisco’s public schools with a total of 2,097 children, more than double the total nine years ago,” and that “Families are fewer, hidden away and easier to ignore.” In response, the city plans to:

  • Move the families living in dire conditions to emergency shelters
  • Move the families who do have shelter to long-term housing
  • Manage one database for information and one entry point for services

While not perfect (the article details potential challenges of the plan), this is still a new, helpful response to eliminating chronic homelessness and making things better for families. When it comes to homelessness, most people forget that people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and ages can be affected. Hopefully San Francisco’s program, which hopes to be in full swing by 2020, can be a success other cities can emulate. After all, helping homeless individuals find their families is just as important as helping families find a home.

Miracle Messages: Using the Power of Social Media to Bring Families Together

Homelessness can be associated with negative ideas, such as poverty, hard circumstances, substance addition, alcoholism, and more. Given that these have been ingrained in members of society, it comes as a surprise to some when they interact with homeless people, and find that they are “normal” and have feelings, just like any other person.

Kevin Adler, a San Francisco resident, is trying to overcome these social perceptions and the barrier between the homeless and homed populations. In 2014, Adler started Miracle Messages, a project that aims to reunite homeless individuals with their family members. He records short video clips of homeless individuals, and strategically places them on YouTube and social media sites in the hopes that the person’s family will see it. The family is invited to record a video response, and, if willing, can set up a reunion meeting. Adler has traveled to various states, and is now engaging on a cross-country campaign to reunite 100 homeless individuals with their families.

With all of the negative feelings around homelessness, it can be a breath of fresh air and a relief to see an organization actively working to help people find their families and get on their feet again. Miracle Messages was featured in the Huffington Post, as well as other magazines and news sites for their work. Check out their recent video (although it may make you cry!) to learn more about Miracle Messages’ work and see some of their reunions. Let’s hope that Miracle Messages sets a precedent, and that after years of hardship, those who have been without a home are able to come home.

Regulations on Homelessness: More Harmful Than Helpful

Homelessness has become more prevalent across the United States in recent years, especially in major cities like Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In addition to implementing initiatives like housing and other programs to help manage the homeless population, some cities have been imposing regulations on both homeless individuals and homed citizens, with the hopes of creating substantial progress.

In Fort Lauderdale, FL, a law was passed in 2014 criminalizing “street feeding,” or passerby being able to give food to homeless individuals, as reported by The Atlantic. In the article, Robert Marbut, a consultant for NPR, states that street feeding is “one of the worst things you can do, because it keeps people in homeless status.” Other laws prohibit loitering or sleeping in certain public places, sleeping outside or in cars, and more. If they are found in violation of these laws, homeless individuals are arrested and face bail or fines they cannot pay. The most extreme cases have to led to death, as outlined in the case of Jerome Murdough, as outlined in this article from the Center for American Progress.

homelessThese articles speak to the motivations behind putting legal restrictions on homelessness: cities want to move people from outside and encourage them to stay in shelters. They believe that shelters are the best option, which is far from true. The Pew Charitable Trusts detailed a report from the National Law Center that found that in many cities there are not enough beds to house the homeless, and that “74% of the homeless population do not know how to find a place where it is safe and legal for them to sleep.” The National Alliance to End Homelessness found that “On a single night in January 2015, 564,708 people were experiencing homelessness — meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program.” This overlooks a very large portion of the homeless population that is not accounted for via a shelter or other program, conveying that the actual total is much higher. The same organization also breaks down the cost for supporting the homeless: homeless individuals can cost taxpayers over $14,000 per year if they are incarcerated, and emergency shelter beds can cost $8,067 more than federal housing. Not only that, but shelters are unable to house large numbers of people, especially if they have stay limits.

As Ryan mentioned in his post, regulations meant to help the homeless can have great benefits. However, there are fewer of those than laws that restrict homeless and citizen activity. Cities need to think about what is most effective—limiting the actions of homeless individuals, or working to invest (and save) money in long-term housing options and treatment? Change is possible, and with homelessness reaching epidemic levels in some areas, it’s time to work to create it.

Blog Admins: Meet Emily

linkedin-copy-2Hello! I’m Emily, and I’m a senior and Communication major at the University of Maryland. Within my major, I’m interested in interpersonal connections and relationships, culture, and social media, and want to make a difference with what I’ve learned in my future career. Outside of class, I enjoy food, finding new TV shows to watch, and spending time with friends and family. Growing up in Maryland allowed me to explore and learn about Washington D.C., as well as see its problem with homelessness firsthand. As I got more into social media and finding news online, I saw even more about the issue  through videos, news stories, and more about efforts certain areas have taken concerning their homeless population. I think a lot more needs to be done across the country to work on minimizing homelessness and finding long-term solutions. I hope this blog can open a dialogue about homelessness and make a difference for those who need it most.