Fixing America’s homeless problem

The problems of homelessness has persisted for quite a while and has simply been an issue for way too long. Countless measures have been taken to eradicate a problem that isn’t merely bad for the individuals who are affected by it, but also for America and their reputation in dealing with social issues. Some would argue that the stance towards reputation is the issue because America simply doesn’t care about the opinions of other nations, but maybe it should. If America paid some attention to other countries and their handling of this issue, maybe then can they accommodate the half a million plus Americans who are living without a roof over their heads.

Finland is a great role model for the American government, as they have almost completely eradicated the homeless population in their country. In Finland, the government has taken care of its issue by ending homelessness rather than just managing it. This system requires some hope and trust and many will be quick to label it as a dangerous and ineffective system, but this is simply not true and the Finnish will prove it to you. Finland’s foundation of eradicating homelessness is its housing first model, which is as simple as is it gets: If people do not have a home the Finnish government will give them one. These homes are not like the many different transitionary housing accommodations we know in America such as shelters, but an everyday home. In America, generally, the belief is that someone needs to exhibit the ability to be stable and conducive to society in order to be awarded with such aid. In Finland, regardless of everything, anyone who needs a home will be supplied one and that other issues will be taken care of in the future. skeptical? Finland is the only country in Europe whose homeless population has decreased in the last year.Screen Shot 2016-11-20 at 7.21.06 PM.png

Still skeptical? This is happening in America, right now! In case the American government can’t accept the success of a better, but other system, much like the Metric System, it just has to look at the state of Utah. In 2005, Utah’s Homeless Task Force looked at its homeless population and vowed to end chronic homelessness within the state, eleven years later they seem to be well on their way. A story aired on NPR on how Utah reduced its homeless population by 91%. The story follows Lloyd Pendelton, a man who described himself as a “conservative cowboy,” and who did not believe in “just” handing people a home to live in. Pendelton said he thought they should just get a job like everyone else and figure it out. Pendelton attended a conference in Chicago that changed his outlook on housing first programs forever. A homeless person costs the U.S. Government an annual 30-50 thousand dollars, a number which grows every year, yet housing them is less cost-effective? According to the Independent, permanent housing instead of managing the homeless saves 15,000 Euros, nearly 16,000 dollars annually. In fact, just about every study involved with housing first programs suggest that permanent housing programs are cheaper and more cost effective than temporary housing accommodations, the time and money for time in jail, and other necessary social services.

Screen Shot 2016-11-20 at 7.25.43 PM.pngThe American government does not need to hurt its ego and look to Europe for help, in fact it can pride itself as one of their states seems to have found the solution. Housing first programs require a bit of hope, but there is a lot of sense involved. Giving people a place to live, will give them a place to clean themselves, to gather their thoughts, and to feel a sense of privacy again. Giving people a house will allow them to recuperate and afford opportunities meaning they will be able to contribute to society. Some may find it a little too “Socialist” of a policy, but the state of Utah has proven that this system works, just like Finland has. Excluding the ” assumed moral duty” the government has to properly care and accommodate for its citizens, giving the homeless a permanent place to live simply makes sense. The government seemed to have finally caught on, as they planned to be starting this kind of program next year with the hopes of ending chronic homelessness by 2020. It is to hope, that the new administration does not veer off of Obama’s plans because homelessness is fixable, so America, the ball is in your court, end homelessness, end it now! Screen Shot 2016-11-20 at 7.14.58 PM.png

https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2016/sep/14/lessons-from-finland-helping-homeless-housing-model-homes

http://www.npr.org/2015/12/10/459100751/utah-reduced-chronic-homelessness-by-91-percent-heres-how

 

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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.

An Economic Perspective on Homelessness: Wage Gap

Homelessness is an issue that impacts all of us, whether or not we experience it ourselves directly. It is hard to explain the particular circumstances under which a family or a person may become homeless. However, common economic causes can be observed such as low wages, high rents, and joblessness. As the gap between incomes and housing prices continues to grow, homelessness is affecting larger parts of the population, including those that once had the security of high paying jobs.

According to the 2011 National Alliance to End Homelessness State of Homelessness report, between 2008 and 2009, the homeless population in the US increased by 3 percent. Not only that but, they also listed risk factors for homelessness that became more predominant during this period:

  • 60 percent increases unemployment.
  • Real income for the working people decreased by 2 percent, with some states seeing declines of more than 10 percent.
  • A majority of households with incomes below the federal poverty level spent more than half of their monthly incomes on rent.
  • People living in doubled-up situations increased by 12 percent.

In the past few years, there have been reports in the media of economic growth and low unemployment rates. However, this begs the question of why homelessness persists, and, in some areas of the country, is worsening. One of the reasons of that includes stagnant or falling incomes rates in low-income families and part-time jobs that offer few benefits. Another reason is the need have to overcome the continued dramatic decline in wage growth and unemployment.

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In the major cities where the percentage of homelessness is high, the average minimum wage in the U.S. does not provide enough for a person to afford housing and provide a living for their families. Therefore, low-income families cannot afford the necessities to live and have access to housing.

Helping decrease homelessness rates requires more than funding programs to people that already homeless. It requires closing the gap between incomes and housing costs in our economy. Therefore, jobs that offer a reasonable pay wage are critical. To the economy to strive and reduce homelessness in us, low-income populations should have access to opportunity to obtain and retain a job, which pays a living wage; moreover, the necessary supports and services such as child care and transportation to keep it.

Best,

Auris

Legislative Perspective on Homelessness: A Start

For most people it would be a hard sell to try to say that homelessness it not  a problem in the U.S., let alone the world at large. Depending upon where one lives you might merely need to walk down the street to encounter those individuals who have been dealt an unfortunate hand in life. Whether it be from the West Coast in places as shimmering as Silicon Valley or even our nation’s capitol, chronic homelessness is something which impacts all of us.

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Heres the map

Just taking a glance at this interactive map which has data from the : U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans we can see that homelessness is assuredly not an isolated event.

With all this being said however, there are as many opinions of how to deal with the issue as there are stars in the sky. While others make the arguments that those who are homeless are simply not willing to work hard and need to “Pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

We take a different perspective. Laws which provide opportunity and resources to those who have fallen into homelessness are critical to helping those out of homelessness, to us, turning effectively a blind eye to those suffering on the basis that “they are just lazy” is just immoral.dsc02263

To give you a better illustration of the type of framework of legislation we would be in favor of, take a glance at the “Housing First Initiative” which “In the three years since the system launched, the number of chronic homeless in the greater Houston area has dropped from 1,791 in 2011 to 763 today – a 57% decrease.” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/27/mental-health-homeless-series/14255283/)  The graphic below really does a great job of breaking down how the system works:houstontackleshomelessness2

This more caring approach to treating the homeless doesn’t end with initiatives though, much legislation is currently in effect and working it’s way into the books on the local, state, and national level. Taking one national example signed into law July 22nd not but two years ago the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) which according to https://www.usich.gov/news/the-workforce-innovation-and-opportunity-act-is-law :

“WIOA will help ensure that people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness have improved access to employment opportunities by:

  • recognizing individuals experiencing homelessness as a specific population confronting barriers to employment
  • reinforcing the intent of the workforce system to assist people with significant barriers to employment, with updated performance expectations that remove perceived disincentives for serving those with the greatest needs for support
  • increasing local coordination and flexibility to meet the unique needs of individuals experiencing homelessness and regional job skill demand”

As I assume we all can gather homelessness it not something which any of us can just expect to disappear at the drop of a hat, nor can it be something we just stubbornly ignore. Let’s push for more legislation that helps the homeless and gives them the resources to succeed and, with any luck, little by little we may just see each other as people again.

Best,

Ryan