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.

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Helping Others One Thread At a Time

Check out this heartwarming event that shows just how much effort and thought can be put towards helping those in need in unique ways. Massive donations and food drives are very important, but in this instance we can see that even the smallest of gifts can go a long way towards helping those in need.

Best,

Ryan

Looking Beyond the Yard

Homelessness can take place in urban and rural areas with equal force. Check out this report from Columbus, Ohio, where good Samaritans from the community took their time and effort to raise awareness for the homeless through a yard sale. Everyone can do their part to give back, and this story powerfully reflects that.

Best,

Ryan

The “right to be homeless”and its victims

While homelessness is a huge problem in America, some may not see it that way. Some people simply claim that they prefer the life of living on the street and not being stuck inside a home, this is a right, but their right to express it may come from a place of flawed judgement. Many homeless people have been without a home for many years, which makes adjusting to public housing projects tough for them, as they are so used to the life on the street.

Others may not be the right person to be making judgement calls on their state of living. Sure, everyone has the right to go where they want, but someone like Raquel Phillips, who has been living on the same interaction in Los Angeles for 15 years, may not be the right person to make that decision. People like Raquel have their judgement so impaired through all the wear and tear over the years that they are only a threat to themselves. There has got to be a drawn line on when people can exhibit their right to be homeless and when their mental state requires intervening, regardless if the person wants it or not. After all, as a society, we cannot let people rot away on the streets because they are too incapacitated to realize that they need help.

 

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

Why is D.C. inhabited by more homeless families than single adults?

Washington D.C., the nation’s capital, is home to one of the worst homeless crises in America. To make matters worse, for the first time, homeless families outnumber homeless individual adults. Entire families, mothers, fathers, little children are starving day in and day out and having a tough time to find shelter. This is alarming as the number of homeless families have soared by over thirty percent since last year, even though D.C.’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, is actively trying to combat homelessness. All of this begs the question– Why are more and more families becoming homeless?

The answer to this question is Mayor Bowser’s biggest criticism. Yes, she has spent a substantial amount of money trying to combat homelessness and vows to increase this budget. Additionally, she has loosened regulations on homeless shelter requirements. All of these are important in combating homelessness, but critics of the Mayor blame the increase of homeless families on rising rates of real-estate, government and social failures, such as bad foster care, teenage pregnancy, and poor schooling.

Looking At The Bigger Picture

Homelessness is the responsibility of all of us. Those with mental illness, physical or mental handicaps, or simply hardships or misfortune should be supported by those around them. Harriet McDonald in Helping the Homeless Help Themselves puts forward the position that “ We need to expect more from homeless people….” She asserts the notion that “Rather than condemn the homeless to lives on the government dole, let’s demand more of them — and ourselves.” This old school mentality where the homeless simply need to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” is antiquated at best and dangerous at worst.

In the majority of the country’s major cities basic resources such as homeless shelters and soup kitchens etc. are simply not enough to meet the rising tide of desperate people. According to sfgate.com  “Homelessness in and around big U.S. cities increased 3 percent this year, even as the nation’s overall rate declined 2 percent, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development“. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness “Despite a national decrease in unsheltered homelessness, only 18 states reported decreases in the number of people living in unsheltered locations…”  this year. There is still a great way to go in getting those most in need off of the streets and putting the necessary housing measures in place.  The report reads, “Transitional housing capacity continued to decrease nationwide with 40 states and D.C. reducing capacity…..utilization of transitional housing was low, with 81.7 percent of beds filled …. the lowest utilization of transitional housing recorded since 2007.”

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We fundamentally disagree with the assertion that “… we will never be able to … add enough  government-subsidized housing units to shelter everyone forever. Nor should taxpayers be expected to pay forever for people who appear only cursorily unable to make it on their own.” The real truth of the matter is that we must take steps to first providing the basic necessities. Only then, will we as a society be able to lift those out of their misfortune and incorporate them into the larger community as a whole.         

McDonald goes at length to place her organization “The Doe Fund” on a pedestal as the ideal model for how to solve the crisis of homelessness. This organization however is not the ideal. It effectively excludes many who may be unable to work due to physical or mental illness or handicaps or even single mothers who have to look after children.  Due to the lack of basic resources available to most able-bodied homeless men and women, the odds that they would be willing to take a chance on such an organization is doubtful. Without some form of bedrock beneath them to launch from, “The Doe Fund” represents more confusion than opportunity.puffins

In short, although I can understand the notion that taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear the weight of the homeless population, I can reason that in time more expectations should be put upon the homeless to engage and contribute to society. However in order to get to that time and place the homeless must be first given some ground to stand upon so that they can gain the confidence and security to take new opportunities such as “The Doe Fund” when they arise.

Best,

Ryan

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.

What Happens When Cities Make Homelessness a Crime: Hiding The Homeless

This video accompaniment to our refutative post provides a visual idea of how a growing number of American cities are ticketing or arresting homeless people for essentially being homeless. The new laws ban behavior commonly associated with homelessness like reclining in public, sharing food or sitting on a sidewalk.

Read more – Vice News