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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Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

In the past few decades, laws and ordinances have been enacted and enforced as “quick-fix” solutions to remove homeless people from sight, rather than addressing the underlying causes of homelessness. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has been documented this criminalization trend in reports by since 1991.

According to an NLCHP report,  out of the 187 cities survey between 2011 and 2014, 34 percent had citywide laws criminalizing camping in public.  Another 43 percent of the cities prohibited sleeping in vehicles, and 53 percent banned sitting or lying down in certain public areas such as parks. All of these laws targeted the kind of activities — sitting, resting, sleeping — that are arguably fundamental to human existence.

Cities all over the country have increasingly moved toward enacting and enforcing laws that target and criminalize homelessness. For instance, in response to their concern about the use of public space. In response to complaints about gatherings of “vagrants” in public parks from downtown Sarasota, Florida. The city decided to remove the benches, later prohibited camping. The benches in Selby Five Points Park were removed in May 2011 to discourage the homeless from using the park.

Florida’s example along with NLCHP report show the common intent of removing homeless people from public spaces and sight. Although some city officials’ concerns about public safety are valid, the criminalization of homeless individuals is a poor public policy for several reasons.

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By adopting anti-homeless laws and policies, we are punishing homeless people for their circumstances rather than addressing causes, prevention, and solution to homelessness.

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Penalizing people for their circumstances will not help homeless people improve their situation and certainly will not keep them out of public spaces when they have no other choice. Rather, we should implement those laws and regulations to help increase resources for shelter and services that homeless people need.

Imposing laws that punish unavoidable activities is not only useless, but it is also inhumane.

Best wishes,

Auris

This is what L.A.’s homeless voters have to say about the presidential election

People registered to vote in Los Angeles will have a chance today to vote for a preposition which would authorize $1.2 billion in borrowing to accelerate the pace at which mostly nonprofit developers build permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people.

Read more: LA Times

Best,

Auris

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.

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.

 

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.

U.S. communities turn to alternative policies to address the homelessness crisis

Homelessness is on the rise in the U.S., now largely fueled by skyrocketing rents, gentrification, stagnant wages and an economy that has yet to fully recover from the 2008 recession. But, as FSRN’s Christina Aanestad reports, some communities are looking toward alternative policies to redress the homeless crisis. One is called Housing First. Check out the ideas and download the audio below!

Source: U.S. communities turn to alternative policies to address the homelessness crisis