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

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

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.

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