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.

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.

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 

Homelessness: Our Position

Welcome to our blog! For this project, our group will focus on homelessness and eradicating homelessness in the United States.homeless_1_485x240

We believe that cities should do more to actively decrease their homeless populations by creating and investing in housing options, as well as offering more programs to help individuals find jobs or  cope with mental illnesses or substance addiction. Using options like these will lead to more growth and benefit more people in the long term. In the end, we want to show readers that a lot of myths about homeless people are false, and that Americans need to change their perception of homeless individuals (and get rid of the stigma around being homeless) and put more thought into how people get into that situation rather than perpetuating the idea that hard work is the only way to get out of a tough place.

Posts will be starting soon, so stay tuned!