Can We End Homelessness in America?
We are in the middle of a wicked problem, with this current cycle of homelessness that began in the early 1980’s, adding families to those traditionally seen living on the streets: the addict, the completely crazy, the down and outs. The numbers of the families forced to the streets had not been seen since the Great Depression and by the late 1980’s, non-profits, city, county, state, and federal budgets and programs changed to meet the needs.
Today, the federal government is leading regional private/public coalitions in a stated goal of ending chronic homelessness in America. Treating this a national health problem, permanent supportive housing, based on the Housing First model, is working to reduce numbers. At the same time, the list of American cities are growing that are passing and attempting to enforce rules that criminalize homeless and their supporters, a particular target is public space feeding.
We must decide if
The general practices and policies aimed at making the homeless experience less extreme are acceptable, the current pace and programs are acceptable. Managing the problems of homelessness are being replaced with policies of inspired by Housing First and permanent supportive housing exist under Federal oversight, and should continue regardless of the next Administration;
Or, dismantle the current hybrid system of private/ government programs and build a welfare system of “you work, you eat.”
Or, now is the time to establish a robust permanent supportive housing system and expand the reforms in public assistance, courts, jail diversion, medical care, and foster care, in addition to Housing First and permanent supportive housing practices and policies.
Everyone may agree that families in crisis are a primary source of homelessness but strongly disagree on what should be the proper response of private charities and business and public institutional powers to people living on the streets.
Many problems contribute and complicate a person’s experience of homelessness-lack of family support; addictions; difficulty of finding work to pay for shelter, food and medical care; finding the right resources and help to end a cycle of homelessness.
To do this we must discuss the facts of homelessness including the real medical concerns of the vast majority of today’s homelessness, the lack of work opportunities, the lack of education representing the lack of resources to children who fail school, The contribution of the Adverse Childhood Experience score, ACE score-the higher the score and without the assets of family, friendships, finances and health- the greater the stresses in adulthood from trauma life events (being an orphan, witnessing and experiencing abuse, illness to the point of disability, disruptive relocations). For the most part, other than the social service network, homeless largest interactions are with the criminal court and incarceration system.
We must weigh these and sort what are the myths of the human condition:
The attitude of deserving versus undeserving poor;
Work ethics when there is high unemployment lack of affordable housing, and the cost of basics: food, clothing, and medical care?
Is poverty and homelessness a personal problem or structural and situational circumstance such as racism, failing school systems in poor neighborhoods, high ACE scores?
Individual dignity, rugged individualism versus the lack of structural support for community/families caring for family members;
Whether assistance in any manner should come from formal government.
Are some lives more valuable than others; that all people cannot be saved from addiction and criminality?