The Big Picture

Posted: November 8, 2007 in Bureauacracy, Government, Homelessness, Housing, Misconceptions, Politics, Stereotypes

Well known radio personality Paul Harvey used to use the phrase: "And now, the rest of the story…"

Let me give you my version of "The rest of the story…"

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a gentleman which included a link to a news article in USA Today. The article was called: "Federal Study Cites Fewer Homeless."  

The article went on to talk about how HUD had determined that the number of chronically homeless persons had been reduced by what they considered a significant number. The article continued to mention that the Federal government were going to make an official announcement regarding the numbers. I guess they were proud of their "accomplishments."

While I’ll be the first to applaud all of the work that has been done to reduce the number of chronically homeless, my primary concern is in how the announcement will be worded and I will tell you why I’m concerned: it has to do with the word "chronic."

To quote directly from a paper released by the National Coalition for the Homeless entitled: "Poverty versus Pathology: What’s Chronic About Homelessness?"

"Although the term "chronic homelessness" is rarely defined with any degree of specificity, it is generally used to characterize people who are homeless and who also have mental health or addiction disorders, and who are therefore more likely to experience homelessness for longer periods of time."

The truth is that not all persons who experience homelessness are chronically homeless. In fact, those who are chronically homeless represent only a fraction of the over all actual number of persons in our nation who experience homelessness each year.

As a result, the numbers that the Federal government intends to make public may mislead many Americans to believe that there have been great strides at reducing the numbers of homeless in our nation, and consequently, may feel that cuts in Federal spending to help the homeless are justified. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth since there are homeless persons who are specifically EXCLUDED from being considered chronic homeless, thus preventing them from being able to get the assistance necessary from Federal, State and Local homeless services and resources.

A report entitled: "Questions and Answers about the Chronic Homelessness Initiative" states:

"By definition, the "chronic homelessness" initiative excludes the following groups of people: children (with disabilities and without disabilities) who are homeless with their parents; parents (with disabilities and without disabilities) who are homeless and who have children with them; youth on their own with disabilities who have not been homeless long enough to fit the federal definition; youth on their own without disabilities; unaccompanied individuals with disabilities who have not been homeless long enough to fit the federal definition; unaccompanied individuals without disabilities; and unaccompanied individuals who are unwilling to be declared disabled".

Look, I’m happy that some headway is being made to reduce the numbers of homeless in our nation. But what progress has been made is nothing more than a drop in the bucket. We mustn’t allow ourselves to pat ourselves on the back because we’ve managed to help a mere handful of persons. If we do, we run the risk of thinking that the job is done. But the truth is that the tasks has just started. There is still a long way to go.

So if you happen to hear or read that the numbers of "chronic" homeless are down significantly from a few years ago don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that there has been a major break through. It’s just one or two leaves in a forest. There are millions of homeless in our nation who need our help.

Oh, and before I forget…

Carl, thank you for e-mailing me the link and bringing that article to my attention.

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