Can We End Homelessness?

Posted: October 10, 2008 in Bureauacracy, Family, Goals, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness

I receive regular news alerts pertaining to homelessness sent directly to my e-mail’s inbox. In addition to that I also receive numerous RSS feeds – also about homelessness. Using these two methods, I’m able to keep up with what is going on throughout the U.S. with regards to what local communities are doing to remedy homelessness.  

Lately, however, most of these news alerts and RSS feeds have to do with how local municipalities are attempting to adhere to a federal mandate – the "Chronic" Homeless Initiative – which requires them to implement a "10 year plan to end homelessness." Those cities which do not implement these 10 year plans will, in effect, lose federal grant funding for addressing homelessness in their communities.

As of this writing, some 300 plus cities across the nation have either implemented their 10 year plans, or have them on the drawing board.

I’ve been quite open regarding my personal belief that these 10 year plans will not have any significant impact at reducing the numbers of homeless. If anything, it is my opinion that these 10 year plans may actually make it more difficult for the majority of America’s homeless to find an exit from life on the streets since these plans target only those persons who fit HUD’s definition of who can be classified as "chronically homeless."

Unfortunately, only about 10 percent of America’s homeless will qualify for assistance under these 10 year plans. The remaining 90 percent will have their needs completely ignored by HUD. To my mind, that is not the way to go about ending homelessness. Particularly because among those 10 percent who will qualify, are those individuals who deliberately choose to be homeless. Subsequently, funding will be spent to help those who do not want to be helped. That’s a waste of tax payer dollars as far as I’m concerned.

There are a few other concerns I have regarding the "Chronic" Homeless Initiative in any of its manifestations.

For example –

In headline after headline, these 10 year plans are being billed as a way to end homelessness. Invariably what seems to be suspiciously missing from those headlines the majority of the time is the word "chronic."

These 10 year plans are targeted at ending "chronic" homelessness only – not homelessness as a whole. Unfortunately most folks don’t know what HUD’s definition of a "chronically homeless person" entails. Sadly this creates the illusion in the minds of John and Jane Q. Public that, within ten years, there will be no more homeless in their communities. And, this false belief that homelessness will be a thing of the past within ten years carries with it a potentially more disastrous problem for those agencies which are providing services to those folks who aren’t chronically homeless.

I’m of the opinion that most folks would be willing to make donations to their local homeless shelters, and other such homeless support services organizations, if they believed that the homeless are actually being helped find a way off the streets. I also believe that most folks would continue to support these organizations if they perceived that the numbers of homeless were consistently being reduced.

However, in community after community the numbers of homeless are actually on the rise.

Consider the headline from a recent UPI news article: Massachusetts homelessness at record high.

The article points out that in Massachusetts, there has been an increase from 27 homeless families a year ago, to 574 homeless families currently. That’s quite a huge spike in the number of homeless families in just one year’s time. And – by the way – homeless families do not qualify for assistance under HUD’s Chronic Homeless Initiative.

Do some simple math using good old fashioned common sense.

If homeless families, which are the fastest growing segment of the nation’s homeless population, and represent about 35 percent of America’s homeless – and they do not qualify for aid under the Chronic Homeless Initiative – how many more homeless will there potentially be in 10 years? Does that give even the slightest hint that there can be an end to homelessness?

Additionally what will happen when, 10 years down the line, there hasn’t been an end to homelessness?

Will that give the average citizen a tremendous amount of faith in their local governments’ solutions to homelessness? Will that give them incentive to continue making donations to their local homeless support services organizations?

Or, will the average citizen simply throw their hands up in resignation, believing that homelessness is a problem which is unsolvable? And, in that resignation, finally decide they have better things to do with their money than to continue making donations to try and help their local area homeless?

My personal belief is that, at best, we might be able to significantly reduce the numbers of homeless in our communities. And, although it is a worthy goal to try and end homelessness altogether, we need to face reality – it’s probably not going to happen.

It seems to me that the best course of action would be to create a homeless services system which will help those homeless who truly want to be helped. This will mean creating and implementing programs to help transition them back into the community.

As for those who choose to remain homeless, we can still do the humane thing and offer them a meal and a bed – since that’s all they seem to want anyway.

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