Remedying Homelessness As A Whole

Posted: May 18, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Goals, Government, Homelessness, Housing, Politics

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homeless (USICH) is the federal agency whose job it is to address homelessness in the nation.

Although the USICH works in conjunction with HUD and a number of other agencies at both the federal and state levels, it is the primary bureaucracy which is responsible for coordinating efforts to reduce the numbers of homeless throughout the country.  

A major change occurred at the USICH this past Friday.

Peter H. Dougherty, who has been the Director of Homeless Veterans Programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, has taken over as acting USICH Executive Director to replace out-going Philip Mangano.

Mr. Mangano had been the agency’s Executive Director since its inception under the Bush Administration in 2002.

There are some folks who believe that Mr. Dougherty has some "big shoes to fill."

Personally, if I had the opportunity to sit with Mr. Dougherty and put my two cents in, I would advise him to forego following in Mr. Mangano’s footsteps – which has been one of addressing chronic homelessness only. In fact, I would make the suggestion that he push Congress for a more broad approach to ending homelessness.

Let me explain.

Currently, the USICH is primarily concerned with ending chronic homelessness.

In their May 15th eNewsletter, the USICH pointed out that chronic homeless had been reduced in several U.S. cities. One of the cities they cited was Sacramento, California.

The newsletter pointed out:

"California’s capital city has reported the second straight year of decrease in chronic homelessness, with a 31% decrease from 2008 to 2009, and a 35% decrease in the two year period 2007 to 2009."

I think it’s wonderful that chronic homelessness has been reduced in California’s capital city. It is certainly a step in the right direction. And it shows that we can have an impact at finding feasible solutions for helping the nation’s homeless.

However, the newsletter omitted one very salient fact: the number of chronically homeless persons may have been reduced but, overall number of homelessness in Sacramento has increased. The same is true of the other cities they mentioned.

It is this type of bureaucratic word play – this convenient omission of the entire set of facts – which bothers me. Furthermore, providing only one set of statistics and ignoring the rest is actually, in many ways, counterproductive.

Here’s why.

From what I’ve been able to research, the "housing first" approach used to help the chronically homeless has been successful.

In those cities which have a functioning 10-year plan in place, it has roughly an 80 to 85 percent success rate. That’s a phenomenal number. In addition, it has proven to be cost effective. Most importantly, the results are reproducible.

Nonetheless, by focusing its efforts primarily on the chronically homeless, the USICH has made no significant headway in reducing the overall number of homeless – which continue to increase steadily. And – as I stated – that is counterproductive.

Given just those few realities, it would seem that the USICH would see the benefit of expanding the scope of the housing first approach to include non-chronically homeless persons as well. In the long run, it would save U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Actually, it would seem to me that the USICH would use the overall increase of homeless as a way to show Congress the need for adequate funding for homeless re-housing programs – not only to those who suffer chronic homelessness, but to every homeless person.

It could point to the decrease in chronic homelessness; show that the housing first approach does indeed work; that it saves money while helping rebuild the lives of people. And, therefore, by allocating additional funding to expand the availability of rapid re-housing resources to include the "other homeless," this would provide the greatest benefit – not only to the homeless – but to the overall well-being of the nation.

And shouldn’t that be the goal: to help every last one of our homeless citizens and not just a small segment of them?

Unless we approach remedying homelessness as a whole, we will be constantly fighting an uphill battle.

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