Earlier this week I received an e-mail from a woman who, five years ago found, herself homeless.
As a single parent with a pre-kindergarten aged child and unable to afford housing, "Meagan" did what many newly homeless persons do: she turned to local homeless support services in hopes of finding assistance to get out of homelessness and back into housing.
Sadly, she was in for a rude awakening.
In part, Meagan wrote:
"Because I was not beaten or on drugs or underage, there was no help for me.
That is when I learned a lot about being homeless and all those holes in the system. I also learned about the discrimination…"
Meagan’s experience with the lack of adequate – and effective – types of homeless support services is not unique. In fact, many of the e-mails I receive from those who have become newly homeless have similar themes.
When folks find themselves becoming homeless for the first time, they are under the impression that there is an entire set of organizations, groups and government agencies designed to help them quickly regain housing.
Admittedly, most communities have some type of homeless/temporary shelter system, welfare and food stamp offices, low-income housing (Section 8) offices, "soup kitchens," food banks or the like. A handful of communities even have a working Ten-Year Plan To End Chronic Homelessness (TYP). However, there are very few which have programs specifically designed to help the newly homeless back into housing within a relatively short period of time. Consequently, they find themselves homeless for longer periods of time than they might otherwise.
To be sure, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), $1.5 billion was included to fund the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), which is designed to:
"… provide financial assistance and services to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless and help those who are experiencing homelessness to be quickly re-housed and stabilized."
Unfortunately, HPRP was non-existent when Meagan became homeless. Nonetheless, even had it been available, she may not have been able to file for assistance because – based on the most recent list of HPRP Contacts – an HPRP office doesn’t currently exist in the community where she became homeless. Moreover, there are a number of other "criteria" that must be met which may have precluded her from receiving assistance.
As a result, she remained homeless for a number of years.
All of which makes me wonder –
What if there had been proper homeless assistive and intervention – not supportive – services; and, what if those services had been properly funded and administered? Would Meagan, and her young child, have had to remain homeless for the length of time they did? Or might they have been able to reacquire stabilized housing much more quickly?
Meagan has managed to put a roof over her and her child’s heads. She is also currently working toward earning her college degree. She one day hopes to open a business that teaches arts and crafts to adults and children as a way of "giving back." She also mentioned, that although she is currently housed, her financial situation is somewhat strained at present. Yet she maintains a hopeful and positive outlook for her – and her child’s – future.
Homelessness is a social issue not easily solved. All the same, homelessness can be remedied if the proper approach is utilized. But, that requires that we think along the lines of housing – not sheltering – those who find themselves homeless.
Offering homeless "support" services is diametrically different than providing homeless assistive or interventionary services.
Yet – and despite – our historic (and current) lack of providing services which empower the homeless to regain stabilized housing and some level of self-sufficiency, there are those who continue to somehow escape homelessness.
This require that we be honest with ourselves and ask: Are they managing to escape life on the streets because of, or in spite of homeless support services organizations and agencies?
Sadly, based on conversations and communiqué’s I’ve had with folks who have experienced homeless at some time in their lives and have been able to rebuild their lives, it seems to me it’s the latter.
More’s the pity. Especially since we, as a nation, have the wherewithal to implement the types of programs which could potentially reduce homelessness in significant numbers.
Now, if we could only find the will to do so, perhaps there wouldn’t be so many homeless who continue fall between the cracks.