Over the last 10 years many large cities have been promising to end homelessness, and now we have a “crisis”. Sorry but this is NOT a crisis, this is a social epidemic and anyone can fall victim to it. A crisis typically has a solution/plan within a few days. A crisis is Katrina. A crisis is the BP oil spill. Homelessness is NOT a crisis. Since we got that out of the way, we can discuss a “cure” to this epidemic.
To find a cure for anything, we must first assess the issue.
Who experiences homelessness?
- People don’t always become homeless overnight.
- Not everyone who is homeless is mentally ill or has a drug addiction.
- The majority of those who are experiencing homelessness work.
- The majority of those who are without a home are not counted in the “city” counts.
What are the causes of homelessness?
- Lack of affordable housing.
- Low wages.
- Mental health takes its toll.
- People do not have health coverage.
- Lack of support services (family, social, economic)
What do most city officials want to do about those who are homeless?
- Decentralize services within major cities.
- Tear down living spaces so people leave the area.
- Shame those who feel hopeless.
- Hide people. Out of sight, out of mind.
Click image to enlarge.
So then, what is needed?
- More affordable housing.
If we do the math, a single person living off minimum wage makes an estimated $18,720 a year (without taxes). In order to be able to live alone comfortably, a 1 br needs to be $416/month.
Uh, I don’t know any major cities where anyone can find a 1br for that price. No wonder people are homeless.
- Stop thinking of only housing those who are “chronically” homeless. If nonprofits only focus on those who are chronically homeless (3 yrs or more), then more individuals will become chronically homeless. The whole idea is counter-productive.
To find a solution to homelessness, I have listed the types of homelessness by Tiers. 6 being the least at risk of health concerns and 1 most at risk of health concerns:
(a) Tier 6 (Preventative care) – Just like we do with healthcare, preventative homelessness care would teach people how to manage their money and live within their means. If someone can only make minimum wage, they need to not try to live in a large city. I know that sounds mean, but really it’s not. When I was in college, I did an internship in Rochester, MN. My rent was $230/month. Guess how much money I saved. Oh, plus I didn’t have a car. I took the bus everywhere.
(b) Tier 5 (Intervention) – See someone on the verge of becoming homeless, help them. Move them out of their current situation and provide social services to help with money management and financial planning.
(c) Tier 4 (Transients) – Build hostels for them to stay in. There are many transients in cities like Venice Beach, CA where all they need is a room. There are some hostels, but not enough for those just “passing through”.
(d) Tier 3 (Newbies) – Emergency shelters should only be serving these people. Shelters should be segregated as such:
- People with pets
- Disabled (physical and mental separated)
These are the folks and families that are just out on their own. Life took a turn where they lost everything and no one was there to intervene or help to prevent it from happening. Provide social services to help these people get back on their feet. A lot of the time, these people know what happened, but just don’t know how to get back on track. Support groups and counseling would be great for this tier.
(e) Tier 2 (Hotel dwellers or couch surfers) – Once identified, this tier needs to be moved into temporary housing. The housing would consist of homes converted into a “transitional home”. The housing should also be segregated as presented in item d.
This group usually consist of families with young children. They stay in hotels at the first of the month, until their money runs out. Then they typically live in their car or crash at a friend or family member’s house for a few months.
(f) Tier 1 (Chronic) – These people have been homeless 3 or more years. Typically they have become “stuck” in this system because they were brushed aside. Most of those who are chronically homeless are struggling with multiple physical and mental health issues, which can all be helped.
- Stop making people feel bad because something caused them to become homeless.
- Stop handing out Band-Aids. Blankets and tents are not going to solve anything. I’m appreciative for those who help others in need, but people need to stop believing that blankets and tents are a solution to problems.
- Stop trying to hide the homeless. If they are hiding, we can’t help them. Hire them to clean the streets they live on. Give them hope, not hate.
- Stop focusing on decentralizing services and start focusing on the gaps of the services.
What is and isn’t working? That’s the first assessment I would conduct if I was in a large city.
- If nonprofits are going to join an alliance or coalition, have a solid plan to address the needs of the people.
- Think about converting abandoned buildings in to dorms. (We have a program for this if interested.)
- An alliance (what we call partnership) should consist of the following and no more than one of each:
- Social service provider
- Financial planning assistance
- Legal counsel/assistance
- Housing provider
- Mental health provider
- Disabilities provider
- Education/Job training
- Liaison for all to work together
- Outreach group
I don’t tell people we are experts in this sector, but to be honest, it’s not rocket science.
The solution is to forget about making a ton of money and go back to the reason your nonprofit was started, to help people.
So now the breakdown in spending. This is how I envision it going down (if I was a big leader with 100M to spend):
- 1M for staff which would include all providers listed under item 10.
- 40M two additional emergency shelters (Tier 3 above). These shelters will include all services under item 10.
- 20M for Tier 5 and 6. This would be considered more community investment money. Help people move out of the expensive locations and find jobs and education options to help them become successful. (We are also doing this, but our staff gets paid $0 because we have no staff.)
- 10M for Tier 4. Build clean places for people to stay short term. Provide police protection and get people off beaches and county parks.
- 15M for Tier 2. Invest in transitional properties which families and individuals can stay in for low cost until they get back on their feet. (This is what we are doing, but at a fraction of the cost.)
- 14M for Tier 1. This might be used for rehab for substance abuse and mental health. Offer nice places for people to recover from their illnesses. This would be an investment in the community. The cities can partner with some private centers to help those who really want the help but can’t afford it. The county could purchase depressed land to build ranches and therapy centers for those recovering from homelessness.
If you or anyone you know are interested to learn more about any of these Tiers and how I suggest they be implemented, contact me firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d be happy to share. I just want to help people get OFF the streets and make some of these nonprofits go out of business, including Carry Me Productions. If you’re tired of social Band-Aids, please consider donating to our cause. Invest in your community. Our passion is to carry people to safety and independence.
Thanks for reading.