Recently, I saw a piece on social media entitled something like “Ending the ending of Homelessness.” As is often the case, i was moved to respond:
There are a few things we know works with homelessness, and there are a few things we know about homelessness, that will always make it hard to “win” at.:
Housing First Helps
Most homeless people have metal health issues that they have treated with self-medication for a long time, so until we offer a good and comprehensive mental, physical, and addiction health treatment, we will not “Win”.
We also need to solve the “you need a job to get off the streets, and you need a home before you can get a job.
We need to stop criminalizing homelessness.
We need to stop lying to ourselves that all of us are only a few bad breaks from being homeless. Most of us can lose a job, a spouse, and a home and still not be on the streets. The key difference is the mental health and substance abuse that burns thru existing resources (friends and family).
We need to quit with the moral judgements, not only because it is wrong, but because it is unhelpful. Condemning unwanted behavior and unwise choices does not undo either. Helping people and giving them opportunities to help themselves is useful, and does lead to success in fighting homelessness.
These simple, but expensive and sometimes unpleasant options do work. We know they work. I am not a genius with secret information. Too many cities and communities have tried parts or all of this with success.
Ending homelessness means embracing the humanity that is a homeless person, being realistic about what they need to end their homelessness, and providing services and opportunities for them to succeed.
One last thing, whether it I diet, exercise or giving up cigarettes, most of us have had the experience of “failing our way to success” where we try and fail repeatedly, on our way to eventual success. A homeless person must be allowed to fail to success. If we give them the perfect set of options and they still fail, we cannot write them off, we must set them up again, and again, and again, and know some will never succeed, but by building a good system and allowing them to fail to the success at the end, we can make homelessness, if not obsolete, a much smaller problem. Oh, and while religious organizations and good hearted individuals can make a difference, as long as we allow them to be the only, or main response, we will fail. The problem is society’s problem. We, as a society, must answer it together, and yes, that means government and tax payer funded responses.