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Since the 1870s, social service agencies have been working diligently to find housing for the homeless, yet on a single night in January 2015, 564,708 people were considered homeless in America.

In a country, whose gross domestic product is an astronomical $18 trillion it seems absurd that we should have homelessness at all, but the problem persists. Among the top homeless cities in the world, New York City ranks second on the list and Los Angeles follows at a close third. Why have 150 years of hard work in America not produced better results? What is wrong with the way we are approaching the problem?

Bad Attitude

Have you ever wondered why some public benches have that third armrest in the middle and are so uncomfortable to sit on? As it turns out, they were specifically designed that way to dissuade people from sleeping on them. This design practice even has a name, defensive urban architecture. Coupled with vagrancy laws, camping restrictions, and banning the use of public parks at night in many cities, a certain negative bias toward the homeless begins to emerge. As it turns out, we prefer our homeless to be invisible. It allows us to remain in denial.

Misdirected Efforts

Sociologists in good faith have studied the causes of homelessness for many years. Their data-driven approach isolated alcoholism, mental illness, drug addiction, and widespread PTSD among veterans as the main causes of homelessness. Social workers immediately went to work to attack these causes by providing services designed to treat alcoholism, mental illness, drug addiction, and PTSD. The majority of available resources were used to diagnose these problems and provide treatment. Actual housing, as it turns out, was often left to churches and other local ad hoc charitable groups. In other words, many of the homeless remained homeless while being offered treatment for their disabilities.

Housing First

The National Alliance to End Homelessness finally announced an approach called Housing First, that centers on providing homeless people with housing quickly and then providing services as needed. Housing First is a proven approach in which people experiencing homelessness are offered permanent housing with few to no treatment preconditions, behavioral contingencies, or barriers. The approach applies in both short-term interventions, such as rapid re-housing, and long-term interventions, like supportive housing. For crisis services like emergency shelter and outreach, the Housing First approach means referring and helping people to obtain permanent housing.

A Community Effort

Housing First seems to be a self-evident notion, but it takes the cooperation of an entire community to make it happen.

  • Emergency shelter and street outreach providers must recognize that their role encompasses housing advocacy.
  • Direct referral linkages must exist between emergency shelters and rapid re-housing and supportive housing providers.
  • A coordinated assessment system for matching people experiencing homelessness to the most appropriate housing is needed.
  • An underlying community effort to ensure that a range of affordable housing options are available is essential.
  • An understanding across all providers that eligibility and screening policies for benefit and entitlement programs or housing do not require the completion of treatment or achievement of sobriety as a prerequisite.

A Course Correction

As social service agencies are still working diligently to solve our persistent housing problem, Housing First seems to be a minor attitude course correction that will have a dramatic effect on our ultimate destination, as minor course corrections often do.

One Final Thought

FAMCare was designed to empower social workers with critical information tools to capture essential information on our homeless population.  In addition - workflow has been carefully crafted to help with referral linkages, referral management and to help streamline decision making.  We've made it easy for social workers to include assessments that help with evaluation and to match people with services... in this case the most appropriate housing plan or program.  Homeless information management should be a key component to your overall plan.  If you would like to learn more about how FAMCare can help in these areas - please contact a representative.  

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Posted in: Homeless & Food Pantry, FAMCare

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