It was not even a month ago that social service providers from Cleveland and around the United States were in New Orleans for the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference and now the City undermines its effort to build a trusting relationship with a raid on a large campsite. I guess City officials did not learn anything from the conference. They did not give sufficient notice (2 days) and they did not have sufficient housing available to the 160 people sleeping outside. In addition, they came with garbage trucks to throw away all the belongings. The City officials called it a public health hazard ignoring the health concerns of the individuals with no where else to go. Many suspect that this has more to do with the upcoming New Orleans Saints football season than it had to do with public safety. Even the article from the Associated Press gave very little information about housing assistance offered to those sleeping under this bridge. There are so many reasons why these guys are under a bridge including mental illness, sexually based offenses, debt issues or other reasons that prevent the individuals from signing a lease.
There were two stories on NPR about the advancements made in San Antonio in how to better serve Mentally Ill individuals. These three articles talk about the savings to the healthcare and law enforcement community by keeping mentally ill out of jails and emergency rooms. They claim a $50 million dollar saving over the last five years through their efforts. Jenny Gold talks about police officers trained to better deal with those with a mental illness. We saw the negative outcomes in St. Louis this week with police firing on a knife wielding mentally ill man. San Antonio seems to be taking a different approach. There was also a story on the data gathered and used to provide better services to the mentally ill in San Antonio. We do some training in Cleveland, but we are a long way from diverting mentally ill people from jail. Cleveland police waste a ton of resources on arresting and processing and incarcerating mentally ill individuals. Look at the long arrest record of Malissa Williams before her killing in November 2012 after that fateful police chase.
The statistics offered by HUD on homelessness are flawed to the point of being useless.
The Washington Post looked at levels of homelessness in the United States with this graphic. Since it is nearly impossible to count homeless people living outside who are constantly moving around. This graphic can be better understand by showing the extent of shelters in the United States. We have advanced to the point that we do a good job counting homeless people living in shelter, and those numbers are solid statistics. The problem is that if a City does not build or increase shelters or locks the door when they are full then they have no relationship to the number of homeless people. So, California and New York put a great deal of money into housing and homelessness, while Louisiana and most of the Southern states contribute very little. There are large numbers of homeless people sleeping outside in Florida because of the weather that do not get counted in this study. Take this survey and graphic with a grain of salt and realize it is more a picture of the concentration of shelters in the United States.
Harriet McDonald of the Doe Fund wrote a commentary for the Huffington Post striking back against the National Alliance to End Homelessness push for more Permanent Supportive Housing. This is a battle that advocates lost about six years ago, and there are still a few out there who want to turn back the clock. Cleveland has developed 570 units of housing under the "Housing First" model, and they are beautiful new housing for a fragile population. Unfortunately, this is the only housing being developed in most communities so it is hard to criticize. Ms. McDonald makes some very good points that there are losers in this race that are not being served because we have turned 80% of our resources toward long term, disabled homeless people. We see family populations exploding and single unemployed people who cannot find any help. We see that young people who stay with family and friends are not eligible for help.
We have written often questioning the long term funding for these projects, the real savings realized by the community, and the fact that these buildings are being over-sold in the community. But in the face of federal cuts to other mainstream housing programs and the prioritizing of HUD funds exclusively for PSH/Housing First projects, what choice do we have. In the end, we tried exclusively emergency shelters that served a limited number of people and that did not work. We tried transitional programs that screened out more people than they served and quickly evicted residents for falling off the wagon. That did not work very well. We did not fund supportive services at Public Housing, which caused huge issues for neighbors. So, we are left with Permanent Supportive Housing as the latest trend. It would be much better to have all these types of housing services available to the population, because everyone is different and everyone responds to different intervention techniques. But we don't have enough money or political will to give multiple approaches a chance to work. The NAEH types and the Housing First people won. They had great publicity and pushed one sided research on the community. They made big boasts that they could shut down shelters if Mayor's jumped on the band wagon with Housing First. We get some nice buildings in our community that will demand 24 hours of supportive services for the next 30 years, and unless we build millions of units we are still going to need shelters. The next administration may feel that these PSH buildings are fads and will be onto something else, but right now Housing First is the only game in town.
One tough story from the Friday StoryCorps series on NPR about a family living in their car in the Seattle area. This is an interview between a Mom and her teenage daughter struggling to survive after the collapse of housing market in the United States. The father had been a part of the corrupt Countrywide group who contributed a great deal to destabilizing the housing market in America. I wonder how families who were victims of the predatory lending of Countrywide heard this story? It would have led to a lot of healing in our community if Angelo Mozilo and David Loeb of Countrywide were sentenced to one year of living in an automobile on the streets of any major city in America. I think that many of these "Masters of the Universe" who's corrupt business practices led to the financial downturn, should have been made to experience the results of their banking procedures. They should have been sentenced to having to live in abandoned properties or forced to try to sell houses squeezed between two abandoned properties. They should have had to sleep on the streets or in shelters to talk to some of the victims of their greed.
The interview was tough to hear about this teenager having to go to school everyday and return to a vehicle at night. She tried to study and apply for college while consolidating her life into a tiny space. The sleep deprivation, the inability to have a place for her stuff, and the stress on the family must be overwhelming. It was a powerful story worth a listen.
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