Solutions to Homelessness

            There are rumblings about setting in motion a plan to reduce homelessness.  In the past this was tried, but was centered around emergency services and never addressed housing.  Successful plans in other communities have all centered on housing.  Based on programs in other communities, interviews with homeless people, and the unique needs of Cleveland here are the recommendations to significantly reduce the number of people who exist on the streets.  This is the outline of a plan that could be undertaken by community leaders, business and government officials as was done in other communities.

1. Communities must develop a plan that involves housing and homeless service.

Find a community Leadership Team to facilitate the coordinate a plan.  This plan must have the majority of providers, foundation, community leaders and government willing to support outcome.  Accurate profiles and trends on homelessness and poverty must be in placer.  Homeless people have to be brought into the process as partners

Five critical areas to address:

             Outcomes:

a.      Affordable housing—Each government entity has a role.

b.      Supportive housing services.  Extensive cost estimates must be outlined

c.      High Risk and Chronic sub groups.  Costs for not following the plan must be outlined.

d.      Intensive prevention strategies

e.      Comprehensive health strategy.

 I. Communities must have a prevention plan to keep all new people out of the system.

Caseworkers would go to visit all those who are in danger of entering the system (families facing eviction.)  First call for Help would dispatch the workers, and they would have to have the resources to keep people in their housing or place them directly into housing or place them directly into housing with case management without entering the shelter system.  Need a dedicated pool to prevent homelessness.

  • ·  Communities must have a local effort to build, develop and fund housing plans for housing plans for homeless people.

Chronically homeless people are a fraction of the total population, but use most of the resources.  If the community can place these individuals into housing with a great deal of support services we save a great deal of money.  Communities need a dedicated pool of money to build new housing, renovate housing, and develop housing opportunities for homeless people.  Need to have a plan for the best path into housing for special populations.

  • ·  All Social Workers must first address housing stability then offer other support.

All licensed social workers should be involved in the quest for housing stability for homeless people.  It is a waste of money and time to try and offer assistance to a homeless person.  Treatment, literacy building, health care services have more of an impact for people with stable places to return to at night and to those that do not have to worry about their housing situation.  If every social worker from job counselor to welfare caseworker to hospital discharge social worker assisted people with their housing, fewer people would fall into homelessness.  At this time, we each have our specialty and we defer housing stability to “someone else.”

  • ·  Homeless agencies should keep people in shelter and move them into housing.

At this time, many homeless organizations in an effort to not contaminate the entire shelter population will immediately evict homeless people that come back drunk or high.  This denies the science of addiction, which usually involves relapses.  Take away privileges, begin eviction proceedings but do not line housing to social services.  Even if the individual is given thirty day notice to leave, the shelter should attempt to relocate them to a treatment center or similar facility.

  • ·  Communities should adopt a living wage tied to the cost of housing for all jobs in the region.

Studies have found people have to work 80 hours at minimum wage or find jobs to pay $10.00 per hour to afford the fair market rent in Ohio.  Communities need to require employers to pay adults an income tied to the fair market rent, which are updated yearly.  A component of this is to deal with plantation and exploitative nature of the temporary labor organizations in urban centers.  Low skilled workers need an alternative in order to break the cycle of poverty.

  • ·  Communities need to provide access to information and technology.

Most cities have resources to assist homeless people but do not have an effective way to distribute information about those services.  Homeless people need places to go to get access to information and technology and learning centers.

  • ·  Agencies must be held to performance standards that place people in housing.

To often we allow social services get a pass because of their good deeds, but never are asked for proving their impact on the community.  Homeless service providers must be held to a standard that requires them to place clients that seek help into housing with annual performance goals.  There also must be an attempt to move people as fast as possible out of the homeless situation.  Shelters are not always the answer for homeless people.  Many people can be successful with a less intrusive level of intervention.  Studies have shown that families and those with mental illness can be more successful going directly into housing support services.

  • ·  We all must lean to forgive and forget.

We consistently, over the last ten years, have moved to punishing an individual for life for mistakes.  Felons, people with poor credit, and those with previous evictions are punished by not being extended housing and even employment.  Those who serve their time or seek legal relief from their debts should not be forced into a homeless situation for life.  Communities must figure out ways for those that make mistakes to reintegrate into society.  It serves no one to continue to punish these individuals so that these individuals are desperate or depressed or both.

  • ·  Access to comprehensive health care and prevention care is critical.

We have seen a growth in the medically indigent that sacrifice there housing for medicine or for an expensive operation.  Universal health care would solve this problem, but short of that communities need to develop special protocols for homeless people who are in need of medical treatment.

  • ·  Massive increases in Mental Health counseling needed for low income individuals.

Too often we treat the triggering factor for an individual’s homelessness, but we never get around to treating the reason the individual turned to drugs or crime.  There is such a huge demand for mental health counseling most communities have prioritized only those with a severe mental illness (those who are a danger to themselves or other,) as deserving of counseling and support.  States need to adopt mental health parity so that individuals will get the same health coverage for mental illness as with other health problems.  By adding counseling services for people with any depression, personality disorders, and other obstacles to stability, we will all live in a healthier community.  People could work through the anxiety and rage from a history of sexual abuse or child abuse.

 This was developed by the Homeless Coalition through regular meetings with homeless people.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-September -2001