Men’s Shelter Overcrowded Due to Financial Downturn

By Angelo Anderson

I believe that we are seeing an increase in the number of men staying in the shelter system due to a number of reasons.  Lack of affordable housing may be the greatest contributor: the unavailability of single-room occupancy accommodations, due to the lack of flop housing, boarding houses and similar cost effective temporary housing.  When we had these options men who worked in entry-level positions, held seasonal jobs or made minimum wage still had places that they could afford to rent on a daily, weekly or monthly-basis.

Re-gentrification of the downtown areas in most major cities played a major role in the loss of most of these rooms.  New rules regarding who is eligible for release into three-quarter and half-way housing also resulted in a loss of rooms.  Legal issues and restrictions regarding sexual offender housing will continue to be a barrier that will keep some men in a shelter setting much longer then normal.

The rising cost of housing and the inability to obtain government subsidized housing will make moving into independent housing almost impossible for a large number of these men.

While a huge percentage of homeless men work every day, many factors play a part in them remaining homeless.  The corporate and manufacturing transition to temporary staffing, means that most of the men working through a temp agency won’t be given an opportunity to earn seniority in a position giving them benefits and a chance to advance and increase their potential earnings. 

Higher skill and elevated educational level requirements for entry-level jobs have helped to decrease job availability.  Many who had been able to find employment on cleaning crews, as laborers at construction sites and stockers at stores no longer have that option.  

The closing of a large number of mental health facilities has dramatically increased the number of men who now call homeless shelters home.  While outpatient clinics may address the medication of these individuals, they put an added burden on a system already overwhelmed with the need to change how it tackles the problem of chronic homelessness.  Rehabilitation programs that use a shelter as an address for men leaving prison help add to the burden of how we place our residents in the community at large.

Career aspirations and homelessness are at times like two reverse poles of magnetic energy--a lot of moving around with no coming together.  The longer a person remains in homelessness the easier that lifestyle becomes acceptable.  Drug and alcohol dependency often play a part in this.  Any mental health issues that a person may have may also become more active with new ones manifesting themselves. 

Education, or the lack of education and or training, has always been a barrier for many homeless men.  Many have not obtained a high school diploma or GED.  Those who take the steps necessary to overcome this barrier and take up some additional training often go on to work their way out of homelessness.  The logistics of getting to a school or training facility can be insurmountable for them.  Add to that the struggle of going to work each day and many just give up.  The legislative body of government needs to look at changing laws that deal with child support, delinquent taxes, and sex offender classifications.

Homeless shelters are generally set-up to provide emergency shelter.  Career aspirations of their residents are not a part of most current intake processes.  Many are strictly directed to shelter occupancy related issues.  Our shelter system, like many others across the country, is ill equipped to address career development issues. GED courses as well as job readiness and life-skill classes often place an added burden on resources already stretched thin.  While we are making strides to combat these gaps in services, more needs to be done.

Massive layoffs, decreasing job availability, changes in welfare programs, decrease in funding for social and educational programs, increase in housing rates/rents and unprecedented foreclosures in the housing market, are just some of the ways the economy plays a part in homelessness.  As the country battles to turn around and weather this recession we may only be seeing the beginning of another spike in homelessness.  We all have our work cut out for us especially the government.           

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue #87 in July 2009 in Cleveland Ohio.