in the homeless world there is currently a tornado that is sweeping us to the magical land of oz. it's called free housing or housing first with no strings attached. it's like a whirlwind passing thru the agencies, advocacies and government institutions that deal with and are responsible for aiding the homeless. it has brought us to the magical land of housing where the munchkins are singing ding dong the witch is dead, only to find there is a more evil and more oppressive witch waiting in the wings. ironically enough, it is a house that killed the first witch.
the replacing of the head of the dept. of housing and urban development is more symbolic than it is substantive. Julian castro is now head of hud. he is not so coincidently a mexican-american in an election year and is being eyed as a vice presidential nominee in 2016. i'm not doubting mr castro's ability and i'm in no way casting any negative light on the fact that he is Mexican-American. I am saying that his appointment in an election year does hint of the political maneuvering to secure the Mexican and latino vote for the next two years....something that assuredly helped propel Obama into office in his first term and undoubtedly secured his reelection to a second term. he gave the obligatory speech about affordable housing and housing for the homeless....while predictions of a 550 million dollar cut in the aid to the homeless was being headlined. it is important to note however he is taking on an agency that is bloated with mismanagement, overspending and an outdated and poorly managed system of assisting the poor and the homeless. so the prior head of hud leaving is not insignificant within itself. it is ironic that his predecessor is now head of the white house budget office. so don't expect much real help from either of these individuals when it comes to funding and new aid for the homeless or even continuing to fund current programs, particularly the continuum of care programs for the homeless.
the current model of housing first and free housing is under the direct auspices of hud. different state and local agencies administer the policies but the veterans administration and hud are responsible for the ultimate funding and management of these programs and we all know what an efficient, cost effective and compassionate agency the va is. the persistent ineffectiveness and historical failure of free housing will eventually take front and center stage when a new administration takes shape and austerity and budget balancing becomes the cry from congress and senate. the longer we continue to try to use the current housing first and free housing models, the more alleged scandal and the louder the cry to defund these programs will be from capital hill. the louder the cry, the more American tax payers will hear, even if it's not totally true and even if cutting funding to the homeless and poor is one of the last places congress should begin to balance the budget.
the va, hud, state homeless agencies, state advocacies and local homeless advocacies have been allowed to grow into a colossal bureaucratic monster, consuming more of the resources and funding for planning and staffing than reaches the intended recipients. in some cases as much as 75% of the funding goes to staffing and administration. still we are not taking the problem and potential outcome seriously. nor are we taking historical facts into consideration and the many, many failed free and housing first programs that have been implemented, defunded and eventually abandoned. we are currently incapable financially to make good of our promise for free housing to the homeless. not only are finances an issue, we are not capable of producing enough apartments or houses to carry thru with that promise. with a tight real estate market and a shortage of affordable housing, the only alternative is new construction which brings us back to lack of financing.
we must now get serious about facing the realities and tasks of effectively reducing homelessness. we have refused to face the fact that prolonged failures to reduce homelessness have led to not only not decreasing this problem but has effectively been a cause in most cities of the homeless population increasing. if you don't have people transitioning from being homeless in adequate numbers and you have people entering homelessness for whatever reason, that is the only logical and mathematically possible conclusion.this has led to a greater need for a viable solution to homelessness and more services and also put a further strain on finances and resources in a time when the trend is to cut back funding for the homeless. this is not a problem that has happened overnite. there have been plenty of warnings, more than enough data, and too many study and planning councils that should have been enough to set off every buzzer and alarm within the realm of homeless agencies. but few of the data collectors and planners were willing to face up to the costs and true quantitative results, or lack of, of the programs we had and are continuing to choose to pursue and implement. the homeless have been a victim of too many promises and too few responsible actions and far too few responsible and honest leaders.
what's needed now is a leader who can take on the albatross of agencies we have managed to construct and reduce the redundancy, ineffectiveness, overstaffing, over planning and under performing agencies. they need to be someone capable of making tough, honest choices and setting new a direction in dealing with homelessness. they have to be unafraid to speak the truth loudly and plainly to the public and politicians about what we're doing wrong, what will effectively work and what would work if the finances were stable. congress could be helpful simply by doing its job of working in a bipartisan manner for the best interests of the American people....all American people...including the homeless. it should not be unduly burdensome, over regulating or overly generous for that matter. but it should do it's job of protecting and serving the American people. more importantly it should not turn homelessness into a political opportunity. the benefits to the homeless when that happens are very short lived and often have no real positive effect. the president in the meantime could be more vocal and more involved in spurring congress, hud, the va and homeless agencies to provide quantitative results and not rhetoric or ten year plans. he could be more vocal how important it should be to this country to ensure that no mentally ill person, no family with children or disabled americans are without housing. he should take serious his obligation as president to be concerned about his citizens dying on park benches, behind bushes or freezing on a street corner in the winter temperatures. he should act as our president and not as a detached politician. he should act ..with sincerity and without delay.
the whole sector of agencies responsible for dealing with the homeless needs a complete overhaul it also needs a new plan. the appropriate experts, which we have very few of at this time, need to develop a strategy that will serve the homeless for the long term. that means not only delivering promises, ten year plans, short term fixes and compiling data, but it means becoming more effective, efficient, responsible and giving some meaning to the phrase...we're on the way to ending homelessness. if it means tearing apart our current system and ruling bureaucracy to achieve this...then let's make a ten year plan to do just that. better yet, let's make a ten month plan to do just that.
the American people must and should respond as well. they need to demand services and housing for the homeless, especially at a local level. they should also, as tax payers, demand a more accountable and successful rate of housing the homeless than a 2% ratio. they should demand that no mentally ill, no children and no disabled human beings will wander the streets of their city while struggling to survive. they should also be willing to pay for these demands, but only after being given an honest cost and the longevity of that cost.
we're not in Kansas anymore. clicking our ruby red shoes and whispering ....there's no place like home...there's no place like home...will not solve homelessness. neither will following programs that can't be funded over a sustained period of time down that yellow brick road. there may be another witch worse than the first one waiting and believe me...there is no man behind the curtain. it's time to wake up from the dream.
see you around town