and the men and women who experience it. data collectors have mountains of numbers, reports, opinions and experts' advice on the cause and effects of homelessness. for over 40 years homeless policies have followed one failed program and concept after another. housing initiatives have instituted
one short sighted policy after another, often following the same path only to find it brings them to the same end. what frustrates me is the fact that even though the initiatives and policies continue to bring the
same outcome which are very small successes or failure, the agencies and often politicians in cities who
join the effort when it is politically expedient to do so, tend to laud the success of the programs citing a
reduction in homelessness that can be attributed to either an improving economy, a faulty point in time count or simply a shift in the homeless population. yes, some cities have made some progress in various groups of the homeless but overall the numbers continue to show a shift up or down in the 10% range year after year after year. the number of core homeless remains constant.
homeless agencies, the federal government and local city officials ignore some very simple facts and
common sense logic when trying to formulate a strategy to reduce and perhaps one day bring homelessness to a zero growth point and finally begin to manage the number of core homeless living on the street and in shelters. i think one of the most glaring errors we make is the annual point in time count
that agencies perform in cities across america. every year we are deluged with articles and reports that are based on these counts. homeless agencies, particularly those who support free housing initiatives report that homelessness has decreased due to housing efforts and that it appears that we are on the way to ending homelessness, however far that goal may be. these pit counts are severely flawed. the idea of the count itself is a good one. the methods and reliability are not. simply going to the streets on one nite every year to count the homeless invites a wide margin of error. the people doing the counts invariably do not encounter the homeless on that particular nite on the street. when going into shelters often the homeless do not fill out the forms. different programs, which in essence often serve as a shelter, do not report to these pit counts. the homeless who are stealthy and fly under the radar by living in abandoned buildings, secluded campsites or move from place to place daily are invariably missed. if you want an accurate count of the homeless i think it would have to be done over a more extended period of time, perhaps a week or even a month to even begin to bring the true number of homeless to a more accurate accounting. i don't think homelessness is being reduced, i think the measure we use to calculate, which is at best an estimate, is filled with errors and exasperated by the fact that there are alot of temporary solutions in place such as housing vouchers that do indeed effect the count.
housing first, with no strings, is a very hot topic in the homeless agency circles today. from salt lake city, to new orleans to houston the success of the program is being hailed as the answer to homelessness.
advocates who support this initiative will gleefully tell you of the number of people who have been placed in housing who are still there three years later. but wait...is this success? is the success of ending homelessness to be based on the number of people we provide free housing to? is the success of our efforts in reducing homelessness to be judged by the number of people we have placed in a virtual welfare situation where they are dependent on the funding or defunding process of congress and senate?
this is why in the past forty years we have seen a swing in the number of the homeless population both up and down. housing initiatives, based on the same concept of free housing but called another name,
are implemented and they do indeed have some impact on the homeless numbers. but as they become more and more expensive due to the small number of people that transition out of the program, congress eventually defunds the programs in times of a large deficit or austerity. the key measure of success of housing programs should be the number of people that transition out into independence rather than the number of people who remain after three, four or five years. having a large number of people in free housing can only mean that the program is a time bomb waiting to explode and bring the number of
homeless people back to an unmanageable level. there is one other solution that would make free housing work and be reliable as a measure of success. that solution would be to have a fund based on the same principles of social security, pensions or other "guarenteed" programs within the federal government. these funds could not be reduced and the programs could not be eliminated once they are implemented. only then could free housing truly be measured by the number of people housed. otherwise the only measure of success would have to be the number of people who have used the free housing to obtain employment and housing of their own. looked at by that measure, free housing is far from being a success but rather it is viewed as a failure and a tremendous drain not only on the resources that could be better utilized to reduce homelessness but on our economy as a whole.
the real solution to homelessness lies within our own communities. drug and alcohol treatment and recovery, employment and affordable housing is the key. a strong coalition of churches, local organizations, city officials and individuals must be formed and remain on the same course with the same goal in mind. not only must they have the same goal but they all must follow the same path to that goal in order to achieve success. cities however large or small who have managed to do this are the cities that stabilized or realistically reduced the homeless population. until we admit and say publicly what the causes of homelessness are, we cannot address them. during the past few years we could indeed say that some homeless people were victims of the worse downturn in our economy that i think any of us has seen. but that reason or perhaps better described as excuse is fast coming to an end. we must now accept and embrace the "true causes and faces of the homeless" and begin to address those causes on a more realistic and economically sound basis.
the success or rather the failure of rapid rehousing, free housing with no strings and open ended housing will come to the front and center over the course of time as it always has in the past. i hope we do not choose to revive them under a different name with a slightly varied approach and have to wait another ten years to see it has once again failed. no city in america, not one, including salt lake city, new orleans, houston, san diego, seattle or any other has ended or significantly reduced homelessness with these programs. not one. just ask the thousands of homeless people still living in shelters or on the street in any of these cities and they'll tell you the same. continuing to follow these policies will have a tremendous consequence in the very near future not only for our homeless men, women and children, but for all of us involved in the effort to end homelessness.
for now the question we need to ask ourselves and our homeless agencies is this....what success?
see you around town