If you live in California, they have become part of the landscape. People without homes are on the corner, at the freeway underpass, along the railroad tracks and highways, and you either want them to go away, or you wish you could do more.
The answer is actually simple. Someone once called homelessness “the dumbest problem.” If someone has a home, they are no longer homeless. But, the solution is really hard. California needs 3.5 million new homes by 2025 to keep up with demand. That’s more than the other 49 states combined.
But, you say, “Aren’t they all on drugs, or mentally ill,” or maybe, “They don’t really want housing.” These are complicated questions. In future blogs, I’ll try to tackle these topics based on my experience. I have worked on homeless policy for the last 5 years, and ran a homeless shelter in Santa Barbara, CA (homeless in paradise) for two of those. This writing is an attempt to break down what I’ve learned.
This first piece is a plea for us to row in the same direction. Some people call it “collective impact,” multiple agencies working together. Using Santa Barbara as example, there are dozens of nonprofits, housing organizations, dedicated police officers, community clinics, the local hospital, dozens of church groups, business committees, the city, county, state and federal governments all working together in multiple forums to end homelessness. There are a few common themes:
- Outreach — people going out to meet people on the streets or in camps, providing healthcare, hygiene kits, blankets, sleeping bags, food, etc.
- Shelters — temporary housing, often in dorms or barracks-style
- Transitional housing — longer term shelter, often with mandatory programs like drug and alcohol treatment or domestic violence training or counseling.
- Permanent supportive housing — sometimes called “housing first,” this is housing with wrap-around services that are tailored to people’s needs and to keep them housed.
- Private housing with empathetic landlords — this is the simplest way to end homelessness — give those who don’t need services an affordable place to live.
All of these approaches can help to end homelessness; but, they require coordination, communication between agencies, ongoing financial support and patience. The good news is that they work (90% of people housed stay housed for over two years).
In future writing, I’ll look at the system of care, multi-disciplinary approaches, why it’s not just a law enforcement issue, and the role of nonprofits. Please email me if you have questions or ideas!