I had the great privilege of attending the third national Housing First Partners Conference this past week. I gave a presentation about the shelter program that was well received. I was also able to hear presentations about all kinds of inspiring things happening around the world (Canada, France, Italy!) and here in the United States. What I took away most from the conference is that momentum is building for things to change. There were over 750 people in attendance talking about the concept of Housing First and how to bring it to scale.
On the last day of the conference, Congresswoman
Maxine Waters proposed landmark legislation to put $13.27
billion in relief over the next 5 years towards ending homelessness
in the United States. This would allow for more money to flow
through every level of government towards homeless services.
It would go for creating more housing and for support services in
order to help support people in housing that have more
In this country, we are hearing more and more about income
inequality, minimum wage increases, affordable housing and
have a presidential campaign centering on many of these issues.
We are hearing that cost of housing is skyrocketing in San
Fransisco, Portland and Seattle due in part to the fast introduction of large
tech companies and the lack of a clear plan for addressing affordable housing and homeless
issues before it is too late.
People often wonder why homelessness is so visible and seems to keep getting worse. They expect to hear answers about addiction, domestic violence, mental illness, etc. These issues have been in society for thousands of years and though they are often part of the experience of homelessness, mass homelessness like we currently have in the United States didn't start until the late 1980's. Together with a tax code overhaul and de-institutionalism of the mental health system, Ronald Reagan's Massive cuts to the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (three-quarters of the budget from $32 billion in 1981 to $7.5 billion by 1988) created the picture of modern mass homelessness in the United States. Homelessness is an economic issue that centers around income inequality, lack of viable job opportunities and the rising cost of housing.
So why I am telling you this?
Last week a frequent guest of the Warming Center arrived with an eviction notice from the camp that he has been living in. His notice did not have a date of eviction filled out. Some of the people were told they had 10 days to vacate, others were told 24 hours and others were told by the Railroad police that they were to vacate immediately. Where does the city think people will go?
The Salvation Army has recently moved away from providing emergency shelter which means that our 37 shelter beds and the Drexel House 16 men's beds are the only year round shelter beds in the county for single adults. Ours is the only public shelter for single women and the only one that takes walk-ups on a nightly basis. We now have the numbers from the 2016 census showing the there were 197 unsheltered people the night the census was taken--we have 37 beds and they are full every night.
We continue to deal with homelessness as a de-facto illegal status that requires (expensive) enforcement and we continue to expect enforcement to resolve the issue. It is well documented at this point that this method--the criminalization of homelessness--does not work to solve the issues and results in expensive waste of public resources.
Let's work together to bring the real solutions that exist in our community to scale! The solution to homelessness is a permanent house for every person and family living on our streets, in parks and in doorways. We must adequately plan for our future as a growing city surrounded by two larger cities that are both experiencing housing crises and declared states of emergency on homelessness. Our issues will only get worse if we continue to not take action at the city level to create a clear plan for addressing this issue. Join us in making positive change for the betterment of us all!!
Meg Martin, MSW, MHP, is the Shelter Program Director for The Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter.