The Homeless Service System Was Never Intended to Solve All Housing Problems

The homeless service delivery system in your community was never intended to solve ALL housing problems.

It is NOT the low-income housing system.

If the homeless service system tries to take care of affordable housing needs of low-income persons at the same time as addressing the housing needs of homeless persons, it is too much to handle. Prioritization of resources becomes difficult, if not impossible. Preference is likely to be given to those where their “only issue” is seen as their poverty. Waiting lists will become so large they will become meaningless and result in absolutely no meaningful action. Uproar and dissatisfaction will continue with the state of homelessness. The rate of economic poverty is always greater than the rate of homelessness, therefore homeless people are at a chronic disadvantage in this type of design.

 

It is NOT the seniors housing system.

If the homeless service system tries to take care of the housing needs of an ageing population – low or moderate income – at the same time as it takes care of homelessness, then expect homelessness to grow. I can’t think of one community that wouldn’t prefer to take care of the housing needs that remind them of their parents over the housing needs of people that do not resemble the majority of people they know in their life (homeless people). Politically, housing seniors is a win while housing homeless people is a loss. A prevalent argument is that society owns its oldest citizens for their contributions to our current life and welfare. What do homeless people owe us? They would argue nothing – or at least less.

There’s more.

Homeless service systems were never designed to take care of all of the housing needs of ex-offenders or persons discharged from hospitals or mental health facilities. Nor was the homeless service system ever designed to be the housing answer for youth ageing out of care.

But it continues to be.

First of all, we need to stop creating new fancy programs – at the expense of other homeless programs – to take care of shortcomings of other systems and start holding those other systems more accountable.

We need to rail against the injustice of a “justice” system that penalizes people even more with homelessness upon release unless that system is willing to provide resources to address the homelessness it creates. Otherwise it punishes not just the person that violated the law, but homeless service providers as well.

We need to make sure that people who become homeless as a result of longer stays in hospital or psychiatric facilities are not put onto the doorstep of homeless service providers to address. There is no reason why there cannot be further integration upstream between discharge planners and homeless service providers. Discharge planners can play a critical role in solving homelessness at the point of discharge.

We need youth services to stop making the graduation to adulthood a stepping-stone into homelessness where the homeless service delivery system is burdened with the cost and service demands..

 

It must be noted that some systems are doing a great job to take care of their responsibility. For example, across America the VA is investing in programs at a level suitable for ending homelessness amongst veterans, more or less. On the “more” side of the equation, there is money, a strong sense of prioritization, and a mission driving towards sustained change. On the “less” side, it has to be acknowledged that persons dishonourably discharged from service are not afforded the same opportunities to access resources for veterans, and it falls upon the “regular” homeless service delivery system to address these needs.

 

There is a strong focus on ending homelessness nowadays. This is a great thing as we shift from managing homelessness to ending homelessness. But we will never get there if we keep thinking the homeless service delivery system is responsible for addressing all of the housing needs of every person in community, or every shortcoming or creation of homelessness in other systems.

 

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong

4 Responses to “The Homeless Service System Was Never Intended to Solve All Housing Problems”

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  1. Linda Kaufman says:

    Iain, you are so right. We have never been so close to ending veteran and chronic homelessness, or at so much risk of derailing the whole thing. We have to focus, and be clear with others: we are about the business of ending homelessness. And especially focused on those who cannot end homelessness completely under their own steam. Thanks for the thoughtful piece.

  2. Cheryl Giles says:

    I never thought of the homeless who will probably never get a job because of mental illness or age when coming out of prison or illnesses that would prevent them from work, etc., people who would not be considered “responsible” by society’s standards. I was riding on the bus and overheard an 18 year old tell about losing her housing, but saying that was nothing compared to getting kicked out of the house at 13.
    So what then? Now that you have raised the question – who can provide with no hope of rehabilitation or and just let people be who they are, only following the most basic of humanitarian rules needed to live together?
    And I have met a handful of people who prefer to be homeless. What then is our obligation?

    • Roger says:

      “So what then? Now that you have raised the question – who can provide with no hope of rehabilitation or and just let people be who they are, only following the most basic of humanitarian rules needed to live together?”

      The answer is found in community and society. Society has chosen to allow rents to triple while wages have only doubled (how shall the rent be paid, then?). Society has chosen to heap stigma upon the homeless. Society has chosen to look the other way while the constabulary uses batons and sticks and guns to main, injure, and kill the homeless (how shall the homeless trust the police, then?). Society has chosen to further penalize felons by refusing to hire them after they get out of the joint (and where shall they work, then?)..

      Many homeless are addicted to alcohol. Many are not.
      Many homeless are addicted to narcotics of various sorts. Many are not.
      Many homeless are mentally ill. Many are not.
      Many homeless are just out of prison. Many are not.

      Community is the answer to homelessness. It is the only real answer to homelessness. No matter how you cut it, slice it, or reconfigure it, community is the answer. Whether that’s community providing affordable housing to those who simply can’t get a grip on getting back inside, or community providing bare land for groups of people living in tents, or community simply listening to those who’ve been abused, chewed up, and spit out by the system… community is the answer.

      “And I have met a handful of people who prefer to be homeless. What then is our obligation?”

      So, first, a handful prefer to have no roof. Have you asked them why?
      And, second, do you generalize to the massive numbers of homeless who do NOT want to be homeless?
      Third, does their homelessness make them “not-persons,” by some stretch of twisted perversity?

      They are people.

      And people should be treated like, well, people.

      The indignities perpetrated upon the homeless because “they need help” are execrable.

      People need dignity, and people need community.

  3. anon says:

    I recently heard a PSH administrator exclaim that “[insert name of psh] is the best thing other than section 8!” I don’t think this person understood how illustrative of systematic problems this statement was. PSH is a resource which is suitable for folks with deep needs–it isn’t something for folks who would just otherwise be rent burdened.

    This post is so on point that it hurts.