Homelessness: Which Margins are More
This past Tuesday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released some startling figures: from 2005 through 2007, the number of people living in homeless shelters and on the streets dropped from 175,914 to 123,833, almost 30%. As Rachel L. Swarns notes in her Times article, the numbers are most likely the result of a policy supported by the current administration to end "chronic homelessness" among disabled and drug-abusing citizens.
The "Housing First" plan acts to place chronically homeless families into permanent housing quickly, rather than shuffling them through the shelter system. As part of its mission, it states: "the methodology is premised on the belief that vulnerable and at-risk homeless families are more responsive to interventions and social services support after they are in their own housing, rather than while living in temporary/transitional facilities or housing programs." After a family is moved into this permanent, low-rent housing, they are provided with six months of in-home, personal social service care. I think that this effort to rehabilitate and solve the problems associated with homelessness, rather than put a band-aid on them, is an encouraging sign for policy methodology.
This program is a great step forward for many in the homelessness crisis, but as Swarns notes, chronically homeless individuals only account for 18% of the homeless population. She states, "in New York City, for instance, the number of chronically homeless people dropped to 5,233 in 2007 from 7,002 in 2005, statistics show. The total number of homeless people increased to 50,372 from 48,154 during that time." Thus, it seems that the administration's statistics must be taken with a grain of salt. Individuals without families to support or disabilities are not helped as much by the Housing First policy. Also, families living in hotels or floating between friends' and family's homes are also not directly aided by Housing First, nor are they counted properly by the census. We must be careful that these citizens are not ignored by homelessness policies, and that we do not congratulate ourselves too soon. The direction we're going in is certainly a good one, but there is still much work to do to reform homelessness and poverty in this country.
For more information about homelessness statistics and programs that need your assistance, take a look at this database.