More than 600,000 Americans are homeless tonight, including over 57,000 veterans. This is a complex issue that requires far more attention than is currently given.
Studies show the cost of leaving a homeless person on the streets is $30,000 while the cost of housing them is just $10,000. Addressing this crisis is both the moral and fiscally responsible thing to do. As the chronically underemployed and unemployed move across state lines in search of better living conditions, homelessness has become a truly national issue that the federal government needs to confront -- it’s not just a local issue anymore. A permanent and sustainable end to homelessness requires that we fully address 4 essential components:
- Housing. Housing is the foundation to ending homelessness. One of the main reasons homelessness exploded in the early 1980s was that we slashed our investment in affordable housing. During the first year of Ronald Reagan’s first term, he slashed federal funds for public housing and Section 8 by half. We have never recovered from these disastrous public policy decisions. It is no wonder than homelessness has stubbornly persisted on the American landscape ever since. We need a massive national commitment—public and private—to ensure affordable housing for all. Housing is a basic human right, without which people cannot lead stable, connected lives. If we expect to end homelessness, housing is the fundamental starting place.
- Services. Housing is essential, but it is not sufficient. Housing alone, without attention to health, behavioral health, employment and education, and other supports, will continue to result in instability and recurrent homelessness for many people. Services are equally important— Health care. Childcare. Transportation. Case management, substance abuse treatment, supported employment. Housing alone cannot address the myriad complex challenges facing so many people living in poverty and experiencing homelessness. We must find a way to ensure that services are available, accessible, and affordable across the lifespan. If we focus on housing alone, we will never end homelessness.
- Social Connectedness. A key to an apartment is great. Support as someone exits homelessness and stabilizes in housing is great. But too many people who moved into their own apartments for the first time in years suffer in loneliness, depression, and relapse. Too many end up back on the streets because that’s where their friends were. If we think that a housing and support services can create community and human connection, we are mistaken. We must follow the lead of nations that have focused on strategies for social inclusion—countries like Denmark and Scotland—that work actively to destigmatize mental illness, substance use disorders, homelessness, and poverty. Creating a strategy for social inclusion and social connectedness must be part of our thinking in our work to end homelessness.
- Prevention. Prevention will require a big view that can look across multiple systems—lack of affordable housing, lack of healthcare, lack of education, wage stagnation, child welfare, the wealth gap, institutional racism, inadequate health & social services for people in poverty —to identify pathways into homelessness, then design solutions that catch people before they fall. That is hard work, but until we figure out the prevention side of things, homelessness will ever go away. That’s it. Just four simple things—housing, services, social connectedness, and prevention. If we can figure those out, we can end homelessness once and for all.
Of course, prevention is the biggest piece. This is why we need a Brand New Congress who understands that there is much more at stake than just lining their own pockets, who is doing everything she can to fight for the future, for her children, for all the future generations. We need bold new leadership ready to tackle the biggest issues of our day, and push for major reform of our health care, education, good paying jobs and affordable housing, so that we can address the growing homelessness problem before it becomes an insurmountable social crisis.