Tuesday, March 21, 2006

HUD is Chronically Offensive

Please Don't Call Me Chronic Anything

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has a new strategy for "ending homelessness." It is based on flawed research by Dennis Culhane and is being pushed down the throat of all of us out in the field who are working on solutions. Anyway, they are giving extra points and championing programs that serve the "chronically homeless." I can't think of a more offensive and dehumanizing term to use for a population. The focus is on single adults to the exclusion on families with the thinking that if society can address the long term homeless then all these resources will be free to serve the rest of the population. This does not make any sense in Cleveland and some of the other communities especially in rural towns.

The word chronic means:
  1. Of long duration; continuing: chronic money problems.
  2. Lasting for a long period of time or marked by frequent recurrence, as certain diseases: chronic colitis.
  3. Subject to a habit or pattern of behavior for a long time.
HUD is saying that people with multiple episodes or those who are homeless for a long period of time are considered "chronic." So, the first definition does not work because it is not a continuous state. Homelessness is not a disease (thank goodness--since our health care problems are far bigger than our housing crisis). "I hope my homelessness does not flair up, because I just shook it off last week." Or the most appropriate definition coming from a Washington bureaucrat: homelessness is habit that poor people are addicted to. "I am living in an apartment with security and privacy, but I just can't get enough of the overcrowded shelters because no one has stolen my shoes today. I gotta have it now."

Would HUD staff appreciate being called "chronic bureaucrats?" Or how about House and Senate leaders being labeled "chronic politicians?" Chronic anything is offensive when referring to a person. Homelessness is not a habit to break or a disease. Homeless people don't even like being called homeless because of all the negative stereotypes associated with it, but then add the adjective chronic and they become nameless and faceless. It is easier to forget about a chronically homeless money drains on our society. It is easier to close shelters and services if we can point to the fact that the residents are chronically addicted to using the facilities. It serves our interest to assign blame as a society, and to lump all homeless people into a category of those who will forever be dependent on government. The 58 year old woman who spends half her fixed income on medication who is living in our shelters wants to be resting at her own apartment but had to make the decision to either pay rent or eat. She chose to eat and pay for her medicine, and she certainly does not want to be labeled "chronically homeless."

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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