Monday, April 14, 2008

No COHHIO Conference for Me

Researchers Lead Us Down the Wrong Path

There is such a limited amount of research about homelessness in the United States that a few good papers will get you a long distance on the public dole. Dennis Culhane from the University of Pennsylvania is one of those researchers who actually took the time to figure out where homeless people were coming from and how long they stayed homeless. This was very useful information, but the conclusions drawn by Mr. Culhane were far off base. Culhane did research in NYC and Philly, two cities that have very little in common with Cleveland or Toledo, and nothing in common with Lorain or Sandusky, Ohio. He has parlayed this research into regular gigs with federal agencies and speaking engagements around the country. All of us in the field have to pay for his sketchy science.

Every agency funded by the federal government now has to try to count homeless people coming in the door no matter how bad the undercount or the infringement on the privacy rights of our clients. We have to do a one day count that has no basis in reality. Think of the the "guess the jellybeans in the jar" game. We have to bear the bulk of the costs of all these distractions taking us away from actually getting people housing at the local level. The Culhane research brought us the terribly expensive Permanent supportive housing option, which we talked about in December and NEOCH has a policy paper that the Coalition published about the problems with supportive housing. In the end, we are no closer to ending homelessness in America then we were 20 years ago.

The basis of the Culhane theory is that by removing those who have been homeless for long periods of time, the community can save 60-80% of their resources. This is a great theory on paper, but in real life it does not work. If we could just save the excess water dumped on Northwest Ohio and transfer it to drought stricken Atlanta, all would be right with America. This theory does not work with weather and it will never work for people. But Culhane is milking this theory for all it is worth. How does this play out in the local community? Our shelters are starved of cash to the point that they are all closing. Public housing has had to cut all of their supportive services and has no money to renovate their buildings for years. There is no money to house poor people or families because all of our resources go to those disabled individuals who have been homeless for years.

I will not be attending the COHHIO conference featuring the ivory tower theories of Dennis Culhane. We slog through every day trying to clean up the messes made by researchers living 1 million miles from the streets of Cleveland.

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

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