My respect for the Melville Charitable Trust increased, because they took the time to respond to a post of mine from last month. Aimee Hendrigan, staff of Melville, took her time to answer the sarcastic rantings of some yahoo from the Midwest. I like that. I understand the intent of national foundations, and I respect all that they do. My concern was that it is a new day, and we need a new strategy. Ms. Hendrigan of Melville said,
"The Trust has spent over fifteen years funding supportive housing solutions in Connecticut (the Melville family’s home state). This focused investment in the state has contributed to significant results (thousands of units of housing) and a strong group of leaders who advocate for real solutions to homelessness, including funding for ongoing services (a very big challenge as you acknowledge). We would be the first to say that this type of change does not happen quickly. It can be frustrating, but for us it is worth the consistent investment."My issue is that none of us are not doing a good job of planning for the future, and we have never done sustainability planning for these programs. We started the shelters with no plan for sustaining them. We then moved to the 1980s trend of starting transitional shelters without a plan for how to sustain these facilities. We moved on to permanent supportive housing as the current trend, but have no idea how to fund these long term. We are doing everything in such a scatter-shot approach, and each new trend is a threat to the previous concepts. The homeless community of agencies has no problem stealing money from one project to fund the latest and greatest new revolutionary concept. In the end, the problems only gets worse. If the homeless systems were measured on progress toward ending homelessness, we would all be out of a job. Very few are actually working on solving homelessness for everyone.
All of these programs serve select populations, and they all have a role in the community. Some individuals do well in shelters, some need the missions, others need a two year transition, about 10-15% of the population need supportive housing, but we are not addressing the issues that will move people from triage into stability. We no longer can offer anything to those who actually do not need a shelter. Most national groups are not addressing the criminalization of homeless people. So, what landlord is going to accept these individuals who have long criminal backgrounds because they were arrested for begging for money, sitting on the sidewalk or sleeping under a bridge? We are not addressing the years and years of wait to get a re-determination of a homeless person's child support. So, how does a guy graduate from a transitional shelter into independent housing if they owe $30,000 to $40,000 in debt? We do not address the life time sentence of poverty for those with a disability? How does a mentally ill woman ever find stable housing if she has to give her entire monthly check for rent? The exploitation by temporary labor companies who rape poor people everyday is never discussed on the national level. The shredded health care safety net and the elimination of a social service safety net are huge holes in our community. Until some of these systemic problems are solved, it does not matter how nice the shelters or housing, we cannot move forward on solving homelessness. We will forever be managing homelessness instead of solving homelessness with this approach.
My facetious suggestion to give money to individuals expresses the level of frustration among many homeless people. Ms. Hendrigan said:
"When you suggest that we might have better used our funding to pay for an entire year of housing for 1,000 people, that’s where we seriously disagree. Philanthropy cannot and should not be the direct funding solution to the nation’s housing crisis. It is not sustainable; frankly, we would run out of money – and pretty quickly."My point was just that all of these services and all of these programs in the end are just another drain on tax base of our community. They are beautiful and they are wonderful facilities, but are they the most economical way to solve homelessness? We are spending all this money on these facilities now, and there are plenty of people sitting out in the meal programs in Cleveland (I would guess the majority in fact) who just need between $10 and $1,000 and they would never need to come to the shelters. They just need a security deposit, or first months rent, or identification, or a voice mail box, or a money to buy a storage unit, or a kennel for their dog, or relief from a crippling health care bill. That money no longer exists in the community, and so their only choice is the shelter and the path outlined by HUD: transitional shelter, supportive housing or subsidized housing, etc. Does any city ever investigate if they have built all these facilities, but forgotten the individual needs of people?
Finally, I don' t hear that many stories on NPR about all of these issues. Ms. Hendrigan thank you so much for your comments, but you should have a sit down with NPR officials about at least weekly features on homelessness to get a return on your investment.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.