Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Real Chance at Reform

Prevention Could Transform the Homeless System Locally

The Obama Administration is putting $12 million dollars into the local economy to prevent homelessness. This is a huge change for all of the cities which have for 20 years dealt with homelessness as an emergency. We were basically dealing with the problem after the disaster had already struck the family. This is the same amount of money that we get every year just to renew the budgets of all the shelters, so we cannot waste the resource. Now, we have the opportunity to figure out a new path to keep people in their housing before they become homeless. So what do we need to make this happen?

1. We need transparency in the process. We must model our local programs after the federal recovery process with an RFP with broad input. We should have a clear expression for what we need. We need to clearly outline the process for securing these dollars. There must be an open process for picking the recipient without personalities or conflicts of interest.

2. We need to create something new that will transform the system. We could just put more money into all the existing programs, but where would we be after two years? We would continue to increase homelessness every year as we have done for the past 20 years, and we would still have the same number of shelters as we have today. We blow this opportunity and everyone responsible for serving homeless people should be fired.

3. We cannot construct the system around shelter. To prevent homelessness, we must respond to people's individual needs. We should not force people to have to conform to the rules of the shelter in order to get help. We should not force them to split up their family in order to get a shelter space. We have built a system that shoves people into a program that they had no say in creating, and if they reject the charity offered they are cast aside. We need to build a system around housing and not services.

The above picture is from the Homeless Memorial Day in December at St. Augustine church in Tremont.

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

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