Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Comedy Show Feature on Homelessness

HUD Secretary on the Daily Show

What does it say about the major media that a good solid discussion about homelessness is done on the Daily Show?   Last night, Shaun Donovan appeared on Jon Stewart's Daily Show, and for 10 minutes we got to hear about homelessness and poverty on national television.  For clarification, this is a comedy show, and there was a real discussion about the huge increase in family homelessness and the number of children that find themselves homeless.   Now there are a few things that need clarified with regard to the interview that were just spin and not based in reality, but the bottom line it was nice to hear the discussion. 

  • Everyone who watches the show knows Jon Stewart is a New York Mets' fan.  Psst, Shaun, watch the show for a couple of weeks before appearing on it so you seem hip and with it. Never ask a Mets' fan if they are New York Yankee's fan.
  • We did not just figure out that housing was better than shelter even for the mentally ill.  We started closing down affordable housing back in the 1980s so what were we supposed to do?  Congregate living is cheaper than offering an apartment, medical care, food and case managers for every single person in need.  65,000 people declared themselves in need of housing when the Section 8 voucher list was opened.  We do not have the money or ability to serve that number of people, and so shelters are the best option when so many people are in need. If we had a national housing strategy, we would not need shelters in the United States. If we supported our voucher programs, our public housing and HUD housing with the the same zeal that we fund the Defense Department there would be no homelessness in America.  Unfortunately, we do not and so we have opened shelters to prevent people from dying on the streets.  The only way that it is cheaper to offer housing instead of shelter, is if the resident can contribute to the rent.  So, if you can return the person to the workforce quickly and they start paying rent then housing is cheaper than shelter.  Otherwise a bed in a shelter is way cheaper than an apartment.  
  • The 20% decrease in veterans homelessness is BOGUS!!!  Just read the report that HUD published and see all the qualifiers at the beginning of the report.  They are using estimates of estimates.   They are using a one night count that is done well in some places, but barely done in other places.  It is like asking store clerks at Walmart and the local Shell stations to do a one night count to come up with the US population in the Census.  These numbers are not real for veterans.  If we cannot even figure out how many veterans are homeless how are we supposed to solve the problem by 2015?
  • "We are going to raise the amount we spend on homelessness by 15%" according to Donovan.  This is only if Congress agrees to the President's budget, and that does not take into account the decrease in funding for other services that homeless people rely on.  It does not make sense to increase funding on homelessness at the same time as you decrease money for vouchers or eliminate homeless prevention spending.  If housing is no longer affordable and poverty increases, where do these people go except to the shelters?  There are massive cuts to housing and the end of the stimulus while at the same time increasing homeless funding by a small amount.  There is no comparison between the two--rental assistance is being cut by the billions while homeless funding is going up in the millions. Donovan's statement only tells a small part of the story.
  • People are not chronic.  People may have a chronic disease, but homelessness is not contagious.  
  • The stimulus no doubt helped millions avoid shelter, and the administration should be praised for pushing for these funds.  But what was not mentioned was that these funds are ending this summer.  With the housing system still a mess, what are we going to do going forward?  There are going to be more and more families struggling who can't keep up their payments and will turn to the shelters.  We are not going to have eviction money available to these families. 
  • The settlement money discussion:  Why didn't our leading newsman in America, Jon Stewart, ask why they have not solved this foreclosure crisis in the last three years?  This voluntary program has not worked, and when is the administration going to go after these banks to write down these loans to stabilize the housing market?  $26 billion is chump change for the instability in the housing sector.  This was fraud that took place and we need a settlement of $2.6 trillion to clear out the abandoned houses in America and make a down payment on rebuilding our cities.  
There was a second part of the interview that was not broadcast, but placed on the Daily Show website.  A couple of comments from the bonus material.
  • A legitimate question about the total number of homeless people was avoided by Donovan with an answer dealing with the Complete Count on one day.  As we have said before, counting on one day the number of people living without homes is like trying to count the number of Skittles falling in the rainbow while watching the commercial.  It is so flawed that it is a meaningless number.  It does not give us a window into homelessness or even give an assessment of the funds used by Congress to address homelessness.  It is a giant waste of time. 
  • Yes, there are a lot of children who are becoming homeless, and why doesn't HUD consider the child sleeping on a sofa at a friends house to be homeless? They have this complicated list of questions to determine homelessness and there are millions in America who do not qualify by HUD as being homeless.  It was nice to hear that Donovan and the President are focused on the poverty figure, which is more accurate than the figure regarding homelessness.  
  • Having a national discussion about the causes of solutions of poverty is always good, but why does it have to happen on a comedy show?
  • "Get sober and we will find a place for you."  The Housing First strategy is great, but if you have 8,000 people using the shelters in Cleveland and you build 100 units of housing a year, how many years will it take to solve this problem at that rate? 
Thanks to the Daily Show for featuring this debate, but sometimes you need a translator to cut through some of the spin from government officials.

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