Apr 7, 2019 in Economics

How We Can End Homelessness in America?

One of the problems affecting societies in the modern world like America is homelessness. The reason for this increase is because of diverse factors such as increases in alcohol usage, drug addiction, urban development, domestic violence and the institutionalization of the mentally challenged. Apart from these factors, economic, political, and medical factors also contribute to the cause of family homelessness, such as, for example, the inequality of income, which affects millions of low-wage workers unable to afford housing and healthcare. In addition, the cost of living has increased significantly, as has medical cost, which causes many families and individuals out in the streets. Because of its continuity and the effect on the people, it is necessary to come up with tangible solutions of ending homelessness. This paper will discuss homelessness in America, its prevalence, causes and its effects on the people. The paper will then come up with some recommended solutions to ending homelessness.  

Definition and Understanding of Homelessness

Before dealing with the issue of ending homelessness is it is good to define this term for clarity purposes. According to the Federal law, a homeless person is a person who does not have a regular, fixed and adequate nighttime residence. It is also a person who whose primary night residency is privately or publicly operated and supervised in order to provide people with temporary living accommodations. Homelessness definition also includes the definition of a person being discharged from organizations or institutions that have not identified the place that the person will go within a week. Persons fleeing domestic violence are also included in this definition. 

Law detainees and those in different correction systems are however not included in this definition. Using this definition, it is clear that tens of thousands of Americans especially living in urban areas are homeless. This is because those in the rural areas are more likely to live with their relatives and also obtain housing with cheaper means than those in the urban areas. 

Among the homeless are those who are transitionally homeless meaning that they move quickly through the systems that aid homeless people and their main need is for housing is plain and simple. 

How to End Homelessness in America

Effects of Homelessness

While this is so, it is important to understand that the effects of homelessness on people are great and diverse. These effects range from personal entrapment to different health issues.  There is a general belief in the society that most homeless people have failed in life and are unable to cope with their life difficulties. This belief alone leads to alienation by the society and this may lead to health problems. Some of these health problems include chronic diseases, mental illness, HIV/AIDS and nutritional deficiencies. Other suffer from TB, sleep deprivation and cold injury among other health issues. Homeless people also have other personal problems such as low self esteem, substance misuse, danger of abuse and violence and different behavioral problems. Homeless people are also likely to become institutionalized and this is not well received by many. Since these are some few problems, homelessness should be stopped. The government, society and other organizations should join hands in making sure that this problem is stopped together with its detrimental effects.  

Affordable Housing

According to Cunnigham, the past two decades’ research that was aimed at determining what causes homelessness showed that poverty personal difficulties like substance use, mental illness and health problems leave people susceptible to homelessness. However, researchers have explained the primary reason of homelessness is the accessibility of affordable housing. Affordable housing, according to the same author, refers to when households do not pay more than 30% of their income on rental fee. A 2008 research by the Joint Center for Housing at Harvard University found out that 17.6 million households, which in terms of percentage is 16% of all US households are seriously cost burdened.  In terms the affordability definition, this means that most of these families use more than 50% of their earnings on housing and rental fees. The cost burden is too heavy and it leaves too many families in unstable housing situations. It also makes it hard for them to make decisions about how to make it in life. When things fail to work for these families, most families end up homeless, which has added to the number of homeless people in the US.  

A report by the HUD showed that 1.6 million persons used homeless shelters in a period of one-year. Recent data on the same shows that men between 31-50 years are the most in terms of using homeless shelters. Only, a smaller proportion of these people belong the homeless family members. The same data showed that a large number of children, at least 30,000 used these shelter. Another worse thing is that homelessness among the old people has been rising according to the same HUD data since 23% of the homeless population who are sheltered are more than 50 years. Although the number is shocking, it is worth to note that it still not inclusive of homeless families who were not in the shelter system like those living in cars, on the streets and those in abandoned buildings. 

Scholars who reviewed this data argue that the number is small in terms of solving the problem of homelessness especially among families. Therefore, programs that can provide affordable housing and healthcare solutions should be sourced and instituted. Several programs related to affordable housing exists, which include Permanent Independent Living, Transitional Housing and Institutional Discharge Planning among others. Permanent Independent Living refer to lasting, spread site housing that do not include a single, dedicated housing project or building that is used as a way of ending homelessness.  In this case, individuals are given independent living opportunities and the services provided are not linked to the accommodation setting. This means that services follow the individual in any place that he/she may live instead of being provided at a single housing location. Transition Housing, on the other hand, refers to housing programs that provides temporary housing mostly with an expectation that the client move gradually to permanent housing that has greater self-sufficiency and. Institutional Discharge Planning, which is another type of programs refers to intervention programs that are used to help individuals to shift from an institutional situation like a hospital and shelters to a community setting like an independent housing.

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While these programs help in providing affordable housing solutions, some researchers have not that they are not sustainable.  Researchers argue that sustainability as opposed to modest progress in the affordability and availability of rental housing can reduce the prevalence of homelessness in the U.S.  This is because too many poor citizens are forced to chase a small amount of low-cost housing units and this problem can only be solved by dealing with the housing affordability crisis. 

The idea of sustainable affordable housing has been backed by data that suggests that there is an already instituted program for seniors. However, the number of homeless seniors is rising because the programs have had a considerable funding cut in recent years. In addition, this program is not meeting the current demand meaning that it does not have the capability of meeting future demand. Therefore, unless sustainable affordable housing is ensured, older Americans are likely to be susceptible to homelessness in the near future.  

The current method of dealing with housing problems among the rest of the population is also not sustainable. This is because when families or individuals lose housing and searches for help, most of them end up a continuum of care (CoC), which is a homeless system that is composed of emergency shelters, outreach services and transitional housing. The same system has also come up with a permanent supportive housing. Researchers explain that the emergency shelter that exists are just slightly above 200,000 and many enter this program and are unable to move back to housing after being sheltered by these programs. This is because the program helps people in moving back to their permanent housing by aiding in income increase, employment and deal with substance use. However, the time spent in transitional housing is mostly 2years, which is limited despite the fact that participants are must work with staff in order to achieve employment and housing goals. This means that sustainable affordable housing is needed instead of pure affordable housing.   

Government, Private, Non Profit Organization’s Intervention and Public Interventions

Apart from affordable housing, homelessness in America can be curbed through motivating government, private and non-profit organizations interventions. In this case, these organizations should be motivated to pursue potential families and those individuals at risk of becoming homeless. Organizations should work to provide assistance to the homeless who are unable to seek help on their own.

Government Interventions 

The government can intervene in various ways such as through the use of policy and proper comprehensive planning. In event of planning, the government needs to evaluate the need for emergency, transitional, and enduring housing for homeless populations through comprehensive planning. This plan can help in determining housing priorities and needs, which are then used to come up with strategies and policies for meeting housing priorities.  The comprehensive plans for local area need to be well aligned with other plans and strategies that need to be developed by cities in relation to homeless and federal housing. The plans should be ambitious and possible to implement. The plans should also aim at accessing grant funding. The plans should also identify suitable infrastructure and sites for supportive and affordable housing. The local governments should also carry out appropriate zoning and also provide adequate land for such purposes. 

This adequacy can be ensured by allocating more land for group residential facilities and multifamily facilities as opposed to allocating more land for single family housing. The city governments also need to maximize profits when dealing with private developers through tax revenues 

While private developers should be taxed more by the government, housing owned by organizations that are not for profit should be exempt from taxation in order to help in dealing with demand for infrastructure, school and social services.  The government can also allow supportive housing only through covenants that restrict the frequency and type of provided services. Other limitations that make sure that supportive housing meets a certain density based on the zoning restrictions should also be made. The Continuum of Care Planning should be used in different states before receiving funds in order to identify gaps, evaluate community needs, identify duplication of services and come up with local priorities when using the grant money.  

The local government should also deal with immediate homelessness and also come up with preventive measures. In this case, the government, with the help of the local communities needs to determine what has worked and has not worked in the past endeavors either for both transitionary and chronic homelessness. The root causes of homelessness, in this case, need to be addressed. The government needs to understand that homeless assistance system may lack the proper stability, depth and funding required to deal with homelessness. Therefore, mainstream programs should be adopted in order to overcome this problem. For example, some of the mainstream programs that are needed include Medicaid, Community Health Centers and Public Housing Authorities, among others.  

Specific Government Policies that can help in ending Homelessness 

Apart from the discussed government interventions strategies, the government needs to come up with specific policies in this area. One of the policies, the government should make sure that the comprehensive plan has housing with elements that present diverse housing opportunity choices. These should be distributed throughout the community and should cover all demonstrated needs. The subject of homelessness should also be covered in the comprehensive plans where special needs citizens need to be identified in the local plan. The government needs to encourage harmonization between its department and others related to community and land use. The government should also consider permanent housing needs after transitional services in order to serve the homeless. The government and planners should receive proper education in relation to fair housing. Barriers for affordable housing should be dealt with in government policies while diverse housing types for those who are homeless should be planned for. 

Private and Non Profit Organization’s Intervention 

According to the (USICH) United States Interagency Council of Homelessness, non-profit as well as private organizations have various capacities of ending homelessness in the country. These organizations help in housing, feeding, clothing, educating and healing homeless people. The organizations also advocate working in order to make sure that the problem is eliminated in America. These organizations are considered valuable by USICH because they partner with the government organization and also help in sharing the knowledge they have in relation to effective homelessness prevention strategies. This includes strategies that help people in understanding and ending homelessness. In fact, USICH, which is a government organization, explains that it has severally relied on the support and advice provided by many organizations, some of them being faith-based and others such as businesses.

One of these organizations is the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which is dedicated to this noble course of ending homelessness and also preventing the same in the country. The organization provides with technical assistance to the societies and also provides them with viable practices and advices on ending this problem. Child Welfare League of America is also another not for profit organization that helps vulnerable children and youth. Community Action Partnership is also in this category and its major area is fighting poverty, which is one of the main causes of homelessness. The organization works at fighting this problem from the local levels. These are not the only organizations since many other exists and are dedicated on the same noble motive of preventing and ending homelessness in America.

Coordinated Efforts between The Private Sector and the Government 

Lastly, all these stakeholders need to have a more coordinated approach in order to provide services and housing to the homeless people. This coordination provides a solid framework for increasing information sharing and communication among important stakeholders such as mainstream agencies. Proper coordination also broadens the foundation for monetary support in the network for homeless assistance. These stakeholders should also join hands in eliminating barriers to affordable housing. In most cases housing providers work hard to acquire, improve and even re-use existing housing stock. They agree to payment through taxes in order to support local infrastructure. However, most of them come across extreme neighborhood opposition. In most cases, this opposition tends to be extended and result in augmented development cost. This is especially so for those projects that already has particularly low economic viability scopes. 

In most cases, neighborhoods that fight supportive housing arrangements cite different reasons such as fear of crime and property values. However, they need to understand that supportive housing does not lead to decreased property values and neither does it lead to increased criminal activity. The government, on its part can help in eliminating barriers by coming up with development regulations in order to overcome spacing requirements barriers that affect group homes as explained earlier. For example, some of these regulations should minimize redundant transportation impact fees, impracticable parking requirements, which may create monetary burdens to supportive housing developers. 

In conclusion, one of the problems affecting modern societies is homelessness. Homelessness is caused by a number of factors such as alcohol usage, drug addiction, urban development, domestic violence and the institutionalization of the mentally challenged. Economic, political, and medical factors also contribute to homelessness. Poverty and high costs of living also contribute highly to homelessness. Since this problem is escalating and since numerous effects are being realized, homelessness needs to be stopped. This can be done using a number of factors such as affordable housing, government intervention and private intervention. In case of affordable housing, programs such as Permanent Independent Living, Transitional Housing and Institutional Discharge Planning should be used to curb this problem. Since some of these solutions are temporary, permanent sustainable solutions should be developed in order to avoid the recurrence of the same problem. The government, through its policies and intervention strategies should also try to end homelessness. Comprehensive planning strategies are particularly helpful as they make sure that the problem of homelessness is dealt with during local city zoning process. Private and Non-governmental organizations, which are known for their good work and effort in this area, should work together with the government because of their good knowledge in this area. The public, on the other hand, should stop hindering efforts of reducing homelessness by working together with the government and other organizations dedicated for this purpose. This ensures that efforts of providing sustainable houses do not delay and that future and current homelessness is curbed.  

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