Where Do We Go From Here?
Our country is in the midst of crisis. Homelessness has become one of the most divisive problems facing communities nationwide. In cities of all sizes stakeholders are polarized. Street homelessness in on the rise.
Communities are struggling controversial policy dilemmas – to allow camping, or not? How much to invest in life saving services vs long term solutions? Who qualifies for services? Stay the course with traditional housing models or seek new ones. And the list goes on.
We need focus, leadership, and creativity to devise short and long term strategies.
Despite the current frustration and concern, I see this as opportunity for real change. An opportunity to reach a tipping point toward improvements to our collective, national response to homelessness that is as comprehensive and multi-faceted as the issue itself. Let’s remember homelessness is not a life sentence but a circumstance that for those on the streets need not be permanent.
Let’s get over the idea that there is a one-size-fits-all solution. And let’s concede that no solution will reach 100% consensus.
Let’s be realistic that our approach towards addressing homelessness has to fall somewhere in the middle with the right mix of resources, expectation, and sustainability. We need to look for where we can find common ground – the 80% of agreement vs the 20% of deal breakers.
We must start with true human connection and appreciation. We need to accept responsibility – not as individuals, single cities or even states – but a whole nation. The old days of “not in my backyard” or these people aren’t “our homeless” are numbered.
Homelessness is a symptom of many systemic failures – a symptom of systemic failures in healthcare, education, child welfare and criminal justice. And, sadly, there is one failure more striking than the rest – homelessness is the physical embodiment of our loss of community.
This can be changed. To gain traction on solutions to homelessness we can re-instate a community that believes in the power and potential of all of its stakeholders.
So, where do we go from here?
We build coalitions around common goals – This begins with understanding the needs and wants of who we are trying to help – people experiencing homelessness. Then creates clear and effective ways to tap into the enlightened self-interest of the community at large – the businesses who need shoppers to thrive, the property owners who want to keep their tenants happy and investments protected, the advocates who want to see basic human needs met, policy makers who want balance.
When we start with common goals – even if motivated from different points of view – we can achieve more. Such goals include a robust housing continuum that accommodates diverse populations so people need not sleep on the street; and employment opportunities that include people in our economy and keep our streets vibrant.
This is not just the work of service providers or policy makers. This work must be shared by our entire community. We need more housing innovators, we need more landlords, we need businesses to offer jobs and opportunities.
We need to believe more is possible than the status quo – why can’t we create different types of housing? Congregate living builds community and 20% less expensive than traditional units; tiny homes are quick and also cheap. For too long we have relied solely on federal funds and vouchers. When it comes to addressing homelessness we must look beyond and “either/or” mindset and embrace the “and”. We must constantly remind ourselves of the diversity of those who experience homelessness and, therefore, the need for a range of solutions.
We need to put our resources to work – quickly – Like any crisis we need to act fast and be flexible. While money has been allocated for housing in many communities, it is not being spent at a rate that is fast enough to keep pace with the need. Money alone cannot solve homelessness if we only have one model that is slow and only serves a fraction of the population. Other resources related to economic development, supportive services like behavioral health services need to be funded and leveraged as well. Bricks and mortar it not enough.
We remember that humanity must be at the core of all we do. – Homelessness will truly be ended one person at a time.
In 2020, each city across the nation has the opportunity to take proactive approach to addressing homelessness.
We need real, thoughtful conversations about what’s working and what is not. We need to look at this problem for the complex one it is re-think our strategies. We also need to create ways for the community at large to participate in solutions. We not only need a community that accepts responsibility for solving this problem, but ways to integrate all stakeholders. We all have something to gain.