Editor’s Note: In response to the last “Ten Things” column, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has written its take on how to deal with this troubling issue.
In July 2009, The Nation published a “Ten Things” piece titled “Ten Things You Need to Know to Live on the Streets.” The provocative and thoughtful piece elicited quite a response. We, however, respectfully disagree with the premise of the piece. Before submitting to the idea that there are things you need to know to live on the streets, we suggest that you consider whether living on the streets is necessary at all.
We’re no strangers to the issue of homelessness–rather, we’re quite well-versed in the subject. Homelessness, as we know, began in the 1980s and has persisted through the decades. Some see it as an inevitable byproduct of a diminishing affordable housing supply, a lack of well-paying jobs, tumult in the economic sector, and both globalization and urbanization. Many see it as an unavoidable social nuisance. Some don’t see it at all. But here, at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, we see it as a problem with a solution.
The causes of homelessness are many and complex–but the solution to homelessness heads toward one straight goal:
Here are ten steps you need to know about–and to take–to end homelessness:
. It’s simple: our problem is homelessness, and this complex, multifaceted problem requires a thoughtful, carefully concerted plan of attack. The most successful plans are built with the input and support of community leaders, elected officials, lawmakers, business leaders, service providers and residents.
Collect and examine the data
. You can’t know what you’re doing until you know what you’re dealing with. Most communities already have a way to count the number of homeless people in the area; some communities also collect information on how people become homeless, how long they stay homeless, how homeless people interact with agencies of care (it’s called HMIS). Examine these data and learn the characteristics specific to their homeless populations–good data will inform which strategies are enacted, how much those strategies will cost, and how the plans can be implemented and carried out.
Strengthen emergency prevention
. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Most communities have in place an emergency homelessness-prevention program–usually including rent, mortgage, and utility assistance; case management; landlord or lender intervention; and other programs that pull people back from the brink of homelessness. By expanding, strengthening and improving access to these emergency prevention services, communities can curtail homelessness when people come precariously close to the edge.