We’ve all seen them before; even though referring to “them” as such somehow detracts from the fact that they’re just as much human as we are. They live behind the stores we shop at, under the bridges we drive over, and on the street corners we eat near. Often times they’re out of sight out of mind, but with homelessness becoming a growing issue in the United States, we’re often confronted with the uncomfortable reality that despite being a wealthy nation, there are still millions either living on the street, or are just one crisis away from finding themselves so.
It’s an uncomfortable issue to face. We have a whole host of social programs our tax dollars fund to alleviate the issue. Homeless shelters exist, housing subsidies can reduce financial burdens, and yet, many still struggle with homelessness. Clearly, a disconnect exists. But so do potential solutions.
One idea that has merit is the Housing First approach. It flips the traditional approaches by getting someone into a safe, secure housing environment (like a no-frills apartment) and then addressing the issues that are contributing to their homelessness through case management and counseling services. According to The National Alliance to End Homelessness, “A central tenet of the Housing First approach is that social services to enhance individual and family well-being can be more effective when people are in their own home.”
To be fair, it’s an idea that can seem counterintuitive. Aren’t we enabling this kind of behavior by just giving away free housing? Examples from the chronically homeless (like the Million Dollar Murray) suggest otherwise. The social service and health care costs from these cases can cost a community hundreds of thousands of dollars, far more than the cost of a basic rent and counseling services to help someone off the street and back on their feet.
But at the end of the today, it’s just that: An idea. It may not be a one-size-fits-all solution for each community, but perhaps some of the underlying principles are sound enough that it might offer a general direction for how to tackle the issue of homelessness once and for all. Which is why it’s worth reading and considering, because our current strategies are lacking, and leave many people behind stores, under bridges, and on street corners for yet another night.