Homelessness is a problem in the United States, but a problem with a solution. We lack only the future vision to see the options and mostly the will to implement the solutions.
I live in Seattle, Washington, and we have many people experiencing homelessness. Most end up in tents in various nooks and crannies of the city. This creates significant problems for everyone. For years, the political system has basically thrown up its hands at the problem – variously trying enhanced social programs, tiny house developments, sporadic enforcement and camp removals, and so on.
But there are likely solutions. Here are two, one from Canada and one involving housing law in the U.S. First, in a recent study done in Vancouver BC by the New Leaf Project, 115 people who had become homeless in the previous two years and met certain other criteria such as low risk of substance abuse were selected for a randomized trial. 50 were given $7500, deposited in a bank account, and told they could do whatever they wanted with the money. All 115 subjects were provided with workshops and coaching programs to help with developing life skills and plans. They were then followed for a year.
The result? Those who received the cash moved into stable housing more quickly, developed financial stability, decreased spending on drugs, tobacco and alcohol while increasing spending on rent, clothes and food. The sample is small but it’s not really rocket science is it? People without homes are often in that situation because… well because they don’t have the money for a home.
Second, a U.S. specific solution is hidden within a little known statute amended to a federal public housing law in 1937, something called the Faircloth Amendment to the Fair Housing Act. This amendment prohibits any net increase in federal public housing units. It is quite astonishing that this provision has stood for 84 years while the U.S. population has increased by two and a-half times and the problem of homelessness has become acute. Yes, federal housing projects have historically had problems but a fresh look at this options seems warranted.
These are two solutions waiting for the will to implement them. They will not be sufficient to deal with all the ways that mental illness and drug addiction contribute to homelessness, but they could go a long way to creating a different future of homelessness.