Why Haven't We Been Able to Solve the Homeless Problem Yet?
Homelessness continues to be a crisis in many, many communities across the United States. Counting the homeless population is challenging. The situation has resulted in the often-asked question of why haven’t we been able to find more effective and lasting solutions to homelessness as of this time?
Homelessness in America Today
One of the most reliable national estimates of homelessness in the United States is the Point in Time count, which is taken annually over a set period of time across the country. The last fully analyzed Point in Time count resulted in an estimate of the homeless population in the United States at 553,742 people. "Solution to Homeless Problem"
Other data realized from the Point-in-Time count revealed that a majority of homeless people to live in some sort of shelter or transitional housing. 360,867 individuals were estimated to rely on this type of shelter. Nevertheless, an alarming 34 percent of the homeless population, or 192,875 people, attempt to take shelter in locations that are not intended for human habitation. "Solution to Homeless Problem"
Other relevant statistics regarding homelessness in America today warrant reflection:
- 369,081 homeless people are single adults
- 184,661 homeless people are families
- 40,056 homeless people are veterans
- 40,799 homeless people are unaccompanied children and young adults
Historical Lack of Strategic Plans
In recent times, a prime reason why lasting solutions to homelessness have been elusive is the fact that historically there has been a lack of comprehensive strategic plans in the vast majority of communities in the United States. Thanks to an increasing number of public-private partnerships in cities across the country, more vital strategic plans to combat homelessness have come into being or are being developed.
Many of these strategic plans are being crafted via homeless task forces. These task forces bring together a myriad of different stakeholders with an interest in eliminating homelessness in a particular community. Examples of taskforce participants involved in crafting strategic plans to combat homeless include:
- Different local governmental agencies
- Different state-level agencies
- Advocates for the homeless population
- Not-for-profit organizations
- Religious organizations
- Businesses and business leaders
Cost Misconceptions About Permanent Solutions
Another of the reasons why the problem of chronic homelessness persists stems from pervasive misconceptions about the costs of developing and implementing permanent solutions to the problem. A comprehensive study of the costs associated with the homelessness status quo versus implementing permanent supportive housing solutions for the homeless population was eye-opening. Simply, the study revealed that implementing a program of providing homeless people permanent supportive housing solutions is cheaper than the patchwork of temporary solutions oftentimes used today. "Solution to Homeless Problem"
The average annual costs associated with addressing the needs of a single homeless person without a permanent supportive housing solution is between $35,000 to $150,000. This cost analysis includes a consideration of a broad range of expenses that include:
- Shelter use
- Emergency room visits
- Hospital Stays
- Emergency services
- Jail time
Conversely, the costs associated with providing a homeless person permanent supportive housing is between $13,000 and $25,000 annually. The associated supportive services also aid in decreasing costs. For example, with preventative medical care, costly emergency room visits are reduced by about 80 percent.
Dearth in Powerful Advocates for Homeless Population
The homeless population broadly speaking lacks powerful advocates. This is not meant as a derisive comment to those individuals and groups who work tirelessly on behalf of the homeless population. Rather, it is merely a recognition of the reality that when it comes to vying for dollars (public and otherwise) other segments of society have far more powerful advocates.
Despite a dearth in powerful advocates for the homeless population, that shortcoming is less severe in most communities today than it was a decade ago. A growing number of influential individuals, inside government and out, have focused their attention on the homelessness crisis in the United States. This trend is expected to continue into the future, particularly as more communities create homelessness task forces and draw influential individuals and organizations into the service fold. "Solution to Homeless Problem"
Lack of Permanent Supportive Housing Solutions
Even in those communities that have developed strategic plans and come to an understanding that permanent supportive housing solutions are far more cost-effective, there remains a lack in these types of long-term resolutions to the homeless crisis. It is important to keep in mind that these long-term solutions necessarily involve more than just a roof over a previously homeless person’s head. It also includes access to other vital support services that include:
- Accessible preventative healthcare
- Employment counseling and job-finding assistance
- Adult education (including literacy) programs
- Affordable childcare
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development made lofty predictions about a decade ago that chronic homelessness in the United States would be brought under control by this point in time. Those goals established by HUD were not close to being met and remain elusive today.
Having said that, appreciating what is happening in some communities, including a movement to permanent supportive housing solutions, tangible progress in reducing the extent of homelessness in the United States is not fanciful. With partnerships between the public and private sectors, real solutions to the U.S. homelessness problem – community by community – is a possibility.