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Hot or Not? – Homelessness in America

September 29, 2011

According to a report by CBS news former foster children have surpassed veterans as the number one group in California’s homeless shelters.  Reading this shocking statistic got me to thinking about the compartmentalization of our homelessness service system, in particular as it relates to funding.  Funding trends on all levels – federal, state and local – are often led by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  As one of the most significant funders of housing and supports for homeless individuals and families, the priorities set by HUD often have a much wider ranging impact on how other funders choose to direct their money.  Because housing and services to help people exit homelessness have been woefully underfunded, those who make the decisions regarding how to direct what resources have been made available are forced to prioritize certain populations over others.  In my experience, at any given time there is a particular population that is “in”, to whom resources get directed until a new group eventually takes over as the hot homeless population of the day.  For the last several years, the focus has been on the chronically homeless – single adults who have been homeless for long periods of time who generally are experiencing mental illness, often co-occurring with substance abuse.  This subgroup is one of the more visible homeless populations and HUD funding for new programs shifted dramatically towards this subgroup at the exclusion of many others, including homeless youth who are unlikely to meet the definition of chronically homeless.

With the United States having been actively engaged in two wars over the last decade, the emphasis is now shifting to veterans.  Examples of this trend abound including the explicit prioritization of veterans in the past two rounds of  McKinney-Vento funding.  Current negotiations in Congress over funding for various homeless programs leave most homeless funding flat with the exception of increases to VASH vouchers for veterans.  The problem with this scenario however is obviously not that veterans will receive more services – as such services are badly needed – but that it comes at the expense of other groups such as homeless youth.  Instead we should be increasing supports to ALL homeless populations whether they be old or young, veterans or civilians, families or individuals, mentally ill or just down on their luck.  Research and experience has helped the larger homeless serving community to identify programs that work – permanent supportive housing, THP-Plus, rapid re-housing, etc.  It’s time to stop pitting one vulnerable population against another and give everyone the opportunity to have a safe, stable and supportive place to live.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Irma permalink
    October 5, 2011 7:03 pm

    As we say in ebonics Debbie, you ain’t said nothing but a mouthful!

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