LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Strategy aimed at ending homelessness
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In a recent article, with photo in regard to “homelessness” and the homeless living in a bus shelter, I was struck by the picture. It showed how organized the person who was living in the bus shelter seemed to be. What I saw was what looked like a shelving unit and the person’s belongings organized in “an orderly fashion.” What did I expect? Well, assuming that being homeless implies “chaos,” then certainly a much less orderly appearance of the bus shelter might be expected. In essence, that person had made the bus shelter a “home.” So, what to make of that?
What to make of that is that this homeless person found a tiny home and then suddenly there was less chaos in his/her life. I’m sure that if a homeless person has less chaos in their life, then that is a good thing. A roof over my head, a place to call my own, a place where I can keep all my stuff — “stability.”
So, housing first?
Yes, housing first! Actually, Housing First is the name of a “homelessness strategy” that has existed for quite some time. It has been recognized as an important policy toward ending homelessness by both the Canadian and American governments.
Housing First has been shown to increase housing stability, improve quality of life, improve health and addiction outcomes, reduce involvement with police and the justice system, reduce costs associated with justice system and health expenditures and reduce hospitalizations and emergency visits.
How it works is that the person chooses to agree to a standard lease agreement to housing, as opposed to mandated therapy or services compliance. Or, put another way, acceptance of any services, including treatment or sobriety, is not a requirement for accessing or maintaining housing.
What! No strings attached? Yes, Housing First involves moving people “rapidly from the street or emergency shelters into stable and hopefully, long-term housing.” Once a person has developed stability, he or she is much more likely to then access regular supports. In other words, try to help sort out what has led them to being homeless in the first place.
One important issue is having affordable housing opportunities. An interesting solution some have proposed is building “tiny homes,” or “pop-up communities.” Other housing options such as social housing and supportive housing needs to be developed. The person experiencing homelessness wants or needs to have a “choice.” Housing First can only promote self-sufficiency and then, when that person is ready, they can be able to access the supports that are out there. Then, the focus can be on strengthening and building on the skills and abilities of that person and, based on self-determined goals, could include employment, education, social interaction, improvements to health or other goals that will help to stabilize the person’s situation and lead to self-sufficiency.
Remember, housing first!
But there needs to be a healthy “social infrastructure” in place to help in everything from training and then employing counsellors to offering assistance/loans to those who could build/develop affordable options. We all can have a role in this, right from volunteering or donating, to making sure your local city councillor, MLA or MP has heard from you relating to how you support this issue and how you want them to champion this issue, in essence, proper funding and planning.
Once again, housing first!