Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Reality Check for Committees to End Homelessness

Here in Seattle, the group in charge of our "Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness" is called the Committee to End Homelessness. Other areas of the U.S. have their own Ten Year Plans and their own Committees. Whatever they are called in other cities, these are equal realities across the country:

  1. There are more people homeless now than when all the "Ten Year Plans" to end homelessness began.

  2. More of the people with the most severe problems are ending up out on the street late at night when all the shelters are full.

  3. More people are dying outside, homeless and without shelter, every year.

  4. Violence against homeless people is increasing.

  5. With all the new low-cost housing created, three times as much is lost to redevelopment and condo conversions. We have a net loss.

  6. The wealth gap is widening, the middle class is vanishing like buffalo, job insecurity has become the new norm.

  7. Health care costs keep rising, along with the numbers of people who can’t afford health insurance.

  8. At a Roots of Poverty conference I attended years ago, incarceration was identified as one of the roots of poverty, and to this day, nothing has changed. The U.S. has the highest number of people incarcerated than any other country in the rest of the world, and it’s giving Communist Red China a run for the money for the world record. We’ve already got their official numbers beat. Let’s see if we can beat their unofficial numbers!

  9. Our social fabric is cut to shreds. Lack, or loss, of a social network is the most basic reason a housed person becomes a “homeless person.” The lack, or loss, of a sense of community, of responsibility to our neighbor whatever her religion, politics, or even personality, is the basic reason the black hole of homelessness exists for her to fall into.

  10. Respect for human dignity is at an all-time low. The homeless person who is at the bottom of the housing market is also at the bottom of the clothing market, and he doesn’t go naked, does he? No. THAT would offend our morality.
Forty years ago, people had problems. We had alcoholics, drug addicts, mental illness, domestic violence, people with physical disabilities and severe illnesses who were not able to work, people getting out of prison, people getting out of the hospital, people getting out of foster care – all of the reasons given for why people are homeless today. We had a fraction of the numbers of homeless people that we have today.

What has happened over the last forty years?

  1. The real income (purchasing power) of 60% of our population has gone down.

  2. The federal government has invested less and less money in housing. Since 1996 they've spent $0.

  3. In private housing development, developers seek the most profit out of every square inch of real estate, resulting in the continual destruction of low-cost housing in order to put up high-cost housing.

  4. The cost of health care has continued to rise, while less and less of the population have any form of health insurance.

  5. The numbers of homeless people have skyrocketed.

  6. The stigma of homelessness was created. Unemployment insurance was won by a campaign of working people and out-of-work, often homeless people, allied. Most housed people at that time had no problem seeing themselves in the shoes of someone who was homeless. Now “homeless” is a separate class, and homeless people are to be treated differently than anyone else is treated.

What happened in the last forty years was, we created homelessness. In order to end it, we have to reverse what we did to create it.

So far, none of the Ten Year Plans are doing that.

This is part 3 of my speech at the Washington State Coalition for the Homeless Conference, May 2007. The whole sequence is:
  1. The Pothole Analogy
  2. A Word to the Housed
  3. Reality Check for Committees to End Homelessness
  4. Ending Homelessness: for real