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What Are The Best Ways to Combat Homelessness?

The best responses from this week's The Big Fix

Flickr/Danielle Scott

This week, we outlined the ways Vancouver and Chicago are endeavoring to "end" homelessness. Both cities employed grand plans to move them toward their goal of getting all resident housed within a decade. How effective are these efforts? In Chicago's case, the city is not much closer to a solution than it was nine years ago. Commenter ChuckLord said that in Atlanta, it has proven difficult to get the homeless to abandon their lives "on the dole." He writes:

We learned in Atlanta that very few "homeless" were willing to give up living "on the dole" (as one put it.) Our church (All Saints Episcopal) ran a shelter program for several years. One day, one of the "clients" spoke to our program leader and told her we were perpetuating keeping druggies and many with mental problems from seeking further assistance because we fed them, provided showers, mail drops, etc. After much discussion with other clients, we closed the shelter and opted to work with men (99% in the shelter were men) who had completed the 12 step program for drug and alcohol abusers. We've met with good success (not great, but good) and acceptance of our graduates has been excellent throughout the community.

The homeless (many mentally challenged, many on drugs and booze) will never conform to the planners' ideas and desires. You may also attract an influx of loafers and just plain "bums" if you're not careful.

Others wondered whether these programs encourage economically-disadvantaged people to move where the programs are best. Nathaniel writes:

The trouble with adding services and shelter to "ending "homelessness" is that it creates a larger demand for homeless people to come to your city. If Vancouver creates a more homeless-friendly environment, it's likely the homeless population will actually increase. I do not mean to imply that Cities shouldn't take up programs aimed at tackling homelessness, but think that Vancouver’s goals are a bit lofty and unobtainable.

Seattle has tried this and is still "sending good money after bad." The only thing public housing demonstrates is "Build it and they will come." 40 years ago when Seattle earned a reputation for "being the place where they pay you to get drunk" I saw bus tickets on bums and winos from all over the USA. The Miami Herald (?) published an editorial advising their bums and winos to go to Seattle.

The same way that housing which allowed homeless persons to actually list an address when applying for jobs has helped with employment, so to does having a reliable phone number increase someone's hireability. I'm trying to find the study that showed how one of the cell phone programs somewhere paid for itself, but alas my google fu is a little weak right now.

ChicagoD raised another issue:

But there is also the issue of mental health, which I believe is a major part of homelessness. Without appropriate services, a housing voucher won't do much for a person legally incapable of making decisions. Sheltering people not legally able to make decisions, but also not a danger to themselves or others is a very tough nut that must be cracked to end homelessness.

And finally, here's Rebecca Wickes with the last word:


About the Author

  • Amanda Erickson is a former senior associate editor at CityLab.