A couple days ago the Atlantic Cities published this article about how Phoenix has housed all its homeless veterans. It’s an achievement. Getting homeless individuals into housing is not that easy for various reasons. First, funding is always an issue. There is only so much money to go around, and in the United States social services gets a pittance compared to other programs. Second, the homeless are not an easy population to work with. The majority have mental health and substance abuse issues. We also must take into account the basic issue of trust. This group has been mistreated constantly and forming trust with outsiders is extremely hard.
Can a city end homelessness? As a society, we can take steps to prevent it, but homelessness will always be around. It is an extremely complex issue that cannot be solved by single solution. Multiple solutions are needed.
Lets start with funding. The majority of Phoenix veterans were probably housed through VASH (Veterans Administration Supported Housing). It’s a Section 8 voucher. To qualify for a VASH voucher, the veteran needs to meet certain criteria, such as honorable discharge and length of service. If the individual does not meet the criteria, they do not qualify for the program. Localities can come up with different vouchers and it sounds like Phoenix did, but will the funding be there lets say in 5 years? In New York City, there was the disastrous Advantage program that got many homeless individuals and families housed, but once that program lost its funding all those people ended up on the streets.
Providing adequate social services is another part. The homeless population needs a level of support that normal people do not. They became homeless because they didn’t have the necessary support of family or the government to begin with. Supportive housing is a way to do this. The basic idea of supportive housing is that individuals live in a building that has social service staff on premise. There are all different models. Some are more supportive than others. I hope that the Phoenix veterans are receiving some form of social services because if they do not some may end up back on the streets in a few years then.
Finally society must become more understanding to the plight of the homeless. The reason there are so many mentally ill individuals on the street is the fact that states did not provide services when institualization ended. We closed down these mental institutions (for good reason, many were horrific) and did not have anything to replace them with. Also, a person cannot live on the street for an extended period of time without developing a mental illness in my opinion. Americans need to get over substance abuse. It is a disease as far as I’m concerned. It is part of this country’s puritanical nature to look down at drunks or drug users and that attitude is wrong. We need to get over that aversion and provide services to these individuals.
Homelessness is not a simple issue and as a society we must do our best to address it. The problem is never going to be fully solved. We have to take the effort to help these people because inaction is wrong.