Helping the Helpless
P1. Our country faces an epidemic of chronic homelessness and our attempts to solve it have failed. Although our government streams about 1.18 billion dollars to Continuum of Care, the governments solution to help the homeless, approximately 170,000 people are still considered homeless according to Shawn Moulton. The numbers are disproportionate and point directly towards the governments inability to accurately identify the problem says Bornstein. Our chronically homeless are fighting the battle of substance addiction and mental illness and because of these battles, they are not capable of sustaining the support being provided to them. We all bear some cost with this misplacement of funds but our homeless are hung out to dry.
P2. Its cleat after viewing the data presented by David Bornstein and a few others that the money from our government is wasted by building houses and trying to create jobs for those who mentally cannot sustain them. It has long been the philosophy of our country that those who are homeless must first prove themselves worthy of government assistance. What’s flawed here is that those who need government assistance often do not have the necessary tools to prove such a thing. Not only do they not possess the necessary tools, but they require government assistance to start building upon those tools. Where does this leave them? In an empty paradox of miscommunication. A freshman in college is not asked to take the MCAT due to the fact that they have not yet had time to take the required classes. So why ask someone who is homeless to behave a specific way without providing them the tools or information to do so. I consider this philosophy to be extremely counterintuitive. It is not only beliefs and thoughts that support my argument as there are also several studies that back up my claim.
P3. Bornstein studied the correlation between those who are chronically homeless and head injury, his results were astonishing. According to his study discussed in “The Effect of Traumatic Brain Injury on the Health of Homeless People,” 53% of all chronic homeless suffered some level of traumatic brain injury. For 70% of those who suffered brain injury, they suffered it before becoming homeless. It is likely that in most circumstances, their brain injury was a leading factor in their homelessness. A second statistic noted by Cottrell in his article “The Role of Societal Norms in Shaping Mental Health Care Responses to Chronic Homelessness,” is one derived directly from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It states that an estimated 26.2% of homeless adults receiving shelter services have a serious mental illness and 34.7 % have a substance abuse disorder. These different studies reflect each other very well. With such a large portion of the chronically homeless suffering traumatic brain injuries, it only makes sense that these same people are suffering from mental disabilities or substance abuse disorders. So if the government is completely missing the target when it comes to funding, where does their funding go and how could it be better spent?
P4. Based upon Shawn Moulton’s article, funding from the federal government is all over the place. Moulton wrote “The C of C system includes three competitively funded homeless assistance programs. In 2005, $1.18 billion of federal funds were distributed through local C of C systems to the Supportive Housing Program (SHP) (73%), the Shelter Plus Care (SPC) Program (25.7%), and the Section 8 Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Program (1.3%).” Similar to most encounters with the government, that was a lot of acronyms and percentages so let me brake it down. The Supportive Housing Program also known as the SHP received 73% of the federal funding towards homelessness. That totals out to be about 863 million dollars which is then separated into another 5 subsections. (For simplicity reasons, I will just explain what the funding goes instead of explaining each subsection.) About 23.4% of the $863 million goes to longterm/permanent housing along with supportive services to homeless with disabilities. 35.3% of the funding goes to temporary 24 month housing to assist homeless in the transition from homeless to a place for them to live.
P5. Next is the Shelter Plus Program or the SPC. This receives about 304 million dollars to provide housing and supportive services to those with substance abuse disorders, mental illness, or HIV/AIDS. A major flaw with this program is that it does not directly provide housing but gives rental assistance that can be used at sponsored locations. The second thing I would like to point out is that even though a whopping 60.9% of chronically homeless have either a mental disability or an alcohol addiction, they are only receiving about 25.7% of federal aid under this program. The numbers just do not add up. Finally, the Single Room Occupancy Program or SRO receives 1.3% of the federal aid fund. The $15 million they receive is used to provide renovations to nonprofit and public housing along with assist in paying rent (Moulton).
P6. Now take a step back and just absorb that information. About 319 million dollars exists within the government to assist the homeless that must be used indirectly. Most would agree that trying to get help from the government is anything but easy. Trying to correct a tax return error or even dealing with the DMV requires red tape to be cut and hoops to be jumped through. How can those who are mentally ill or struggle with substance addictions navigate through the web of government? The answer is simple. They can’t, and those kind of complications are what prevents the homeless from receiving the aid they require. But imagine if that $319 million was put towards building longterm homes for the homeless. It’s as direct and simple as it sounds. If someone is homeless, they show up at the house. A room will be provided for as long as necessary until the said person has picked themselves up onto their feet. Many argue that this would be way to expensive but that is just not the truth.
P7. In his article, Moulton referenced another study which stated that $16,281 is saved on average when a homeless person is provided housing. This is possible because while homeless, the average homeless person that is mentally ill uses about $40,451 in services such as the emergency room or food kitchens while it would only cost $17,277 to house that same person. Providing that person housing would prevent them from being exposed to the elements while also providing a place for them to store any required medications prescribed by doctors so they aren’t lost. Those two factors alone would save substantial amounts of money within the medical system.
P8. As we speak, their is an epidemic of chronic homelessness. David Bornstein soon realized that our plague stems from a complete misunderstanding the issue of mental illness and substance abuse. The government assumes that since the money is allocated to help, that it does so. The truth of the matter is, the system is too complicated for those who are mentally ill or addicted to alcohol to figure out. Until this is completely understood, the issue will remain. Thankfully, a few groups such as “Common Ground” and “Housing First” have taken the initiative to change the chronic homeless epidemic and it is with these groups that I will leave my faith.
Bornstein, David. “A Plan to Make Homelessness History.” Https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/20/a-plan-to-make-homelessness-history/. N.p., 20 Dec. 2010. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.
Bornstein, David. “The Street-Level Solution.” Https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/24/the-street-level-solution/?_r=0. N.p., 24 Dec. 2010. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.
Cottrell, Marc. “The Role of Societal Norms in Shaping Mental Health Care Responses to Chronic Homelessness.” Order No. 3533439 Adler School of Professional Psychology, 2012. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 28 Jan. 2017.
Moulton, Shawn. “Does Increased Funding for Homeless Programs Reduce Chronic Homelessness?” Southern Economic Journal 79.3 (2013): 600-20. ProQuest. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.
MPH, Stephen W. Hwang MD, Angela Colantonio PhD OT Reg, Shirley Chiu MA, George Tolomiczenko PhD MPH, Alex Kiss PhD, Laura Cowan BScN, and Donald A. Redelmeier MD MSHSR. “Stephen W. Hwang MD MPH.” The Effect of Traumatic Brain Injury on the Health of Homeless People. N.p., 07 Oct. 2008. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.