Homelessness is an Issue
Statements like, "they are just lazy”, are sometimes used to describe people who are homeless. These kinds of hasty remarks are deplorable because those, who think this way, could also become homeless for reasons not related to laziness, which can allow someone to reflect on themselves. There are many components that may contribute to homelessness, such as drug abuse, mental health, joblessness, or the lack of resources. These factors along with homelessness all feed into each other like a negative feedback loop, making a person feel stuck and hopeless. A YouTube channel, Yes Theory, epitomizes the struggle of homelessness and emphasizes how much life should be appreciated. In one its video, people are challenged to live for 24-hours either on the streets without any money or in the Nevada desert without any clothes. While these challenges can be entertaining, they can also be very humbling and illuminating. So, what is the most appropriate course of action for combating homelessness? And are programs that are focused on it genuinely helping? As a multifactorial problem, homelessness could be combated more effectively 1) by debunking the negative perspectives of homelessness and becoming more cognizant of each homeless person’s individual story and 2) by implementing other strategies at a government level, such as the one that Finland currently uses.
In East Boston, there is a well-known homeless man, who is in his 60s or 70s, smells quite poorly, has no shoes, and, for the past ~30 or so years, has been seen proudly pushing a cart all throughout the city. Many people have tried to help him by offering him money, and food but he without hesitation declines. Because of this, there are many speculations or stories about this man. While some believe that he has mental health issues, others think he may be rich but decides to live a very, very simply life. However, out of all the many people that I have seen offer him help, no one has ever asked him about his story and about the reasons that contributed to his homelessness. This is a prime example of how our system and its programs fail. It disregards the person’s story and circumstances that lead them to homelessness and therefore it fails to see the person as an individual. Providing money, food, and shelter is helpful, but without also targeting the other aspects of a person’s life, it is only a temporary fix.
As a son of immigrant parents, I have become aware that many immigrants view homelessness in a negative perspective. Like many others, my parents came to the United States, for a better life. They started with very little and worked very hard to not only assimilate into the American culture, but to also obtain gain and keep everything they have now, such as shelter and food. Since many immigrants can accomplish this despite being undocumented, it is not surprising that some perceive those, who are homeless and have citizenship, as being lazy and not working hard enough. However, this perspective is superficial and does not take into consideration the individual or the many reasons that lead them into homelessness.
These perspectives fail to understand some of the reasons that could eventually lead to homelessness, such as drug abuse, mental health issues, physical disabilities, joblessness of no fault of their own, like in a pandemic. Many people and “successful” immigrants do not see this side of the coin. Some may argue that it is the fault of the drug addict for choosing to take drugs; however, this ignorantly fails to recognize the real contributing factors, such as a person’s genetic predisposition to addictive behaviors or their attempt to inadvertently treat an underlying mental health issue. Maybe they need therapy or other non-addictive medications. This way of thinking also fails to acknowledge that opioids are overprescribed for less severe symptoms and that later leads into an addiction. In this case, whose fault is it really?
In Boston, Massachusetts Avenue – better known as, Mass Ave, usually has a high concentration of homeless people, who are drug addicts. This is the case because Boston Medical Center and other nearby programs heavily assist by providing shelter, counseling, and even Narcan to patients dealing with drug abuse. However, it became an issue because of the increase in crime and the increased risk of getting hit by a car because of their close proximity to the highway. Therefore, Boston has recently pushed a lot of this homeless population to other areas. But instead of pushing them away, Boston could have done a better job at decreasing homelessness by trying harder to treat the mental health issues, drug abuse etc.
"In 2003, HUD (Housing and Urban Development) committed to ending chronic homelessness in 10 years," which was not achieved (Moulton). The HUD said they would try to eliminate homelessness in 10 years while the whole homelessness situation is barely changing. Many people have chronic homelessness in places like Boston and Los Angeles, and the government is not doing enough to combat this issue. The United States government currently has the HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), which "many programs serve people experiencing homelessness through health care, behavioral health care and human services" (HHS). The HHS also provides housing to those in need. If the company is doing so much to help end homelessness, why is it still a problem? Maybe it is because there is still more to be done!
Currently, Section 8 of the HUD gives vouchers to eligible people, and it gives a break for those having a difficult time paying their rent. However, there is only so much state aid to go around, and many are left out. The resources of the government are limited. In 2006, "the average annual cost of service for the chronically homeless" was around $44,733; thus, if the government provided housing, it would be more cost-effective rather than pouring millions to billions of dollars into programs that might work.
The United States should implement other strategies for combating homelessness. For example, Finland was able to make homelessness virtually zero. It did this by utilizing two methods of combating homelessness. In the first method, like many other Nordic countries, Finland uses the "staircase approach." The "staircase approach" is essentially a reward system of sorts and is more about "users move from one level of accommodation to the next by meeting treatment goals" (Shinn). This approach does exceptionally well for those dealing with substance abuse (Tainio and Fredricksson, 2009: 188). Finland's second method is providing temporary homes. The thought process that has led Finland to do this is that many people deal with problems besides needing a place to stay. When a person is given a home, they can focus on their lives and other issues. The effectiveness of the second method can be shown through data, with homelessness being around 18,000 in 1987 to 6,500 people in 2017 (Shinn). Because of this, Finland is known world-wide for not only ending homelessness but also providing relief to the other components that contribute to it.
Given this, In Does Increased Funding for Homeless Programs Reduced Chronic Homelessness?, Shawn Moulton claims that there is no empirical evidence to resolute that providing housing units to the chronically homeless will end homelessness for the chronically homeless. Conversely, in How Finland Ended Homelessness, the opposite is proven. Although houses were given to those in dire need, there is also empirical data to support the hard work that Finland has fought to accomplish.