4 Reasons the Script on Ending Homelessness Needs to Be Rewritten

Homelessness has become a social disease in our society. In Los Angeles where I live, it is a disease of fear, insecurity, disappointment, isolation, loneliness, suffering, guilt and shame. Many homeless people also suffer from addiction and mental health issues, for which there is no cure.

For the rest of society, homelessness is a disease of ignorance, emotional bias, and resentment passed down through generations. The slogan of “Not in my backyard” has become socially acceptable, further dehumanizing homeless people and other disadvantaged groups.

I often pray for the time when there is focused collaboration between society, capitalism, philanthropy and government. For now, that is not the “en vogue” thing to do. Many politicians can’t even agree to a day of mourning for the families affected in the terrible shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Instead they choose to focus on who is to blame, which again dehumanizes all those affected. As for the homeless, they remain invisible to many politicians and to society.

But ignoring them will not make the problem go away. It only dehumanizes them further.

Many homeless people have not chosen to live this way. In “Why Are People Homeless? Is it By Choice or Circumstance?” I describe how many homeless people are victims of sexual or physical abuse, which has inflicted trauma and led to substance abuse issues with fear, disappointment, and shame at their core. In addition to genetic factors, this trauma can create mental health conditions such as PTSD and depression. The trauma can also trigger bipolar and borderline personality disorder leading to substance abuse, depression and suicide.

As it stands today, the majority of homeless people experiencing these conditions are left untreated, or the initial treatment they receive is not sustainable. The ones who have the courage to come off the streets and get help in many cases are not able to continue therapy and medication because the government does not have programs for long-term treatment.

At a federal level, Ben Carson in 2017 pledged to “work toward a time when no family is without a home,” even as the Trump Administration called for $7 billion in cuts to the $48.1 billion HUD budget. The cuts included reductions to homeless assistance grants and a cut of nearly $1 billion to Section 8 rental assistance, which was helping about 2.2 million families afford housing.

To my knowledge, a new proposal has not been put forth that will allow for more affordable housing while adding “flexible” dollars to invest in the long-term wellness and mental health of the homeless and the at-risk population of women and children.

Instead the government cites numbers from a 2016 census that indicate homeless numbers are down. Anybody out there buying that one?

In his pledge to fight homelessness, Ben Carson also said, “A man will not beat addiction from a gutter, he will not get psychiatric help underneath a bridge, and will not find a steady job without a steady address.”

I think most people would agree with this statement, but where is the plan to provide long-term care for the homeless so that they can find a steady paying job and afford the “affordable housing”? SAMHSA homeless programs remain flat at 69 for 2019, and Support Services for Veteran Families is stagnant at 340. However, the proposed 2020 budget for HUD is $44.1 billion, which is still lower than the $48.1 billion budget a few years ago.

In California, Governor Newsom recently announced a $214.8 billion spending plan in which $1 billion has been earmarked for cities and counties to attack the homelessness problem. About $250 million is expected to go to LA County. The new budget includes $1.75 billion to build 3.5 million new homes across the state by 2025. The governor has also proposed a new law that requires cities to have a plan for new housing, and if they don’t, he’ll sue them for it. That’s interesting, as voters in Southern California voted for a property tax increase in 2015 to address the homeless population only to see the numbers go up in 2018.

And so, the script continues to play out as homeless numbers continue to rise. The script continues to call for more budget and more taxes, which will provide for more housing and accountability at the local level. Our state and local government leaders continue to believe we can build our way out of this crisis.

But this script needs to be rewritten and redirected. Here’s why:

1. Political ignorance is bliss. State and local government continues to deem long-term solutions as “high barrier,” and cut grant funding for programs such as the St. John’s Foundation in Sacramento, where they are implementing long-term solutions for single mothers that will empower them to grow beyond survival mode. Many politicians shy away from long-term solutions like these because they don’t want to scare off voters who are looking for immediate actions. California’s governor just wants to throw more money at the problem.

2. The numbers do lie. The mayor of Los Angeles proclaims they took nearly 22,000 people off the streets last year. Even with an inaccurate count and not enough volunteers to complete it, the numbers significantly increased in 2018. I’m sure Mayor Garcetti welcomes the $250 million proposed allocation so he can continue to expensively build our way out of the problem here in LA. So far, that hasn’t been working.

3. There is political and emotional bias. Most politicians remain inclined to ignore the research and the facts. Instead they throw out logic and apply emotional bias that feels right and temporarily quiets the masses. More money will not make the problem go away.

4. Human conditioning is at play. Our society has become conditioned to fear homeless people and turn a blind eye. People resist increasing awareness of this condition and ignore requests for funding from politicians, homeless shelters, missions, churches, and food, hygiene and clothing drives. Our fears and our uneducated opinions (bigotry) have prevented and paralyzed us from being willing to listen with the intent to understand. They have stopped us from perhaps even identifying with the underlying core issues of homelessness, such as shame that is rendering people to feeling powerless over their own livelihood and futures.

We need more collaboration on how to solve this crisis and less time finding out who is to blame. As outlined, there are many underlying reasons we arrived at this point with the numbers increasing daily. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach will not solve the problem.

We need solutions that not only change the homeless situation through shelters, life skills and employment opportunities for affordable housing, but also provide for longer-term viable solutions — solutions that are needed by homeless people now and those at risk of being homeless in the future.

Until then, I am left to wonder when real collaboration between society, capitalism, philanthropy, and government will be the en vogue and humane thing to do.

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