Thursday, July 31, 2008
Surprisingly news from HUD this week is that the number of chronically homeless people fell dramatically from 2005 to 2007, according to the agency. Analysts attribute the success largely to a policy of “housing first,” which focuses on getting homeless people into permanent and stable housing before trying to tackle problems such as mental counseling, drug addiction, etc.
If accurate, the success undermines some preconceptions about the problems of street homelessness. One preconception has been that most homeless people are too socially alienated to be helped for the long run. If homelessness is largely the result of bad personal choices, such as alcoholism, domestic abuse, or other problems, the argument goes, government and social aid wouldn’t work. An opposing preconception is that homelessness is less an issue of housing than of “empowerment.”
It is very difficult, I imagine, to get an accurate count of the number of homeless persons. One problem starts with the definition. Some advocates desire to include within the definition people who are living in very precarious housing conditions, such as in short-term flophouses or in temporary arrangements with relatives. But this kind of near-homelessness is always going to be with us, and certainly is not as big a social concern as chronic homelessness –- that is, people who truly live on the street for long periods of time. Counting these people is obviously problematic. But if the HUD numbers are truly accurate, then the “housing first” policy should be applauded loudly. And we should still appreciate them when the repercussions from the housing debacle pushes the rate back up again …
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