Historians will probably describe what happened in our country this year as unprecedented, historic, extraordinary, perhaps even bizarre.
How will historians document 2017’s trends and issues regarding our country’s homelessness issue? Here is my top ten list:
TEN: A United Nations report documents extreme poverty in the USA. We typically think of “third world” countries when we examine abject poverty in the world. A recent U.N. report, however, looked at homelessness and poverty in America, dispelling the myth that poverty only occurs in under-developed nations. Of course, anyone who took a stroll through downtown Los Angeles’s “skid row” neighborhood would think they were in some impoverished nation, other than the USA.
NINE: Homelessness increased in West Coast cities. Is the myth true that everyone homeless in America wants to come to the mild-weathered West Coast? Despite that homelessness increased slightly in our country last year – according to a federal homeless count – cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, and Sacramento showed large increases. In fact, the states of California and Washington are home to nearly a third of this nation’s homeless population. Is the myth true? (Or perhaps it might be the runaway cost of housing in these expensive regions.)
EIGHT: Homelessness is no longer an inner-city issue. The stereotypical image of a person who is homeless is that inebriated-looking man standing on a gritty urban city street. But wealthy suburban counties are waking up to the fact that homelessness is increasing in their secluded neighborhoods. Just look at the counties of Santa Clara (Silicon Valley) and Orange (just south of Los Angeles), both have encountered numerical increases in homelessness.
SEVEN: Ten-Year Homeless Plans are outdated. More than 15 years ago, the federal government initiated an ambitious goal of ending homelessness within ten years. Cities and Counties jumped at the dream of resolving homelessness by creating “white paper” homeless plans. But just like shopping malls today, these plans are not relevant to a changing nation. Instead of plans, most cities just need more resources for housing and services.
SIX: Shelters are back! For years transitional housing and shelters were blamed for the growing problem of homelessness in this country, as if providing a bed, instead of an apartment, is the reason for someone becoming homeless. But after significant increases in homelessness, city leaders are once again considering tents, shelters, parking lots, and sanctioned encampments as solutions to homelessness– for example, San Diego’s new homeless tents, or a declaration of a homeless shelter crisis by Los Angeles.
FIVE: Taxpayers are willing to tax themselves to address homelessness. Most people hate new taxes, but when homeless encampments propped up in neighborhoods outside of downtown areas, residents voted to increase housing and services through taxes. In Los Angeles County, a sales tax increase will fund $355 million of services per year, and more and more communities want to replicate Santa Clara County’s increased property tax that raised nearly $1 billion to build housing.
FOUR: Barriers to housing and services become more prevalent. As affordable housing and more homeless services become a priority in cities across this country, stakeholders are pushing back at the thought of new housing and services for people who are homeless. Ironically, these same stakeholders are clamoring to rid homelessness from their neighborhoods.
THREE: Charities are bracing for reduced donations. The new federal tax reform bill has its winners and losers. With the doubling of standard deductions, more people will not have a need for a charitable giving tax deduction. That could mean less donations to homeless charities that rely on these tax-saving donations to provide services and housing. Will people donate because of the cause, rather than a need for a tax deduction?
TWO: Threats to federal entitlement programs are looming. With the federal budget debt projected to increase by more than a trillion dollars in a decade, some federal leaders are talking about cuts (or limits) in programs that provide subsidized health care, housing vouchers, and even Social Security. If these programs are reduced, homelessness will clearly increase.
ONE: “Housing First” is still the solution to ending a community’s homelessness. New Jersey reduced homelessness by more than 50% in the past decade. They attribute it to getting their homeless population into apartments with support services, what is known as “Housing First”. Cities, like Kansas City and Pittsburgh, credit “Housing First” for their ending of Veterans homelessness. Los Angeles County uses this housing approach to house its most sick people who are homeless and using the county healthcare system. Although the Housing First approach has its critics, no one can deny that providing a real home for someone who is homeless just makes sense.