The morning walk from my apartment to the subway station, a mere quarter-mile commute, is characterized by “good morning” greetings unlike the familiar head nod and smile of my small-town roots.
“Hi there ma’am, can you spare some change?”
“Seventy-five cents or an extra token?”
“Change for a drink?”
And while I unquestionably advocate for supporting our nation’s homeless, the ambush of spare-change questions at every corner makes me slightly doubtful of the Bush Administration’s latest homeless statistics.
According to a recent study conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the total number of homeless Americans declined roughly 12 percent in 2007 compared to 2005 statistics. Even more staggering: the number of chronically homeless individuals, both in shelters and on the street, dropped approximately 30 percent, falling from 175,914 in 2005 to 123,833 in 2007. The result: about a 52,000 decrease in chronically homeless people, defined by HUD as “as an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.” The significant drop in numbers can be largely contributed to the implementation of the “Housing First” policy, where permanent housing resources are more readily available for homeless individuals with mental and physical disabilities and/or drug additions.
While I applaud the Government’s decision to help stabilize these individuals with housing and medical assistance, I can’t help but be concerned with the wellbeing of the remainder of homeless people, including those with families, financially unstable individuals, elderly, etc. In the United States, chronically homeless people account for less than 20 percent of the total homeless population, according to HUD. If correct, what about the other 80-something percent? Where is their free permanent housing and health care resources? Maybe it’s just me, but I think the “Housing First” policy should cover homeless children and families before those with drug addictions.
In a New York Times article, acting director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, a NY-based advocacy group, Michael Stoops says, “We should be focused on ending homelessness for everybody, not just a small segment of the homeless population.”
Although the Administration’s policies to assist chronically homeless individuals seem to be pulling numbers in a positive direction, such a large decrease still seems a little off balance to me considering the current declining economy and foreclosure crisis. In some larger cities total numbers of homeless are actually rising as chronically homeless percentages fall. For example, in New York City the total overall number of homeless individuals increased from 48,154 in 2005 to 50,372 in 2007. It seems to me, efforts should instead be put into creating more affordable housing, which could result in less people, especially families, living on the streets.
By Kathryn Kondracki for Next American City.