By Benedicta Bonsu
Reading the articles, “Social Factors and Ending Homelessness Around the World,” by Atlanta Mission, and “Dismantling the Harmful, False Narrative that Homelessness Is a Choice” by Urban Wire inspired me to share awareness of what can be done as a society at large, to effectively resolve the homelessness crisis. Both articles leverage social connectedness as a helpful solution to shaping social justice for the present and future. To dismantle the crisis, it is equally important to recognize that homelessness is rooted in a lack of stability in a person’s life foundation and affordable housing.
According to Atlanta Mission, homelessness can be impacted by many social factors such as the inability of rebuilding in life due to reentry into shelters, addiction, family tradgey, job loss, domestic violence, mental illness, etc. Atlanta Mission emphasizes how structural support, such as providing housing, does not fully meet the needs of those experiencing homelessness. The efforts of stabilizing oneself or a family through housing are met with the challenges of loneliness, relapse, and a general lack of connection that results in a cycle of homelessness and poverty. Structural support has been criticized for its lack of focus on community building that would in turn provide the social connectedness needed for stability and a better quality of life. A person experiencing such a crisis can be offered housing; however, without support they will not be able to thrive independently or maintain stability.
In leveraging quality and consistent social support, we enhance the ability for those experiencing homelessness to have stable relationships with those who can address their issues and find effective and practical solutions for a better life outcome. Atlanta Mission reports, “To transition out of homelessness, people need relationships. Social connectedness gives people the support systems to address mental illness, recover from substance abuse, and find purpose in the community.” The strong barrier of isolation becomes addressed when substantial support as referenced above is provided.
The next research by Urban Wire, “Dismantling the Harmful, False Narrative that Homelessness Is a Choice” shared a common belief that homelessness is not by choice, unlike the nation's status quo that tells us that many people experiencing homelessness is only from the result of an urgent affordable housing crisis. Breaking the societal view of what causes homelessness is needed for social connectedness to work. “The idea that people who are homeless choose to live on the street perpetuates the false narrative that unlike other people, they do not need or want stability” (Gourevitch & Cunningham, 2019).
Urban Wire, “Dismantling the Harmful, False Narrative that Homelessness Is a Choice” shares Denver’s efforts to debunk the myth that those experiencing homelessness do not want or need stability through initiating the Denver Supportive Housing Social Bond. Between January 2016 and December 2017, the program offered wraparound services and permanent supportive housing to people experiencing homelessness that were located in Denver, Colorado. They partnered with local partners including the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and the Mental Health Center of Denver. The program’s mission was to provide support to each participant who agreed to the services, whether they were actively in search of help or not. Out of the 363 participants, 90% agreed to housing within six months.
The time frame of the initial meeting and agreement to housing occurred within just six days. The consistent effort of relationship building and services accounted for participants being securely housed. In addition, 81% of participants agreed to begin the housing application. This resulted in a total of 240 people, or 96% of those participating in the program, with approved applications securing a lease for housing. In total, it was recognized that 63% of the 363 participants engaged with the service providers and were referred to join the Denver Supportive Housing Social Bond, also known as the project’s take-up rate. According to Urban Wire,”Dismantling the Harmful, False Narrative that Homlessness Is a Choice”, The strong take-up numbers highlight the desire for housing among Denver’s chronically homeless population, debunking the idea that people would choose homelessness when given the option of permanent supportive housing.
Permanent housing initiatives provide a stepping stone to dismantle the impact of victimization and other adverse conditions that are endured while living on the streets, such as poor health conditions like diabetes and hypothermia, mental illness, substance abuse, and criminalization for being homeless due to trespassing or sleeping in public spaces. Street life is punishing, according to Urban Wire’s research. This adds on additional trauma to a constant cycle and crisis of instability. In more efforts to leverage social connectedness, the service providers of the Denver Social Initiative bond focused on the matters of housing first, while also meeting clients where they are. The program reinforced giving people experiencing homelessness the choice and inclusion without preconditions such as mandatory engagement in services or sobriety to enter supportive permanent housing. It aims to remind those experiencing homelessness that receiving housing is not a reward for them but a stabilizer. The reality of engagement continues to be taken into account to ensure effectiveness of the program. The Denver Social Initiative Bond recognizes that substance abuse and mental health issues can make engagement difficult.
Denver’s program prioritizes the needs of people experiencing homelessness by providing housing first while simultaneously leveraging wraparound services that provide solutions to the many social factors impacting their quality of life. Building trust and rapport is equally seen to be important. Clients largely decided what services they received and also made a choice on finding housing that served their needs, such as a provider-owned building with 24-hour case management staff or a privately-owned unit in a quieter area (Urban Wire).According to Urban Wire, “Not only are people agreeing to housing at a high rate, but they are also staying housed. Two and a half years into the program (as of July 2018), 85 percent of the Denver SIB’s 285 participants remained in housing without exiting the program,” Urban Wire reports. In addition, service providers of Denver's Social Impact Bond leveraged one on one case management and around the clock referral services to participants experiencing homelessness, which included anger management and cooking basics classes.
This leads to an understanding of how dismantling the homelessness crisis starts with two key aspects: investing in those who are better able to voice their needs for what solutions provide stability and keeping a person experiencing homelessness dignity in mind as we lend a helping hand during their crisis.The article ends with a reminder by Takisha Keesee, “I don’t want to make it sound simplistic, but it is pretty simple. You give somebody [experiencing homelessness] that support—that, ‘Hey, I’m here for you if you need.’ It opens doors.”
I hope this article inspires you to be a part of the change in dismantling the homelesness crisis. Check out the resources below:
Beauchamp, B. (2020, July 27). Social Factors and Ending Homelessness Around the World. Atlanta Mission. https://atlantamission.org/social-factors-ending-homelessness-around-world/
Gourevitch, R., & Cunningham, M. K. (2019, March 27). Dismantling the Harmful, False Narrative That Homelessness Is a Choice. Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/dismantling-harmful-false-narrative-homelessness-choice