Some of us just need housing

James Shearer
Spare Change News

Many of you no doubt have been following Spare Change News editor Tom Benner’s three-part series on Housing First, and it has been a good and informative series.

But for me, on a personal and professional level, there are still some things that need to be addressed. No, not by Tom, but by the people who are touting Housing First and this whole five-year plan to end homelessness.

I’m a fan of Housing First; I believe it’s a step in the right direction. However, I don’t know if I buy into this whole ending homelessness in five years thing.

Why? Well, for example … Last week I went to see my housing advocate at a rather successful agency I’ve known for quite sometime. I found what sounded like a great opportunity.

In a few months I could possibly end up in an SRO (single-room occupancy) apartment. You may have to share a kitchen and a bathroom in what can be described as a community living environment. But it beats living in a shelter, and also you don’t lose your homelessness status, so you would still be a top priority for Section 8 or for a low-income apartment.

Cool, right? Now, here’s the catch. Its only requirement is no drinking. Now I know that may not seem like such a bad thing, and it isn’t. But I don’t need substance abuse counseling or a program. I need housing.

While Housing First is a good program and has been quite successful, its main focus seems to be with families and the chronically homeless. We all know about family homelessness. The chronically homeless are those folks who have been on the streets for say 10 or more years, maybe suffer from chronic substance abuse or serious mental health issues, and will need a lot of help when it comes to obtaining and maintaining housing.

While that is true, not all of us suffer from those; a vast majority of the homeless these days suffer from a lack of employment or housing or both, and yet there seems still to be after all these years that tired old myth that we all either smoke crack and/or hear voices. Nothing can be further from the truth, and yet that seems to be a large focus of Housing First.

As far as family homelessness goes, we all know it exists, but so does single adult homelessness. Hundreds of single men and women go through or are homeless every day; why do you think there are more single adult shelters than family shelters combined?

And yet most of the time from politicians, advocates, media types, all you here is about the plight of families living on the streets. Today the vast majority of homeless people are veterans, people being released from prison, and young people being let go from foster homes, the Department of Youth Services, etc.; all single adults.

If Housing First is indeed the answer for ending homelessness, then it needs to be inclusive of everyone, and it is also time to finally accept the fact that not all homeless people are on the street because of a drug problem or due to mental illness. Sometimes, it just happens.

JAMES SHEARER is a co-founder and board president of Spare Change News.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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