New approach brings US homeless in from the cold

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, February 6, 2011 6:01 EDT
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WASHINGTON — In the dead of winter last year, after 13 years of wandering the streets and homeless shelters of the US capital, Maureen Brosnahan was given a tiny apartment with no strings attached.

She would no longer have to endure icy nights lying on cardboard and wrapped in blankets and plastic, or huddle with others for protection against the thieves and psychotics who prey on the homeless after dark.

“You always think that something better is going to happen. And for me, this happened,” she says of the 16-room dorm-style building run by Open Arms Housing, a local non-profit that houses homeless women.

“It doesn’t hit you until you’re in for a year or so, and then it’s like, ‘Bam! I’m inside’… You don’t have to go to a church to take a shower.”

The 53-year-old is one of thousands of people across the United States who have been moved into permanent housing in recent years as part of a new approach that supporters believe could end homelessness within a decade.

The “Housing First” strategy calls for identifying people who are most likely to die on the streets — drug addicts, the mentally ill and those with chronic health problems — and immediately moving them into their own flats.

Perhaps the most ambitious program is the 100,000 homes campaign, a nationwide effort first launched in New York that aims to eliminate chronic homelessness by providing homes for 100,000 people by 2013.

Since its formal launch last July the campaign has housed more than 7,200 people, including more than 1,000 in Washington alone, with a 90 percent retention rate.

Under traditional federal housing programs, applicants had to spend years on waiting lists and were barred from housing by drug or other convictions, a process that offered little hope for the most vulnerable.

“The people right now who get subsidized federal housing in DC are people who can wait five, six, seven years… and you have to have an address,” says Linda Kaufman, the East Coast Coordinator of the 100,000 Homes Campaign.

The Housing First approach, by contrast, sees permanent housing and supporting services as prerequisites for curing the other ills that plague the homeless.

“If you’re living on the street, and you’re anxious, you’re drinking maybe a pint of whiskey overnight, because you’re trying to stay awake and trying to stay warm and you don’t want the rats to bite you and you don’t want somebody to beat you up,” Kaufman says.

“You move into an apartment where it’s safe, you may have a couple of beers and fall asleep in front of the TV.”

The government has also come around to the approach, incorporating Housing First into a comprehensive, $1.4 billion program to try to end chronic homelessness by 2015 and family homelessness by 2020.

“We know there are strategies out there that actually work. It’s a matter of committing to those strategies and making sure we keep that momentum going,” says Anthony Love, deputy director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, which brings together 19 federal departments and agencies.

Officials and advocates alike argue that housing the homeless is not only the most humane solution but also the cheapest, since it reduces the cost of emergency medical care and law enforcement.

There are fears, however, that as governments at every level are forced to slash budgets to cope with the lingering economic crisis, the available funding may not match the ambitious goals set by Housing First campaigns.

“There’s just less local money available for housing as state and local budgets have gone down,” says Jeremy Rosen, program director at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

“Ending homeless at this point is really not a mystery in terms of tactics, it’s a question of being able to get the resources.”

Others fear that overly zealous officials will view Housing First as an alternative to emergency shelters at a time when the economic crisis is leaving more newly homeless people, including families, in search of beds.

Of the roughly 650,000 homeless people in America nearly 40 percent live “unsheltered” on the street, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“We’re definitely in favor of putting resources into permanent housing. We just don’t want resources to be pulled out of emergency shelter until there is a drop in demand,” says Andy Silver, an attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

When Washington’s then-mayor Adrian Fenty embraced the Housing First approach in 2008 he also closed a major shelter downtown that had provided 400 beds, pushing dozens of homeless people into an adjacent park.

“They were saying if we put one person in housing we can take away one emergency shelter bed, and that math doesn’t work out,” Silver says.

In the park, just a few blocks from the White House, Blair gathers together the plastic bags and suitcases that have carried all her possessions since she lost her apartment a year ago following her mother’s death.

The 42-year-old and her 68-year-old companion Kathalene — who declined to give their last names out of fear, or perhaps paranoia, of local authorities — spend their days here before heading to a hypothermia shelter in a church basement that opens when the temperature drops below freezing.

“People look at you like you have a disease, like you have a plague,” Blair says.

They will sleep with all of their belongings close by — stealing is a constant fear in the shelters — and they will have to be out by 7:00 am the following morning.

They have never heard of Housing First programs, and they say the shelters are as crowded as ever.

“There are faces I have never seen before,” Kathalene says, before heading off into the darkening cold. “Every night it’s new faces.”

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KSZZWBOXVCTGZT5GGAJLWNK2P4 somebody

    Is this program only for female homeless people?

  • http://thepoliticalbandit.com/ William Cormier

    How much will anyone bet that the GOP will target this program to help end deficit spending? Now that it has more press it’s bound to be heading for the chopping block. I’ve never seen a time when the GOP doesn’t alter every program they can which will inevitably factor in to make people miserable. The Party of NO never could stomach programs that benefit regular citizens rather than Corporate America – watch and see.

  • Anonymous

    Sort of a housing law made out of “Sophie’s Choice”.

  • Anonymous

    This is nothing new. I work in supportive housing (Housing First). This started as a response to San Francisco’s homeless back in the early 2000′s. Our homeless are now offered supportive housing or they can stay in the shelter. Their county welfare benefits go to the housing instead of cash. The county has taken the cash away as it was not enough for rent. If homeless refuse shelter or housing they get nothing.

    BTW- It is working very well. Housing First still has a way to go though.

  • Anonymous

    This is great. The banks take homes away from middle class families and turn them into homeless shelters.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_U4CB4JMBKUBO6NL2RNREZDZUEA Freeky_Fried_Chicken

    This is great – keep it up.

    The crazies should go to crazy housing.

    The remaining filthy bums who pee and poop on public land and badger baby’ mamas for money should be rounded up and placed in human zoos where they must perform tricks for food.

    Alternative lifestyles are fine, but if you wanna live on another man’s tit there is a price.

  • Anonymous

    I’m all for it. Now combine that with REAL government reform that will actually bring jobs back to this country.

    No entity or corporation may own any more than 20 percent of ANY market by city, county, region, state, country or world.

    Any entity or corporation who owns more than 20 percent of ANY market by city, county, region, state, country or world has 5 years from the date of this signing to divest in the entity or corporation. Any subsequent 20 percent violation will require divestment within 2 years.

    Failure of divestment will be punished by dissolution of the corporation and/or government asset seizure of the entity in the form of 100% tax on everything owned by the entity.

    No entity or corporation may exert control over any news entity.

    Anything sold within the United States must be

    A. built as if under the laws of the US including wage law.
    B. taxed accordingly taking into account wage differences between the two countries, cost of environmental damage due to those countries who lack laws to protect the environment as it is protected within the US – including environment damage done during export to the US, and any other cost that competing entities corporations must endure within the US that they can prove in a court of law. In other words, if said item costs a dollar to produce in the US and one penny to produce elsewhere, it shall be taxed 99 cents.

    Suddenly, jobs would be in the US and those jobs would be competing for workers instead of workers competing for jobs. Homelessness for those who want to work would be non-existent almost over night.

  • http://www.myspace.com/dermezel Megaprole

    Few people know this because of the “Liberal Media” but a LOT of homeless people have jobs:

    The connection between impoverished workers and homelessness can be seen in homeless shelters, many of which house significant numbers of full-time wage earners. In 2007, a survey performed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that 17.4% of homeless adults in families were employed while 13% of homeless single adults or unaccompanied youth were employed. In the 2008 report, eleven out of nineteen cities reported an increased in employed homeless people.

    Nobody chooses to be homeless. Homeless people, left to themselves will group together, and build shelters/communities with their bare hands if necessary:




    Lawmakers Visit Huge Homeless Village
    Hundreds Live In Leeward Encampment

    Again nobody chooses to be homeless. If you see someone literally without any shelter at all that means the cops have broken up every tent put up, every campfire, and broken down every plank of wood that guy tried to use to build a home.

    According to the Corporate State it’s not whether or not your willing to work or even able to earn a profit (many homeless people work damn hard to find even 1 hour of shelter, even if that means starting from scratch and building it in the woods with their bare hands) (and many Homeless Villages do create profitable enterprises, like growing and selling rice. )

    It’s all about conformity. They don’t want homeless people making a village or profitable enterprise because then everyone will know that we don’t need these corporations for anything. And then they’d be screwed out of their wage slaves.

    To put it another way, how bad what it look for White Man’s Burden if some Negro Slaves ran their own cotton fields successfully? It would make the whole “I make the Big Bucks for doin’ the Big Thinkin’ ” argument even more obviously obsolete.

  • Anonymous

    I never flagged a comment before, but this is the most insensitive and ignorant thing I’ve read in a long time. If receiving assistance because you are “crazy” constitutes “living on another man’s tit” you better pray to whatever it is you believe in that you or yours never get sick, pal, because then you’ll become one of the “crazies” whose families can no longer cope with and I’m left to try to coax out from behind a dumpster in sub-zero temperatures. In my occupation we call people like you the “temporarily abled.”

  • Guest

    Millions of homes, apartments, and condominiums sit empty while the owners/investors would rather write the loss off as a tax deduction than rent for a discounted price.

  • Anonymous

    Not only would they be losing money with the discounted rent, they would be taking a chance with a person of questionable ability to a) keep paying rent thru the lease term and b) actually care about the rental property.
    Would you rent a place you saved and paid good money for to a homeless person for reduced or $0 rent? Hey, maybe you would, but it’s not ok to imply that it’s wrong for someone else to make a different decision than you would with their own property.

  • Anonymous

    I think there is a difference between building a village out of refuse in the woods on another person’s land and building a skyscraper or house that’s a testament to one’s business success and mankind’s ability to take raw materials and make something majestic.
    And what problem does anyone have with a homeless person starting a profitable enterprise? I don’t see where this has become a problem. I say more power to em! And hey, go ahead and set up your tent somewhere where you have permission to do so. It’s too bad that cops would go tear something down if it has the right to be there!
    I don’t see how this is about conformity or corporations making people believe they are needed. People buying their goods (with no coercion or fraud involved) and making them successful is about all that’s needed to prove a corporation’s worth.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting opinion.
    Suddenly, no one would export anything to the US (it would go elsewhere) and all products would become more expensive here than ever and there would be many items with a price of infinity (as in they would not be available). Your plan makes the pie smaller in the name of ensuring a certain sized slice.
    Not in all countries does it make sense to have identical wage laws. Also, I assume you haven’t considered the possible negative effects on employment that wage laws have, but I could be wrong about that.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/EHJJXSTSSOCXLTSQBUVIDYUF7M Dave

    You have millions of vacant homes and millions of homeless.

    What that indicates is that our market based economy doesn’t work. But thats not surprising because markets are flaky and unstable. It’s a terrible idea to base your economy on them. And the results speak for them selves.

    We need to move to a much more socialistic system that has a much better track record. We need to stop under taxing the rich and redistribute more. Socialism is superior to market economies.

    Countries with a much more socialist economic model are kicking americas butt.

    Legatum Prosperity Index


    – Rankings –

    1) Norway –
    2) Denmark –
    3) Finland –
    4) Australia –
    5) New Zealand –
    6) Sweden –
    7) Canada –
    8) Switzerland –
    9) Netherlands –
    10) U.S.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/EHJJXSTSSOCXLTSQBUVIDYUF7M Dave

    You are wrong again.

    Chomsky speaking on how corporations see profit as less important than stopping the rise of alternative economic examples.


  • Anonymous

    The US buys more crap than ANYONE in the world… if you think that corporations aren’t going to export to the US you’re stupider than you sound – and that’s difficult.

    If corporations decide NOT to pay those taxes to export to the US the void would be filled faster than you can say “ReaganomicsSchmeaganomics”. No corporation in their right mind would want to give up the US market.

    I actually would prefer not having wage laws and once people are in demand instead of jobs then there will be no need.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_U4CB4JMBKUBO6NL2RNREZDZUEA Freeky_Fried_Chicken

    Read it again, bleeding heart.

    It said the crazies should be given assistance.

    The REMAINING ‘chronic homeless’ which are the blight of downtowns nationwide should be rounded up.

    Filthy bums badger and intimidate decent working folk for money, provide cover for other criminals and will shatter a $500 car window for the change in your ashtray.

    Next time you ‘coax one out’, BRING THEM HOME TO LIVE WITH YOU.

    We’ll see how far your sympathy goes.

  • Anonymous

    Guess what, ass**le, I currently have a homeless person sleeping on my couch, and he’s the third in a sequence over three years (the other two I successfully found housing for). I’m sorry (NOT) that the ” crazy” living on our streets offend your delicate sensibilities. Try soaking your head in a bucket of warm, soapy water for no less than ten minutes. It’ll improve the planet for the rest of us.