WARNING: This Article on Homelessness Might Offend You

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Seattle City Councilman says ‘Housing First’ is Key to Solving Homelessness. But Is That the Answer?


4 Questions That Will Challenge Your Beliefs about the Homeless Crisis

It’s ” a common argument – if we just get homeless people into housing, then we’re solving homelessness. And on a surface level, it makes sense. Homeless means “without a home.” So give them a home, and they’re no longer homeless.
If only it were that simple.
Councilman Tim Burgess wrote a guest column in the Seattle Times in August, 2016, and he argued for a reworking of how we fund the various services that try to help homeless people in Seattle and King County.

He made a number of good points – especially this question:

“Are we investing our resources wisely to achieve the best possible results?”

We agree with his answer to his own question. Not just Seattle, but most of the country is failing to use their resources wisely to truly help people trapped in homelessness.
The problem is – some of Burgess’ own solutions still miss the mark. He says “housing first” should be our top priority, as quickly as possible. Again, this sounds reasonable. But this is actually just another way to spend a ton of money and not see significant change.
At Babysteps Ministry, here’s the question we ask every day with regard to the homeless people we talk with:
What does it really take to get someone off the streets – permanently?
Consider just this partial list of services and giveaways currently available to homeless people:
  • Free emergency shelters
  • Affordable housing
  • Rent assistance
  • Free counseling, for addiction and other struggles
  • Drug rehab
  • Free legal assistance
  • Free bus tickets
  • Free cell phone service
  • Free meals
  • Free water
  • Free blankets
  • Free clothes, shoes, socks, jackets, underwear, pants, and more – often for the same people over and over again
These things are given away on a daily basis to the more than 10,000 homeless people currently living on the streets of Seattle. And yet, there are more homeless people each year.  That should bother you.
Ask yourself:
If I were given all those things for free, what would my life be like?
You might start thinking of how much money you could save, or the new house or car you could buy, or something you’ve been wanting to do but couldn’t afford. That list covers the majority of our lifetime expenses, including the big ones! Except perhaps for college education.
So, we must admit that something is off here, and ask one final question: If homeless people are being given such an astonishing amount of free goods and services – why do they stay homeless?

Why do they stay homeless?

Here’s where we get a little offensive. They stay homeless because they’re not ready for a home.
The Soloist portrays homeless man receiving a free homeA superb movie that dramatizes this perfectly is called The Soloist, starring Jamie Fox and Robert Downey Jr. If you’ve never seen this film, and believe ‘housing first’ is the answer, we challenge you to go watch it. It’s a true story.
Downey plays a reporter who encounters a homeless man (Fox), who is also a musical virtuoso. Downey can’t stand the fact this supremely talented man is on the streets, so he starts doing whatever he can to help the guy, including renting him an apartment for free. How Fox’s character handles this free home – and Downey’s friendship, at first – offers a rare glimpse into the real challenges to truly helping many of the people who are homeless.
For many of them, just giving them homes ultimately solves nothing. If this weren’t true, then why do the ‘one night count’ numbers keep increasing, in spite of all the services and money we’re spending? Clearly – what we’re doing now is not working. And the reason it’s not working isn’t because we aren’t prioritizing “housing first.”
The reason is because the causes of persistent homelessness are far more complicated than a key and a one-bedroom apartment will be able to fix.
Yes – some people are ready to handle a home. And Burgess is correct about this part. Some people end up in homelessness, but are determined not to stay there, and will take advantage of whatever services they can find to get back on their feet. For people like that, many of Burgess’ solutions will work.
But it’s the chronically homeless. The truly destitute. The ones who have lost hope, who are used to being overlooked and ignored. The ones with criminal records and no job skills. These are the people who simply aren’t ready for a home. You give them one, and they will trash it.
But they don’t trash it out of malice or disrespect in every instance. In most cases, it’s simply too much responsibility.

Picture this:

Suppose there’s a person who’s lived for ten years on the street. Ten years. A long time. He gotten free meals, free clothes, and access to free emergency shelters the whole time. Aid and nonprofit workers he visits now and then do everything for him. They make appointments for him. Fill out paperwork he needs. They do everything – even including dialing his phone and handing it back to him to call a particular service.
And now – suddenly – he’s given a whole apartment all to himself.
He has to clean and use his own bathroom.
He has to keep up on his monthly expenses.
He has to buy his own food.
He has to cook his own food.
He has to answer his mail.
He has to make his own appointments.
We can go on forever. The point is – living your own life, even without a job, entails a ton of little minor tasks and responsibilities that YOU don’t even think about. You just do them. Just ask a retired person.
But for someone who’s been trained by the system to have things done for him, for years, he simply cannot be expected to suddenly handle the basic responsibilities that come with having his own place.
And that’s why ‘housing first’ won’t solve homelessness for many people on the streets. They need someone to walk with them. To come alongside them and re-empower them, one step at a time. They need help re-entering life.
They need someone, like Downey’s character ultimately discovers, to be a true friend.
Homelessness can ultimately be boiled down to loneliness and extended isolation, combined with the great variety of hard circumstances that people face. With no one walking alongside them, they detach from human interactions and institutions, and end up on the street alone.
Babysteps Ministry believes in providing this kind of friendship. It’s slower than a huge room full of free meals and blankets. It’s less flashy than huge new affordable housing complexes. It won’t get funded by any massive property tax levies.
But it works – and for the chronically homeless especially – it’s the only thing that really works. It’s helping homeless people take one step at a time, when they really want to take it, to dig a little bit higher out of the hole they’ve fallen into.
Do you want to solve homelessness? It’s not housing first. It’s people first.

Give to Babysteps, and put people first

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62 Responses to "WARNING: This Article on Homelessness Might Offend You"

  1. pete boyd Posted on September 13, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    this is so true , as a former Seattle parks worker it is so heart breaking to see the encampments the same people the mentally ill these people with heavy hearts who are lost.

    • babystepsministry Posted on September 20, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      Yes – It’s important to assess what a person is capable of maintaining before throwing big responsibilities at them. Sometimes a free home isn’t the best gift we can give because it’s just too much to handle.

      • Perry Posted on November 2, 2017 at 5:44 pm

        I am not offended by criticisms of Housing First, but I am offended by people who think that the homeless are just a bunch of lazy takers living an “alternative lifestyle” by sponging off you and me. Nobody wants to be homeless. Nobody says, “I could get a job and hold down an apartment, but I prefer to get freebies from the suckers that work.” First, this blog post completely mischaracterizes Housing First by claiming that it is Housing Only. It’s not. The Housing First model is based on the idea that people need intensive intervention (sometimes even forced intervention) in addition to housing. Housing First has been demonstrated in multiple RCTs to be both cheaper and more effective that other housing models, including yours. Though the homeless population has rampant substance abuse, mental illness is virtually universal among homeless singles. Homeless families face a different set of challenges depending on the antecedents, but still benefit from the Housing First Model.

        Your “ministry” essentially returns us to the days of the moral model of behavioral health. This is why homeless (and related) services should be provided by professionals, not amateurs, who–however well-meaning–bring inaccurate and often harmful misunderstandings about treatment and housing services. It’s great to provide people with mentors and friends. Everybody needs them and the homeless need them more than most. But friends don’t provide treatment, and for every person you help, there are 100, or maybe 1000, for whom amateurs–no matter how caring–do more harm than good. Very sad that misguided groups like this are wasting resources that could be used productively with the right training and education.

        • Babysteps Ministry Posted on November 3, 2017 at 2:33 pm

          Thank you for commenting, Perry. We do not in any way believe the homeless are ‘lazy takers’ who want to be homeless. Though, some do admit they prefer being on the streets to staying in shelters.

          We do, in fact, know a lot of their stories, because we talk to them. The paths to homelessness are many. The most common are family breakdown (like a sudden divorce or death of a loved one), mental illness, drugs, criminal records, lost jobs, and depression. And for many, apathy sets in soon after.

          But you’re right, mental illness is an enormous problem and a major challenge. And, depending on the degree and the type of illness, we also agree that Babysteps is ill-equipped to handle some of those types of people.

          Our approach does not work for all homeless people. If you come to our volunteer training, you’d see how this plays out practically speaking.

          We believe the solution to homeless requires multiple agencies and systems.

          We consider ourselves a ‘front-line’ part of the system.

          With a relationship established, part of our process is to recommend the very services you are advocating to the homeless people we work with.

          Just recently we recommended one man to enter the Fare Start program, for example, which he did and he is doing well there.

          It would do everyone well to figure out how to coordinate the strengths of different groups, rather than insist on a one-size fits all approach and write off all others because they don’t do it our way.

        • Judith Hughes Posted on November 6, 2017 at 9:22 am

          Perry…I worked in a homeless shelter. our building was across the street from other homeless ministries/services. I agree homeless families face a different problem. But your “claim” that “amateurs” often cause more harm than good, needs to be readdressed…You act like you can corner the homeless. You can’t. You act like the homeless want to talk to counselors…they don’t. They do have real mental health issues that needs addresses. But I can tell you if it came down to sharing a bottle of wine versus getting medications from a counselor…they will take that bottle of wine. Reality is the enemy to the homeless. Women, especially young women, are often emotionally tied to an abuser. You do not look at the human truth about the homeless…I couldn’t leave my husband easily…I know those women, no matter how horrible the conditions they live with, would rather be with their counterpart versus getting treatment and bridge housing in a shelter. I know, I had seen it too many times. My mother-in-law would rather be homeless than put up with the horrible abuse she took from her husband. My husband’s homelessness was driven by that horrible home life. It hurts the homeless too much to talk about what is really the issue. I am not condemning you…I just do not see you are really every sitting down and talking to a chronically homeless person. The homeless don’t want to “own” anything because that means responsibility. Homelessness can be drug/alcohol related. Or it can be long time mental health issues. What you or any counselor do not want to do is to get to know the person…

          To be successful you have to build relationships and there are not enough hours in God’s day for any shelter, counselor, social service agency can do to do that. My husband saw Reno Thunder, a friend of his get sober…that put him on his way to sobriety…Please see the documentary about Reno on 7th Street in the East Village…My husband took him down there first. It is going to be that one friend who inspires the person to get sober and housing and medication. I hear your passion. But I think you are looking at the government model which tries to turn their back on what the human spirit really needs. As I mentioned the homeless need, trust, hope and medication. But your way is missing the hope and trust.

  2. Andrea Posted on June 19, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    I never hear of Babystepsministry until just now. As I read this, I am thinking, “This is oh so TRUE” about homelessness becoming a “learning to cop out” process. How can one even grasp that concept without having already seen the consequences of being brought down so low. Just goes to show that I have stumbled upon a site that has done their homework before helping ignorantly. I want to know more about this ministry!

  3. C N Posted on June 22, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    As a former homeless guy myself just on the edge of being there again even though I got help with ssi I always feel I am just one monthly check away from being homeless again. My biggest fear I face is a review board letter from social security deciding there are no more bananas left. I am 56 yrs old with a bad heart but the reason how I got in the system was and is my inability to get a job and keep a job due to depression and mental illness lack of education and skills. Yet, I am considered by many I am talented, a regular genius sometimes and a bit ahead of my time. Like Beethoven, Van Gogh Edgar Allen Poe even Einstein all had what many consider today a form of mental illness. Yet, as we may read about them how many do the less fortunate get pushed aside who may have equal genius in them but nobody cared enough to help or see their potential. The psychologists and Psychiatrists of today study the behaviors of people after they did something wrong. The pat themselves on their back to say they are glad they are not like their patients. We as a culture always are blind to the symptoms and behaviors until it gets out of hand and the crazy homeless guy brings harm to himself or others. Only then will people do something. Usually they just throw them in the prison system followed by mental health system into viscious cycle. Feeding pills to people and only seeing someone for a few minutes a month does not cure the homeless man or woman. Pinning a label from DSM bible and giving a pill for it does not fix anything bur only masks the issues and keeps the phamacuetical and insurance companies happy but the patient is still a mess. So, who do we blame? The homeless guy or woman who holds a sign out feed me or ourselves because our culture has become hardened and wearing blinders to the reality that it is their fault there is something wrong with that homeless guy or girl they’re lazy they’re bums uneducated or something many just place a label and value as refuse of society. Survival of the fittest lets pretend they go away but do our once a year civic duty around xmas time to drop off crap nobody wanted all year and give it to a homeless bum. I have seen it all and lived it. It boils down to individual responsibility and choice.

    • Charles Tyree Posted on September 19, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      Well said. It is also, no labels, one person at a time. Just as every person is different. Every scenario of people being homeless is different. My wife and I were blue collar workers and then we switched to call center type work in our 40’s due to age. Lost our home due to a two year period of Major medical expenses, Car wrecks, and finally loss of employment some of the reasons for that were basically problems of transportation. Another thing I said when thing came to actually being on foot on the streets first time in my family’s history after 30 plus years of being both of hard working citizens… I coined a phrase…”If you don’t have mental illness when you hit the streets it won’t be long before you do” at least major anxiety and/or depression. It was like being banished from society in plain site. You are there, you exist, but you are only a list of labels in peoples minds that they use to justify not helping. Once you are down to a certain level of down, it’s like even the ones that want to do something want do the main thing that helps. Just take time out and listen. Allowing someone to vent no matter how messed up they are will help them to feel someone cares. My wife and I have had each other and Our faith in God. We have been through hell and fell through many cracks in all that list of “free help”. We weren’t drug addicts, we weren’t ex con’s or any record for that matter, I didn’t abuse my wife, and we hit the streets in our 40’s. We ended up even getting an apartment due to going back to college with government loans/grants. We got a 2 year transfer degree, but as we were applying that to a university the paper work got in a SNAFU and they listed us incorrectly as non state residents. By the time we understood how to even fix the problem we were out of time. Even if we’d done everything correctly. We wouldn’t have been able to pay for an appartment and a University level program. So all that was done in our early 50’s. We lost the apartment even after going to court getting an extension. Selling a vehicle to buy some time to try some more. So now we are trying to keep going via a small church that really has no money to even pay the pastors, but we worked 10 months in a volunteer position at their outreach ministry of a warehouse resell kind of thing. Do we struggle with anxiety and depression. Yes unquestionably. My wife has since she was a child. Also some serious medical issues. We have a car that we lived in off and on between friends from church putting us up for x amount of time here and there. After 10 years of all this struggle it has taken a toll on our souls that has both made us stronger and yet dysfunctional in ways I cannot even describe. We are both kind of Jack and Jill of all trades and almost a master of a couple. Anyway, choice is big, and personal responsibility like you said. But I don’t care who you are if you hit a certain level of down you absolutely need a True friend that is an Advocate for you and has the means and the strength to be there for you until you can press through. I meant this to be a short reply LOL This all pulls hard on heart strings for me personally. Even while going through all this we have also done what we were able to do to help others who were less fortunate than us. I am concerned of giving into age, health issues and just plain despair. If not for my wife and my Faith I’d already be dead most likely. God have mercy on all the poor.

  4. Paul Fortier Posted on June 24, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    Your wrote, “Babysteps Ministry believes in providing this kind of friendship. It’s slower than a huge room full of free meals and blankets. It’s less flashy than huge new affordable housing complexes. It won’t get funded by any massive property tax levies.

    But it works – and for the chronically homeless especially – it’s the only thing that really works. It’s helping homeless people take one step at a time, when they really want to take it, to dig a little bit higher out of the hole they’ve fallen into.”

    Please cite some evidence of the success of this approach. Where are the statistics to back up your claims.

    • Perry Posted on November 2, 2017 at 5:45 pm

      Unfortunately, they can’t, because they don’t have any.

      • Babysteps Ministry Posted on November 3, 2017 at 2:22 pm

        Thank you Paul and Perry, but we do. This story is one of our best success stories. Not only did he escape the streets (and is still off of them, six years later), but he led many other homeless people off as well over a two year period using our method of relationship first, help second.


        Data happens one person at a time with our approach. Big charities can claim hundreds housed all at once when they open a new shelter. But permanent change is much harder to prove. Many homeless people go in and out of shelters, year after year. Sure, they have a place to “live,” but is anything changing?

        We’ve seen little data most other programs work either, compared to the costs. Do you have any?

  5. Donna Mae Baukat Posted on June 24, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    I’m happy to find this article about whether unsheltered and chronic homelessness is the answer through Housing First programs. In many efforts to find resources and provisions for them homeless population, so little is written about hot o supply provisions for those living without a shelter. Here in Durango, Colorado, the City Council is taking action by supporting projects to build affordable and transition housing to the Homeless.

    Many organizations feed the Homeless and the poor, yet homelessness does not seem to diminish. Where there are jobs, those who are employable find themselves moving out of homelessness. What about those in that population who are wealthier-worn by living outside in makeshift camps, abandon buildings and cars, and on the street?

    In recent years, homeless persons have been found dead by freezing temperatures. One life lost to bitter cold conditions in national forests and desert areas is one too many. It is why I’ve designed a sleep gear that could make living outside a bit more comfortable–perhaps life-saving. It is my hope and dream that this can help but a few.

    Yet, I am in a quandary as to how to get these distributed across the country when the goal for the majority of homeless organizations is “housing first”? Isn’t there a need for provisions needed when camping in areas so remote as San Juan National Forest (the largest national forest in America)? If I were to offer them to soup kitchens and local social services, they’d most likely misunderstand my intentions. Such as: am I encouraging homelessness; or, those people are used to the outdoors in any climate; or, they won’t appreciate it if you just give it to them.

    My idea is not to give it out. Work-to-earn programs are a lot more respectable because it gives the person hope with dignity and the provisions helping them to be sustained where they live. I’m crowd funding at the moment, hoping that by November I could have a few hundred made. Sure would help to know whether protective gear for winter’s bitter cold is necessary for the chronic homeless population.

  6. John Crane Posted on June 28, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    I’m a very unusual homeless person that is not understood. I want a free piece of land to homestead. Is Redmond doing this? I’ve slept in my van 7 years & have a $341/mo storage. I came here in 1989 from Buffalo, NY with my ex boyfriend in his Volkswagen bus with my cat & loved it.The idea was always land. I want to stay in my van for now I just want some place preferably near a stream in woods. I want to set up my potbelly stove again and have animals & garden. I would take a cheaper apt. to save money on my 10×20 storage unit and I’d stay there sometimes. I had a 20×40 mobile home in Newcastle for 20 years then in the crash of 2007 the land went to a bank in foreclosure & I couldn’t move it off. My garden I moved to a friends yard – perennials & shrubs & trees. I also note there is another lock on my storage from Public Storage. They locked me out for 20 days now for using electric & shutting my door to practice my classical piano in there. I’m looking for an attorney before they illegally auction my antiques.

  7. Michael Posted on June 28, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    Your perception is way off. Try having the same conversation with me. http://www.crowdrise.com/americanhomelessunited

  8. Diane Addison Posted on June 29, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    The other problem with Housing First is that sometimes people are moved into housing that they have no hope of affording once their short subsidy ends. Then they often end up back on the streets.

    • Susan W. Morrison Posted on November 6, 2017 at 11:45 am

      True. The housing solution needs to be permanent, or you hold out false hope.

  9. Deb Posted on July 1, 2017 at 5:48 am

    The less you have the harder you have to work to survive. Painting all members of any group with the same brush at best is irresponsible and at worst dehumanizes every member of that group. Nothing is “free,” not even for people who have no homes. Your article is a prime example of the cost paid by the poor for every aspect of what is necessary for survival: tapdancing like a marionette on strings for self-righteous people like the writer of this article and the organization that posted it. There but for the grace of god go you.

    • Glenn Shellhouse Posted on September 7, 2017 at 5:14 pm

      Deb is right. I do street outreach to house homeless veterans. I’ve inducted over 100 men women and children into a housing first program. My job is a continual learning process; the most indelible thing I’ve learned that people experiencing homelessness are as different and varied as everyone else–no two stories are exactly alike. The Baby Steps knock on Housing First is not based on date, science or reality; it’s driven by the feeling–and fear–that all that wonderful “free” stuff will subsidize and incentivize homelessness. They are dead wrong. For the vast majority of people being homeless is a hellish condition–no amount of free food or clothing changes that. The “safety net” is all but non-existent. Yes, they do need someone to walk with them, but they need housing first.

      The article is not offensive, but it is disappointing. From my perspective the author(s) do not truly understand the true dynamics of how and why people become homeless.

  10. Michael Schwing Posted on July 1, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Actually Hosuing First is far more than just handing someone keys to an apartment and saying “Ta-Da!, You’re no longer homeless. Praise God!” Housing First has what is called “Wrap around services”. These services can be mental health, medical, psychological, training on and connection to personal services. Classes on Life Skills are generally necessary to stay in such housing. Case management is required. Medication cannot be required as these are usually federally funded programs. Any agency using HUD funding cannot require medication. Midtown in Indianapolis got me my current apartment. They are a mental health organization. But I do not take medication for my supposed bipolar. I live in a Hpousing First apartment in Indianapolis run by Partners in Housing.

    • Tess Posted on November 12, 2017 at 12:34 pm

      For me, case management has been absolutely essential in addition to mental health treatment. When I ended up homeless, I was dealing with a lot of trauma in addition to bipolar, and I frequently wasn’t thinking straight. I couldn’t always focus on what all I needed to do, and stuff would get lost when it was just me. Someone who could keep more focus on what I needed to do than I could at the time was a huge help.

      I didn’t specifically get housing through Housing First, but I was fortunate enough to get into a high-barrier shelter and then get help from them to get things moving forward. Getting the services I needed is why I’m able to move forward with my life.

  11. Christian Brunner Posted on July 5, 2017 at 7:52 am

    Hopefully I’m not too offensive when I say this article is gravely mistaken. For some reasons (not enough research, maybe?), the writer missed a crucial element of Housing First: the services rendered after housing placement. The solution for the chronically homeless person is called Permanent Supportive Housing or PSH, with the emphasis on “supportive”. That means that social workers visit the now housed person regularly (and that could be daily in the beginning) to work with them on all the points made in the article (hygiene, nutrition, community inclusion, work (if possible), harm reduction etc. etc.) The goal is to lead the person to some level of self-sufficiency.
    Data has shown for decades now that these goals are attained more easily, quicker – and therefore cheaper – in the safety of one’s own home. As long as the person is exposed to the dangers and stresses of homelessness, it is virtually impossible to get to that point, which is why the “Housing Ready” model failed so miserably. All it did was maintaining homelessness.
    Of course, there are folks for who that support is still not enough (advanced age, serious mental or physical illness). But they need to be placed into institutional settings (e.g. nursing homes), not kept homeless in the hopes that they will one day “make it”.
    Christian Brunner
    Director of Program Evaluation
    Pine Street Inn, Boston

  12. August Posted on July 11, 2017 at 10:27 am

    My wife rents nine apartment to homeless veterans with HUD-VASH housing vouchers for the last six years; all are working, thriving, and she’s had not one problem with any of them. What a bunch of great men. Before being housed they suffered for years in horrifying prison-like hell-holes Mr. Burgess runs. This man is pure evil.

  13. Andrea Posted on July 17, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    But the answer is not to keep people homeless. This blog, like many, generalizes all homeless individuals as the person represented in The Soloist. If anything, one should look at the multifsctorial experience leading to homelessness and not assume everyone fits in the category described here. It is wonderful to have such a ministry, but understand the danger of criticizing the push toward housing as life on the streer is not a walk in the park. Services should be changed to be more cost effective. Individuals should be supported in life skills development meeting them where they are, person-centered to identify what specific barriers they face. Taking away housing opportunities is not the solution….supported housing, incorporation of occupational therapy services geared toward an individual’s strengths and values….this would be a start.

  14. pat Posted on July 18, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    first having money /a job and then being told how to look for a place they can afford–doing the research themselves. They may need to discuss what they have found with a ‘counselor” but make the choice themselves. They may need help filling out an application, and following up with the prospective landlord. The more they can do on their own, the less dependent they are. They can take small steps to being in charge of thie own life again. Help finding places to shop, and community sources for food and healthcare are more things they need to learn. A ‘counselor” or guide can help them move toward independence. Maybe even a goup home would be a help.

    • Tess Posted on November 12, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      That doesn’t work.

      I could never have held down a job until I had some kind of stable housing and sufficient care (in my case, mental health care and a case manager to help me keep myself focused on tasks), and this is true of the vast majority of homeless people. It’s hard to think straight, much less set out to do a bunch of tasks like you would if you had normal housing.

      Approaches like yours are basically why there are so many homeless people. If you want more homeless people, and then you want to go around blaming us all on our moral failure, you go right ahead. But you have no idea what you’re talking about.

  15. Lucy Wilson Posted on July 19, 2017 at 6:18 am

    This entire piece is based on a gross misrepresentation of the Housing First model. It is NOT throwing someone into housing, wishing them luck, and washing our hands of any further responsibility. Programs that are successful in implementing Housing First provide extensive, client-centered wraparound services to assist in the transition from homelessness to housing. Communities across the country have demonstrated that Housing First is a fiscally responsible solution for addressing chronic homelessness – providing housing and services is significantly more cost-effective than the “astonishing amount” of “giveaways” you refer to above. There are many reasons why people remain homeless, and in most cases it is not because “they’re not ready for a home” as you claim. I would encourage you to become more informed about what Housing First actually means.

  16. Samuel Bazaldua Posted on July 20, 2017 at 7:22 am

    After working and contributing over 40 years in Seattle Tacoma area I now find myself homeless. I’m homeless in San Diego. In order to qualify for general relief GR assistance I have to complete 3 8 hour days of work for Balboa Park maintenance and complete 20 job searches a month. I think this works great in screening out and determining who should be considered for housing first. It shows you are making an active effort to restore yourself. There are also a lot of participants that crap out and argue with the workers and quit the program
    How many more millions do you need to waste hand holding the chronic. I have been a taxpaying legal American for many years and this pavement is hurting my back..

    • babystepsministry Posted on July 25, 2017 at 2:42 pm

      Samuel – Thanks for commenting.
      I’m sorry to hear that you’re homeless and I hope that you will soon see some relief. It sounds like you’re working hard to get there! You are correct that these requirements “screen out” people who aren’t ready. They are daunting requirements that many people can’t meet. At Babysteps, we believe it’s very important to take small steps (which is why we’re called Babysteps Ministry). Small steps lead to small successes, which quickly add up to bigger steps and successes until finally someone may feel ready to take on the task of maintaining a home. Housing First may be great for people who can handle all those requirements, but for most, it is just too much to handle all at once.
      Thanks again!

  17. Simone Posted on July 20, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Here in Los Angeles, we are focused on the “Housing First” model, but couple that with the supportive services that will assist a chronic homeless person to adjust with their new life–even if it takes years. Which it probably will.

  18. Darling Posted on July 24, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    Hence, the value of Peer Support Specialists. 💕

    • babystepsministry Posted on July 25, 2017 at 2:34 pm

      Hello – The name “Peer Support Specialist” sounds very important if “Housing First” is the priority. Can you provide a bit more detail (for our readers) on what that is?
      One thing that we talk about often is the problem of a hierarchical relationship between the homeless person and a case manager / counselor / PO / etc… The importance of real relationship (without any power struggle) must be stressed in order for any person’s relational needs to be met. Would you say that this Peer Support Specialist could provide that? Or, is there an intrinsic level of power or authority at play?
      Thanks for commenting!

      • Tess Posted on November 12, 2017 at 12:50 pm

        Peer Support Specialists are people who have prior personal experience with mental illness and/or substance abuse and are in recovery. They provide encouragement and model positive outcomes by demonstrating that they did it themselves. They help their peer identify personal goals and modest steps toward achieving them.

        It’s often provided in the same context as clinical and/or case management folks, but the point of a peer support specialist is that they aren’t someone who is an expert or who tells you what to do, just someone who listens to what you want to do and someone who is on your side through everything.

        There is no hierarchical relationship, it’s just someone who tries to connect with you. So yes, Peer Support Specialists provide exactly what you’re talking about.

  19. Brenda Kay Posted on July 25, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    This is total BS. I am struggling to stay OFF of the streets as an 55 year old recent graduate with a degree in Communications. I have been a homeless student since Jan 2012 when the 2008 recession took my employment of 8 years and my unemployment ran out. I have couch surfed and slept in my car and my story has been told in the news but I cannot find a place to stay for more than 6 mos at a time, sometimes 3 mos to do anything but focus on my studies. I will soon write a book. I suffer with depression (as a result) and arthritis and have struggled to stay afloat. I can’t get help at shelters cuz I have no children. I am constantly focused on a temporary roof over my head while keeping my grades up and getting in more debt just to pay these high rents in the bay area in peoples homes who only want your money but don’t want you to utilize the room your are renting. They want you gone. Out of the home. Not using electricity, re fridge, etc. My story has been told in the news and I struggle with making progress cuz people have helped me but when I keep having to move with small increments of time it’s discouraging, but I keep pushing. I have been on lists for affordable housing but they are lottery type and I a person who can pay bills (once employed) can’t seem to get a space of my own so that I can seek employment while continuing my studies and not have to worry about moving to the next couch, packing up my things or continue to pay for a storage to hang onto what belongings to me that are important because I cannot bring or keep them in my car or a rented room, that I now cannot afford or need the headache of those that are USING you as opposed to wanting to truly help. I am clear no one owes me anything. I see how it is easy to lose hope for the homeless and fall into that systemic bullshit trap. I don’t use drugs, I even made the dean’s list but struggle with getting the stability back that I need so desperately so that I can seek employment, get off SSI and continue with seeking my education. I know I am not the only one. I am very in touch with the fact that I am 1 step away from sleeping in the streets. Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying.

  20. Brenda Kay Posted on July 25, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    I have been homeless since 2010 however when my unemployment rant out and schools said I couldn’t receive financial aid to return to school because I made too much money the year before on unemployment. I lived on GOD’s grace and mercy with NO INCOME until I had no record of income the previous years until I was able to finally get financial aid to help with school as the job market was still unavailable to displaced workers. That’s what I am. A displaced worker, now a career homeless student. It’s made me stronger but some says I wonder how long that strength will remain. I have busted my ass just to get this far. I am praying the blessing is around the corner but I don’t see it yet. I guess that is where faith comes in. But for every “no” i receive, it waivers.

  21. Brenda Kay Posted on July 25, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    I apologize for the long run-on sentences. I didn’t proofread my first entry as I was venting more than anything and later discovered that I could not “edit” my entries.

    • ScooterLibbey Posted on August 4, 2017 at 6:49 pm

      Brenda, best of luck in completing your education. I also went back to uni to get a masters degree following the termination of a job – in mid-life years, BTW. For the first 9 months of the program, I slept in my car (no dependents) and spent my days either in the classroom, library, or school computer lab. Soon found a “student job” to fund my meager, low-cost (but uncomfortable) lifestyle until graduation. Later on found a good job.
      Believe me, I remember those dark nights of the soul and wondering why try to go on. But you are doing the right thing – just keep moving, keep on keeping on! The insensitive world does not see your struggles (in truth, we would not want other people to know), but the Angels of Heaven are watching you strive and are cheering you on, though we neither hear or see them. Stay mentally and physically active in the daytime. Though the curtains of depression descend on you each evening with the going down of the sun, remember that your weeping shall endure only for a night – a brief season of life – but joy will come to you one fine sunny morning. God keep you safe by His Angels, and bless you, and prosper you. Please keep us informed of your progress with the schooling, job search, and looking for a home, as you will be – and are at this present time – a blessing to many.

    • Susan W. Morrison Posted on November 6, 2017 at 11:59 am

      Brenda: Once you get your degree, get the heck out of the Bay Area! Move someplace where you can get a job and rents are reasonable. I do hope you are studying to join a profession that has high demand for workers.Many degrees that colleges offer are what i call “academic snake oil.” They’re not worth the trouble and expense.

  22. August Posted on August 5, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Of course, no mention of all the FREE MONEY Babysteps Ministry gets…

    • babystepsministry Posted on August 18, 2017 at 3:39 pm

      Imagine a world with no non-profits. Think of all the great work around the world that wouldn’t be done. Is that a world you would want to live in?
      The people we serve are very grateful to our donors. Without them, we would not be able to feed anyone or build relationships with them. Nor would we be able to train more people to go out and successfully start conversations with the homeless of our city. We’re out there on the ground helping and our donors have made that possible.
      Thanks for commenting!

  23. Peter Dybing Posted on August 7, 2017 at 7:02 am

    What this piece misses is that intensive Case Management is a guiding principle of Housing First programs. The very thing they recommend is what is happening in these programs across the nation. Working in the field I see every day how profound a difference Housing First programs make.

    • babystepsministry Posted on August 18, 2017 at 3:29 pm

      We do hope that these Case Management services are helping. However, if you have a moment, consider reading through our blog “Don’t Kill Your Landlord” (found here: http://babystepsministry.org/dont-kill-your-landlord/).
      Unfortunately, when Case Managers are brought into the scene, they can and do help – to an extent. But, do they meet our foundational need of real relationship? Is someone who wants to kill their landlord going to call their Case Manager? Their Parole Officer? Likely not. Likely, they’re going to call a friend. And, sadly, many street friends/family are going to say, “Yeah, do it! That jerk deserves it!” (Or, at the very least, they might not always try to talk him out of it.) But when someone forms a real relationship with our Babysteps team (or someone in a similar capacity in other cities), they have someone that they can really trust to give sound advise without judgement or repercussions.
      Also – we just received an email from someone in another state that is very anxious about an approved “housing first” facility that will house formerly homeless people (fresh from the streets) to live with no on-site management and no case management beyond what they are already receiving for services. She was very concerned about this facility because it is extremely close to a school and many children would have to walk by the facility alone each day. (Please note, I am not speaking to the validity of her concern, only stating the fact that she is concerned about the stated plans for that facility.) Unfortunately, not all programs offer the assistance you are a part of.
      Thanks for commenting!

  24. rbak923 Posted on August 8, 2017 at 10:48 am

    It is hard for someone worried about freezing to death, staying cool on extremely hot summer days, getting a good nice sleep, or worrying about whether or not they will have their stuff taken inside a homeless shelter (if they can even manage to find one that isn’t full) to even begin to think about getting into assistance programs that can eventually help them off the streets.

    But I agree with this article about one thing – people trying to get off the streets need strong social support networks, such as those that can be found in churches, to have a good chance of success at re-integrating into society.

    • babystepsministry Posted on August 18, 2017 at 3:15 pm

      Thanks for sharing. You hit on a lot of topics here…
      In response to “if they can even manage to find [a shelter] that isn’t full” – Did you happen to read the Seattle Times article about this topic? You can find it here: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/some-shelter-beds-go-empty-even-right-next-to-seattles-jungle-encampment/. It features a specific homeless shelter in the SODO district that is never full. Unfortunately, this is a common experience of other organizations as well. Oftentimes, our homeless friends just aren’t interested in the rules, regulations, and expectations placed on them to live in a shelter or other housing option so they refuse the service.
      This is one primary reason we argue that relationship needs to come first. It’s amazing the types of uncomfortable situations we humans will live with to avoid the perceived uncomfortable situation we might have to go through to get out of it. Empowering relationships can help us to overcome this innate desire to just stay put rather than walk out of the uncomfortable into the unknown.

  25. James Posted on August 9, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    You obviously do not understand all what entails housing first. It is not just a home. It also providing supportive services, that teach people how to identify access needed resources for themselves. You sited a Hollywood movie based on a true story to make your claim. How about some peer reviewed scholarly articles to back up your theory. Providing housing alone saves, thousands in the long run from massive decrease in providing emergency services to these folks. Would you rather spend more tax dollars on emergency services, or less and provide housing?

  26. Cori Cooper Posted on August 11, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    I’m wondering where all these magical freebies are. We’re 2 weeks away from being homeless due to a job loss (JUST found a new job, but I won’t have the funds to save us from eviction in time) and every agency I’ve contacted for rent assistance has been completely unable to help due to a lack of funding. So– there are a lot of organizations who SAY they do things, but few seem to actually do so

    • babystepsministry Posted on August 18, 2017 at 3:01 pm

      Hi Cori,
      Thanks for sharing your story. Your situation sounds very frustrating. Rent assistance programs have always been in high demand and, unfortunately, a lot of people find that there is no preventative help for them because most assistance programs only help unless the individual/family is currently IN a shelter. And even then, this gets very expensive so organizations are unable to help everyone.
      You may have already tried, but 211 (http://win211.org/) is a good resource. Hopefully they can help you find what you need to hold you over until the job kicks in.

  27. Miriam Pacheco Posted on September 12, 2017 at 7:38 am

    WOW!!! I have worked with homeless individuals for 30 years and I have seen the movie you referenced in your Blog but never really stepped back until now and thought about how housing someone who has been chronically homeless impacts the person. I think there are times that we get caught up in what we think a person should or should not have according to our beliefs that we steam ahead and leave the person we are to assist behind. I think the system really needs to slow down and look at all the complexities of homelessness before forging ahead. Thank you for this reminder, I wasn’t offended at all, but was helped to remember the real mission in this work!


  28. Charles Tyree Posted on September 19, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    I left a long reply to a fellow person who’s been through it. My wife and I are still fighting it. Our story is actually fairly unusual among the people who have fought as long as we. Too long to explain in a little place like this. One thing the general population that knows nothing about it does to make things worse is constantly insisting Job, Job, Job, Job you are just lazy blah blah blah. Most never care enough to take the time to find out number 1) How are you supposed to be able to do this without the resources to do it. In that list of “Free” services and stuff it sounds like there’s just this wonderful awesome amount of help available. No not really. Try to get in a shelter that takes in a married couple. By the Grace of God we actually did find one, But we had to sleep in different beds for a year. Think of the pain of that if you are a real loving couple. 2) Think of being an employer and looking at a resume or job application and seeing the word shelter or homeless on the part about Residence. Most Homeless are abandoned by family and friends very soon, due to many fears and lack of understanding it. We met and helped a developmentally challenge man in a Salvation Army shelter. He actually did get housing in an apartment. Okay so the government office that provided this is not responsible I guess for checking into the fact that for This case for this man to be successful in following all the rules will also mean needing someone to pretty much either live with him or check in on him with actual help about every 3 days. We did what we could do while living in a van trying to find a place to park at night near any public bathroom. Some Times I think I should write a book about our experiences to just educate people who care enough to want to know what you can do to help besides swiping a debit card every Christmas for some feeding program. It takes housing, transportation, and money and a companion and usually this is 2 to 3 years steadily just plain loving that person or couple regardless of their various issues they are trying to overcome. That unfortunately is the rare person with such a heart, and in my experience it is usually someone like my wife and I who have the heart but not the financial means to carry it out. IT is ONE PERSON AT A TIME and every person or couple is different just like all people are.

  29. Mike Posted on September 29, 2017 at 8:38 am

    As a peer advocate, I agree with your presupposition, but not your proposition. Its not that our peers are “not ready” whatever that means, because I would argue, however you defnie “not ready for a home” you would find, most housed peoples also fit the criteria, thus its not a measure of whether or not “being ready” has anything to do with “being able” to stay housed. You would find also, too many folks without housing, ready and able to keep a home, but without access.

    It is not either or, but what is being missed by those on both sides of this issue, is an integral aproach that provides access, as well as whatever support and preperation, and accountability may be needed to address the complicated intersecting and diverse issues our peers on the streets face that lead to their homelessness, and keep them homeless for much longer then they should or need to be. For this requires a strategic, holistic, and PEER RUN alternative to all top down paradigms, be they service oriented, faith based, or otherwise.

    Peers need to be put in charge of our struggle, our voices, leadership, and solutions respected. The fundamental reason homeless peoples do not stay in housing when provided housing is not being “unready” for housing, but not having a positive or healthy relationship to housing. The single greatest factor leading to homelessness is fleeing abusive homes, it makes sense then, folks who have been betrayed by their very loved ones in a home setting, may not just not know how, but phisically cannot emotionally and psychologically navigate what it means to make a home.

    many may quite simply, not want to, and they need support as well, they need spaces to go, infrastructures to make survival on the streets in some sort of dignity and safety a possibility. we need to stop criminalizing those who are homeless, regardless of the reasons they are homeless. and we need to support peer leadership in developing direct action solutions, like small peer run group homes, where peers can support one anothers recovery, and diverse peer run homes can be developed to address particular focused needs, like for survivors of abuse, folks with addiction and mental illnesses, folks displaced due to war or environmental crisis, etc.

    Whether you believe in providing free support or “prepering” people for being housed, both are equally bad, if you don’t center those being served, and give them the power and access to resources. If your theories of how to solve homelessness, are used to silence those you claim to be serving, then you are not people centered, but idol centered, worshipping your own ideas and ideals, and putting them first, before people.

    • Babysteps Ministry Posted on October 6, 2017 at 10:17 am

      Hi Mike, thank you for the comment.

      I think you and us are in agreement on more than this one blog post may make it seem. We completely believe in the peer support approach as a means to help people escape homelessness for the long term. We call that relational discipleship, but it’s the same basic idea of what you’re talking about. In fact, we have an eBook we just released that tells a story about how well this approach works, given the right conditions.

      It’s about how one homeless man who met and built relationships with our team ended up turning around and working with hundreds of other homeless people over a period of a few years.

      He took our principles and worked with people, where they were at, and helped them take steps to change. Our goal in this article isn’t to argue for “preparing” people to be housed, though I can see how it might seem that way. We believe in using a relational approach. That’s the foundation of everything we do.

      You can find the eBook here: http://babystepsministry.org/homeless-story-ebook/

  30. bdavis Posted on October 15, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    I have a brilliant Idea, when someone who is homeless comes to a case worker for help the case worker listens to the client and finds out from the client what type of services would meet their needs. The big problem we have in social services is the assumption that they want what we have. The idea that free water and second hand underwear is making life on the streets to good to leave is ridicules.
    Fact is yes, someone who is on the street for 10 years might need peer support, then again I housed a drunk who has been on the street for 18+years, he has been in public housing now for 4 months. Once in housing he quite drinking in excess and is volunteering now. Instead of trying to predict what will happen its time we listen and start from there. Everyone is different.

    • Babysteps Ministry Posted on November 3, 2017 at 2:05 pm

      Great comment – thanks for stating it so clearly with a real example. There are way too many assumptions in the system, and you hit on a big one. What does each person really want? We can’t know unless we listen.

  31. Kellie Posted on October 17, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    Okay, I’m not offended, I just disagree. I also can’t see how a Hollywood film should convince me of anything. Movies are not real, did you know that? Even if based on a true story, they are mostly fictionalized and this particular film is just one story about one homeless person. Wow, imagine that! You also assume all homeless people are the same. They’re not. There are many different types of people, all homeless for different reasons. Sure, some cannot be helped no matter what, but many can. There are temporarily homeless people and there are long term homeless. There are homeless people with mental health problems and homeless who don’t have those problems. There are homeless drug addicts and homeless non-drug users. And yes, I totally get it: Christians don’t want to give handouts, they want to give a hand-up. Because giving people free stuff is supposedly enabling them and not really Biblical. That’s fine if you believe that, but why do you ask for donations to support what amounts to just giving people counseling? They hypocrisy of this is also overwhelming. You don’t want to give “free stuff’ because it doesn’t really help people, then why are you asking for money also? Take your own advice and learn to work hard for what you want. Get a second job to support your ministry if you really need money for it. Fair enough? I’m not opposed to your ministry but you shouldn’t be asking for money for it, when you yourself don’t want to give “handouts”. And sure, most non profits do ask for money, but they are actually providing real, tangible services for people – flu shots for kids, food, shelter, clothing, etcetera. So it makes sense that they need money. What do you need money for?

    • Babysteps Ministry Posted on November 3, 2017 at 2:12 pm

      Thank you for the comment Kellie. If you take a look at the rest of our site, you’ll see that our budget needs are indeed very small, for the reasons you’ve given.

      However, we do give food to the homeless on Saturdays, and this has a substantial cost. It also costs money to coordinate volunteers and just make things happen. And our second level discipleship program has additional costs, because of the time required for each homeless person who enters it. As more donors give, more homeless people will receive long term and ongoing help to eventually get off the streets.

      Thanks for asking.

  32. robin Posted on October 26, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    I think rather than Housing First it should be “Housing AND”…Rehabilitative support, peer mentors, housing, mental health interventions, vocational rehab and a host of other services that mitigate the circumstances by which one might become homeless. Housing First implies that people are on the street simply because they couldn’t pay the rent. Its both simplistic and naive.

    • Babysteps Ministry Posted on November 3, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      Thank you Robin, we agree. ‘Housing First’ is simplistic and naive. It takes a combination of a lot of things like the ones you’ve listed – all of which cost a lot of money and require expertise that simply doesn’t exist in enough people. There aren’t enough case managers to adequately handle the demand – even if there was enough money to pay them. Not enough qualified people exist who could and would do this work – in part because the turnover rate is so high because the work is so hard.

  33. WARREN WEST Posted on November 3, 2017 at 4:21 pm


    • babystepsministry Posted on November 6, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      It is getting cold and I sure hope you find something soon!
      The easiest suggestion is to try calling 211 (it should work to just dial those three numbers and hit “send” – if that doesn’t work, try 800-621-4636 M-F 8am-6pm). They have a wealth of resources at their fingertips and can provide you with a list of services you might qualify for.

  34. Judith Hughes Posted on November 6, 2017 at 8:51 am

    Hi…I have always had a heart for the homeless. People too often do not realize, that even buying something as simple as a coffee pot can become an over-whelming mental health issue for them. I know because my husband was once homeless…in NYC…in the Bowery before the Bowery was needed as a high rent district. His mother died from tuberculosis in the Women’s Shelter and is buried on Hart’s Island.

    I am looking at a not for profit that would help with those baby steps you talk about. My home has been affected by what homelessness is. My husband was homeless for years. What my husband did not have was hope, trust, and medication. You may laugh about this truth. The homeless are often tender hearts who need medication. Maybe instead of looking at ending homelessness, looking at shelters as having group homes to give people a chance to learn how to hope, trust, and take medication. My husband suffered from severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD from his childhood. When he lost his business…he spiraled. For two years he dealt with alcoholism in his homelessness. Sobriety, though, had been a lifetime issue. It is those baby steps that led him to a life again. The homeless do not want to be seen. They feel they are the leftovers of society. We started to talk about this years ago. We started with our baby steps to. We would take in homeless for two days a year…Christmas Eve and Christmas day, to be part of a family during an important holiday. They became a part of our family. Some moved on to the next shelter, the next town, others though, started to look at life as not too bad. We need to reset the memories of love and happiness.

    Again, maybe it will be a group home and not a home. Maybe they will get on with their lives. My husband, who lost everything, did pass on from cancer this last year. But, he was not longer condemning himself for his failures, but looking at his successes. This is how he left homelessness.

    • babystepsministry Posted on November 6, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      Judith – Thank you so much for this story of hope! Yes, it does “sound funny” to hear that they need hope, trust, and medication, but in many cases you are very correct! Sometimes the hardest baby step is to get up each morning and take a little pill…and that baby step may be all they can do in one day, but it is a success worth celebrating.
      I’m not sure where you’re writing from, but if you let me know, I can refer you to organizations that I come across.
      Thanks for commenting and sharing your story.

  35. Darene Posted on November 20, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    The problem is rents, along with everything else, groceries, gas, necessities, increasing all the time and our wages not increasing, employers not paying their employees what they deserve and making all sorts of excuses not to. Every six months, I notice a huge difference in what I can afford at the grocery store where I’m down to skipping dinner and only buying stuff for lunch and my employer is not giving us little people, the grant workers, any increases in our wages. And in the next couple of months, I will have my annual rent increase. This is the problem.

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