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?

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4 Questions That Will Challenge Your Beliefs about the Homeless Crisis

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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?
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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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25 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.

  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.

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

    Hello,
    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.
    Thanks

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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!

  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.

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

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

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