How to Solve Homelessness: A Hypothesis

I have been mulling over a conceptualization of how to solve homelessness.  I must start by saying that I have always found the terminology ‘solving homelessness’ to be rather trite, as if it is a simple problem that just needs a solution from expert enough experts.  However, I would suggest that our ultimate end must be the elimination of homelessness entirely, and that requires a solution.

So here it is: I believe that we must solve homelessness on three levels, the political, the perceptual, and the personal.  The political means reforming and creating healthy public policies that meet the needs of all people.  This includes such things as affordable housing, early prevention and rapid re-housing programs, comprehensive mental health services, low-barrier addiction services, increased social assistance, etc.  I believe that this will require reform from within (ie. policy makers), but also pressure from outside the system (ie. protestors).

The perceptual means confronting public perceptions around homelessness.  As long as homelessness is perceived as an appropriate outcome for poor personal decisions, there won’t be the public will necessary to create political change.  And, as long as people who are experiencing homelessness are considered the undesireable other, they will continue to be traumatized by experiencing discrimination.  Novel forms of media need to be utilized to engage the narratives we tell about poverty, and the injustices that are perpetuated.

The personal has two components.  Firstly, we must continue the restribution of wealth to services that are delivered by individuals through a caring connection.  What does that mean?  That means tax-funded services such as shelters, food banks, health centres, etc. must continue to be enhanced until everyone’s basic necessities are being met.  And, each one of these myriad service providers must focus on providing relational care that creates a space where people can empower themselves.  Secondly, personal means each one of us being critically reflective about power relations and social hierarchies and our place within these.  We must each improve ourselves and the way we live to break down these barriers, and be part of communities that see no economic divides.

This, perhaps, is how homelessness can be solved.

6 thoughts on “How to Solve Homelessness: A Hypothesis

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention How to Solve Homelessness: A Hypothesis | Abe Oudshoorn's Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. This article is good. There is one question that comes to mind when I read it. That is “Where is the money that will be used to acomplished some this come from?” It is a start to find the end of homelessness.

  3. Hi Mitchell,

    A very good question, at the service level, some areas need more funding in the short-term. However, for the long-term, we know that addressing homelessness makes good financial sense (ie. will save us money). In this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbRKL7_bLcc&p=E9B0001F1F78F9C9) Professor Gaetz does a good job of outlining the current system as almost entirely funding homelessness management, and not prevention and rapid rehousing. More focus on prevention and rehousing will actually save us millions on homelessness management.

    If more money is needed, the simple answer is taxes, which is where the bulk of money for social services comes from. And, this is why the most vulnerable suffer from things like tax freezes and tax cuts.

  4. Abe,
    I agree with some of the concepts proposed in this document. Public perception of homelessness must be changed. Using new media and technology to help tell some of the real stories that can “demystify” homelessness is a good start.
    I also agree that preventing homelessness is the first place is also essential.
    There are two things that I have trouble with in this article. (I have not read any of your other postings and you may have addressed these more in depth somewhere else)
    1. I do not see in your article anything that calls for the homeless themselves to be a part of the solution. I don’t believe homelessness can be ‘solved’ without such participation. An otherwise capable person that is homeless cannot be helped if they do not desire such help. (This of course does not apply to those who are not mentally capable of helping themselves)
    2. I do not think taxes can play a role in the ‘solution.’ (I am personally in favor of a limited government.) I believe that when you begin to turn the tide of public perception you will pose a call to action for the public. I believe your article insinuates that you would ask the public to demand higher taxes and more government involvement in the cause of homelessness. I don’t think that will work. The government has proven time and again that it can do almost nothing efficiently. The solution has to be grassroots in that those who become aware of the situation also become motivated to do something about it. I suggest that something should be that they volunteer their time, talents, energy and dollars.
    Thank you for your note and for keeping this issue on the minds of readers.
    Sincerely,
    Toby Dagenhart

  5. Thanks for the reflections Toby, I think we very much agree on the first point, and likely disagree on the second.

    In terms of the involvement of homeless people in the solution, I absolutely agree. The classic refrain is ‘nothing for us, without us’. I believe that people with lived experiences can be involved in any of the three levels that I speak to in this post. Whether it’s in my research, my advocacy work, or my committee work, I try to remember that I am just an ally in the cause, not the leader.

    In terms of taxes, homelessness is very much about poverty, and taxation is the single most effective means available to us to reduce income inequality. Secondly, as is demonstrated by comparing, for example, Norway to Canada, strong social safety nets are essential for eliminating homelessness, and these are necessarily supported by taxation. The evidence would seem to be against your statement that governments can not do things efficiently. For example, public health care systems have proven to lead to both better health outcomes, and significantly lower administrative costs. For example, the U.S. has higher per capita health spending rates that most public systems, yet poorer health outcomes.

    I would recommend “The Dignity of Difference” by Jonathon Sacks for further reflection on the limitations of public sentiment without policy and programs to support it.

  6. I feel the myth that homeless people “choose” to be homeless helps most people sleep at night. Loss of income, health problems, family breakups, fires, etc… Most all of these events could happen to any of us making none of us immune to becoming homeless. So much like the mantra “prevention is worth a pound of cure”, I believe the real solution is preventing homelessness in the first place…

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