Human Services

Tackling the Crisis of Homelessness in America

Chronic homelessness has become a major problem in America. Tens of thousands of Americans are left living out on the streets, trapped in a cycle of poverty rendering them unable to find a steady livelihood. There has been some debate on this issue at the local level, with policies ranging from statewide rent control and a controversial “right to shelter” policy as most comprehensive and surefire solutions. A closer look at the methods adopted to address the problem of chronic homelessness warrants that there needs to be a better approach.

By examining the problem of homelessness on a state level, we can better address the magnitude of the situation. California has the largest population of people experiencing homelessness with nearly 130,000, 90,000 of whom are unsheltered according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city of San Francisco alone had a 30% increase in homelessness since 2015. New York has approximately 91,000, and Florida has over 31,000. California is in a state of crisis mainly to the lack of affordable housing and the significant housing shortage. The average house price in the Bay Area is as $1.25 million. LA is the least affordable housing district in America.

Given these challenges, efforts to tackle homelessness through increased state involvement in the housing sector have not able to yield the intended results. This strategy amounts to simply throwing money at the problem. Oregon has recently passed the first statewide mandatory rent control bill for all citizens in March of this year as an emergency measure. Rent hikes are capped at 7 percent including inflation during any 12 month period. California is attempting to enact a legal “right to shelter” mandate modeled after that of New York in effect since 1981. Last year, New York spent $3.2 billion on services to house its homeless population and $1.9 billion on shelters. It has created a safe haven. The California “right to shelter” plan does not offer any specifics, yet California is spending tons of money with little signs of progress. California legislators have allocated $650 million, with $124 million for building more homeless shelters despite the mayors’ request for $2 billion. The costs to build are much too high.

There have been efforts by the private sector to manage the problem of homelessness. One great example is the California-based housing non-profit Solutions for Change. Founded in 1999 by Chris Megison, Solutions for Change is the only nonprofit in the country that employs a full-service leadership developmental residential program. Through a 1000-day college-like experience, parents can have their lives transformed through counseling, employment training, life skills training, counseling and other services. Since its founding, it has lifted over 900 families out of homelessness. It serves as a high-barrier shelter, meaning that applicants need to abstain from drug use and alcoholism and have a job in order to serve in a stable property owned by the company. Adopting Solutions for Change rather than a HUD- prescribed housing-first method of public-funded housing programs can pave the way for success.

We at ALEC recommend private-sector-based solutions to the complex problems associated with homelessness. These solutions can empower people in poverty to take control of their own lives and help them escape from a vicious cycle. The culture of dependency needs to be addressed. If we can address the problem of chronic homelessness, we can lead America in the right direction.

Alexander Hageman is an intern with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). He works in the Health and Human Services Task Force.

In Depth: Human Services

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+ Human Services In Depth