On Sunday January 23, 2011, we shared on our Facebook site The New York Times editorial on ending homelessness for veterans – Housing and a Chance. The editorial questioned if Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki’s goal of ending homelessness in five years is achievable without focusing on the hard cases. The Times agreed with our position that if we are to end homelessness for veterans, housing first is the key to the solution.
The flaw on a federal, state and local level is to focus on ending homelessness by classifying the homeless into distinct groups and then requiring them to be either service compliant or participate in treatment to secure housing. Unfortunately, this is not limited to the VA. The lack of a focused goal on ending homelessness with evidence-based solutions occurs at all levels of government.
The Times editorial stressed that the VA focus on the hard cases which they defined as:
These are the long-term street people — men mostly, many fragile in mind or body, often addicted to alcohol or drugs. They shuttle from shelter to street to emergency room, burning up caregivers’ energy and social-service dollars.
The editorial describes housing first as the solution:
This approach, which has been successfully used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for nearly a decade, doesn’t wait for people to sober up or get a job before they are given a place to stay. A permanent home, provided through a Section 8 voucher, instead becomes the anchor that makes all the rest possible: addiction services, therapy, sobriety, and a steady job.
In addition, the editorial highlighted how in these difficult times, how housing first can end homelessness with improved coordination and cooperation not new funding.
Los Angeles pilot, called Vets to Home Project 60, for the 60 people it aims to help over the next two years, comes with no new funds, just new coordination among Veterans Affairs, Los Angeles County and several small nonprofit organizations. Organizers say that this is the first time these agencies have worked together this way toward one focused goal. We hope it works, and proves worthy of rolling out nationwide to meet the great unmet need.
If we are to end homelessness not only for veterans, housing first is the key to the solution. How long we will we have to wait until housing first is the government policy at all levels?