Can America Solve Homelessness?

Salt Lake City Succeeds in Housing Chronic Homeless Population but Like All Cities Struggles to Keep Up with Rising Rents and Stagnant Wages

HuffPost recently published an article, “Why America Can’t Solve Homelessness,” about cities’ approaches to homelessness. The article, written by Michael Hobbes, examines Salt Lake City’s attempt to curb homelessness and whether or not this approach has worked.

According to the article, Salt Lake City began working on an experiment to give “no-strings-attached apartments” to individuals who were homeless. Specifically, these individuals had to be chronically homeless, or have suffered from “mental illness, substance abuse, or a physical disability,” to qualify for housing. Over the next decade, Utah paid for the construction of many units and social workers to ensure these individuals received services after moving into their own homes.

The state’s progressive plan did work- it nearly got rid of chronic homelessness in Utah. As a result of these no-strings-attached dwellings built for chronically homeless people, chronic homelessness in the city has decreased by more than 90%. It garnered national media attention and was viewed as a possible way to forever end homelessness in America by many.

However, because chronically homeless people are just one part of a much larger homeless population, this experiment did not offer a real solution for the root of the problem.

While chronic homelessness did decrease in Salt Lake City, the number of people sleeping in its emergency shelter increased more than 100 percent. The majority of families experiencing homelessness in the Salt Lake City metro are experiencing it for the first time in their lives. Many families in the US are just a $400 unexpected expense away from experiencing homelessness.

In the article, Hobbes points out that homelessness is usually most present in America’s thriving and wealthy cities. In fact, while the number of “people living on the streets declined by 11 percent nationwide,” it increased significantly in cities like Seattle, New York City, and Los Angeles.

Similar to Salt Lake City’s results, Hobbes adds that Los Angeles’ $1.2 billion housing bonds will not be enough for the demand seen in the city. Policymakers and municipalities will constantly be playing catch-up if they cannot fix this housing affordability crisis. Margot Kushel, director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations, calls certain proposals “quick fixes” for the incredibly expensive and complicated homelessness crisis.

Increasing rent and stagnant wages will continue to outpace any production of housing for homeless individuals and families unless something more is done.

Even in Salt Lake City, where the city provided housing for a vulnerable homeless population, the true problem was not solved. Unless policymakers tackle the actual issue- the increasing discrepancy between rent increases and stagnant wages- homelessness and housing insecurity will threaten more Americans every year.

On Wednesday, July 24, 2019, Monarch Housing Associates is planning, with our over 26 partner and sponsoring organizations, a Congressional Reception in Washington D.C.  The theme of this year’s Reception is  Opportunity Starts at Home: Building a Necessary and Secure Foundation for Healthy Communities. 

If you are interested in advocating for policy priorities that include supporting federal funding for housing and services, please visit Monarch’s website to learn more.  Specifically, we are requesting that our elected officials support an increase of $217 million to $2.6 billion in funding for the McKinney- Vento Homeless Assistance Grants.

Click here for the full article from HuffPost.