By: Tim Houchen
September 27, 2018 —
Successful homeless advocacy involves building public will around the idea of ending homelessness. It’s not always an easy task.
What sometimes seems even more difficult is to get our communities to recognize the need for adequate supplies of housing at all income levels as a means for addressing homelessness.
Getting housing and homelessness to coalesce in the minds of most members of the public is much like pouring your favorite vinaigrette on a tossed salad without shaking the bottle first. Homelessness and housing are subjects found much closer in the dictionary than they are in proximity to the minds and hearts of men. And, so on and on it goes.
So. while it has taken years to drill down into the brains of average citizens regarding the important relationship that exists between housing and homelessness, finally the time has come for homeless advocates to come clean. It’s time for us to tell the general public the whole truth. We have hidden the truth for far too long.
Do you see the picture of the iceberg above near the top of this article? Isn’t it beautiful? That iceberg represents homelessness. You may not know a lick about homelessness, but you probably know enough about icebergs to understand that only 10% of the iceberg is visible above the water. You’re probably aware that the remaining 90%, the most dangerous part that sinks ships, lies hidden beneath the surface.
Remember, the iceberg represents homelessness. All of the homelessness that is visual to the naked eye and every bit of homelessness that the general public complains about, but does nothing to solve, is only 10% of the entire homeless problem. Like the iceberg the remaining 90% of the homeless problem lies hidden beneath the surface.
In our communities there are tens of thousands of households with varying levels of low-income earners. Some of these households are families with children. Often times these families pay as much as 60% or even more towards just their rent. Rent-burdened families often have to make sacrifices in nutrition, health care and education. If a vehicle breaks down, then one or perhaps both parents are in jeopardy of losing a job. They are at risk of becoming homeless.
Other households that are at-risk of becoming homeless belong to elderly and disabled persons. Their fixed incomes don’t always increase in relation to their rents. The next time that rent goes up, they may wind up in the streets. Families, elderly and disabled households all lined-up and ready to become homeless. They have never been homeless before, but they are extremely at-risk now. Oh, and statistics show that once they become homeless in the current system of care, they are likely to stay that way for a while. The longer they remain on the streets the more money taxpayers end up shelling out on their behalf.
The general public definitely has some apologies coming from homeless advocates. We’re sorry, but it never seemed to be the right time to have this discussion about the remaining and hidden 90% of homelessness. But heck, give us some credit for all the effort we put forth trying to get the general public to wrap their heads around the visible 10%. There was no success there, of course.
The general public looks at homeless advocates as mindless enablers, but we are actually good stewards in our communities. Heck, we told the general public about the 90% of homelessness that they were not even aware of. How about that?
We do have some recommendations, however. By all means preserve the existing supplies of affordable housing in our communities. Finance and develop to expand the current supplies of affordable housing to include all low-income levels. Most of all, make sure that supplies of affordable housing are linked to a community effort to end homelessness.
If we can accomplish these things within our communities, then we can reduce the numbers of households at-risk of becoming homeless in the future and we can provide successful exits to those that are currently experiencing homelessness.
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