GUARANTEED AFFORDABLE HOUSING: ERADICATION OF HOMELESSNESS
Updated: Jul 20, 2020
To be clear, the US has never had enough affordable housing and has always had homelessness. During the Great Recession of 2007-2009, there was a huge increase in foreclosures, evictions, unemployment, and bankruptcies (mainly because of the high cost of healthcare) which led to an explosion of homelessness. One could not walk down a street in NYC, LA, or SFO without encountering a homeless person. It is nearly impossible to get an exact number of the homeless population but according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 553,742 people were experiencing homelessness in the U.S. on a single night in 2017. Over the past years, that number has almost doubled.
In March of this year, the Washington Post reported that the analysis of the coronavirus outbreak risks leaving out one group of acutely vulnerable people: the homeless. It has worsened their vulnerability. COVID-19 has crystallized the gaps in our system that have existed for decades. Basic human rights, nutritious hot meals, health care, and affordable, safe housing have not been available to many. The homeless have had to stay in emergency shelters or use transitional housing programs; others have been forced to live on the streets in abandoned buildings or areas not meant for human habitation.
While some organizations have worked tirelessly to care for our homeless, the system continues to only create short-term crisis remedies instead of sustainable structural improvements. But the scale of homelessness is too large for these organizations to fix. The federal and state governments must start an affordable housing program. This would help put many unemployed back to work, including many who are homeless. Numerous studies of homeless populations refute the characterization of them as mentally ill or having substance addictions. This continued mischaracterization obscures the fact that many of the homeless work full or part-time; however, their income is insufficient to pay for the exorbitant cost of housing. It blames the victim. The homeless are often treated as ‘’others’’ reminiscent of how Black people and other groups of color have been, and in too many places still are, treated.
Reports show that no state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing for the lowest and low middle-income renters, many of whom are essential workers and First Responders. Research by the National Low Income Housing Coalition finds a shortage of 7.2 million affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income renters; defined as individuals with incomes at or below the poverty level or 30 percent of their area's median income. The majority of the poorest renters in the U.S. are seniors, people with disabilities, and people who are working, enrolled in school, or caring for a young child or someone with a disability.
Moreover, in some cities, the homeless are being criminalized, their basic constitutional rights violated including incarceration and the destroying of their personal belongings. Despite ample evidence to show that criminalization strategies are ineffective and costly, many cities have increased their efforts in recent years to move homeless persons out of sight, and out of their city. Many communities have laws that criminalize activities homeless people need to do because they can only do them in public.
The time has passed for Congressional leaders to prioritize healthcare and homelessness in the constantly evolving national landscape. Sojourners for Truth and Justice insist:
Congress must include housing and homelessness resources in the COVID-19 stimulus package;
Congress must address the underlying cause of homelessness and the severe shortage of affordable and available housing for America’s lowest-income households;
Department of Housing and Urban Development has to deploy funding to help the homeless and/or housing shelters;
Invest in the construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing for rent or homeownership and provide direct rental assistance to low-income households and stop the ongoing prisons and jail construction boom;
Medical respite care for people experiencing homelessness who are too ill or frail to recover from the virus on the streets; and
Street Medicine resources to provide outreach and medical care to unsheltered people experiencing homelessness in locations like encampments, parks, and under bridges.