With better understanding of the group's diversity, new approaches are being used. Much current thinking about homelessness is based on the work of Dennis Culhane, currently at the University of Pennsylvania, who followed thousands of homeless people in New York several years ago. Each of them used up an average of $40,000 a year in public services, such as hospital care and jail time. When half of the group was offered public housing (coupled with services such as counselling) that group's time in hospital and prison fell dramatically. The net result was a big improvement in the problem at little extra net cost.A few weeks back, one of those who attended a vocation discernment retreat at the seminary was a guy from LA who works with the homeless, and writes at the Homeless in America blog. Do check it out. It's on the blogroll now (finally! It's amazing just how often I forget things if I don't write them down!). Check out this story about a group from my own Palmetto State - Our Lady's Rosaries -- who make and distribute rosaries to the homeless.
Not always what they seem
Oct 18th 2007 | MINNEAPOLIS
From The Economist print edition
New thoughts on an old problem
THE queue, which began forming hours before the doors officially opened, stretched across the lobby and onto the pavement in front of the downtown convention centre. More than 1,800 people—bantering groups of friends, loners, shell-shocked veterans and weary single mothers—turned up recently for an event dubbed Project Homeless Connect. It offered needy people everything from job applications and educational assistance to haircuts and a hot lunch. In return, attendees were asked to provide data on themselves and their living circumstances, all of which were fed into a local database. Some of the attendees seemed strangely out of place. A well-spoken, middle-aged woman with freshly manicured nails said she had a college degree and had
New ideas needed
Homelessness is not an issue normally associated with places like Minneapolis. This city is relatively prosperous, has cold winters and is in an overwhelmingly white, northern state. But homelessness has moved up the agenda for many American mayors in the past couple of years. With property foreclosures surging, homeless advocates worry that the problem will grow. They also voice concerns about the number of returning veterans with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Big cities have long grappled with the issue, and say they are making progress. San Francisco was in the news this month for sending teams of social workers, psychologists and police on a sweep for homeless people. Places as diverse as Nashville, Anchorage and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, have adopted ten-year plans aimed at eliminating long-term homelessness.
Several factors are driving the movement. The first is a better understanding of the homeless population. Despite the perception that it consists mostly of single men with drug, alcohol or mental-health problems, the majority are families, singles or young people who simply cannot afford housing, says Nan Roman at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The group reckons that 600,000 families with 1.35m children experience homelessness each year, accounting for about half of the national total. Many are in dire need for a relatively short time, living in shelters for just days or weeks. But research shows that a hard core—some estimates put it at about 10% of the total—is chronically homeless.
With better understanding of the group's diversity, new approaches are being used. Much current thinking about homelessness is based on the work of Dennis Culhane, currently at the University of Pennsylvania, who followed thousands of homeless people in New York several years ago. Each of them used up an average of $40,000 a year in public services, such as hospital care and jail time. When half of the group was offered public housing (coupled with services such as counselling) that group's time in hospital and prison fell dramatically. The net result was a big improvement in the problem at little extra net cost.
About 40 communities around the country have since attempted to emulate the scheme. The approach is also backed by Philip Mangano, who heads the Interagency Council on Homelessness, a federal body.
All this is a departure from traditional means of dealing with the homeless, which Mr Mangano says are either too soft or too tough. Some communities, he admits, are still using heavy-handed police tactics. "The punitive approach has never worked anywhere," he says. Instead, it simply tends to shuffle the homeless out of sight for a month or two.
Nevertheless, the police have an important role to play in preventing crimes against those living on the streets, he says. Violent crimes against the population have shot up in the past year, including some horrifying cases. In Spokane, Washington, a one-legged homeless man was set on fire in his wheelchair and died of his burns. Current approaches to homelessness may not eliminate such atrocities, but the new focus on the problem is a start.
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