Saturday, February 4, 2017

Salem's Homeless Chronic

From the National Alliance to End Homelessness
The latest issue of the Salem Weekly has an op-ed piece titled, "Addressing our Homelessness Crisis."  In it, they assert that homelessness "has reached near epidemic proportions in many cities of the U.S."  They don't say which cities, though, so it's not clear who "our" refers to.

To say homelessness has reached epidemic proportions suggests there's been a rapid and uncontrollable increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness; that there's a "crisis" occurring in many U.S. cities.  Maybe, but the Weekly didn't make the case.   

"The number of people who are homeless...continues to decrease."
Salem, for example, does not have a homeless "crisis" so much as it has a homeless "chronic."  What do we mean by that?  Two things.

One, Salem's approach to homelessness, like its approach to so many things, has been habitual, long-lasting, and patterned over a long period of time to conform to outdated norms.  Specifically, the City has, year after year, let religious institutions such as UGM, The Salvation Army, and others provide its residents emergency shelter, with little if any support from the City, while continuing to fund, year in and year out, the same favored social service programs, without regard for whether those programs are, in fact, effective in addressing community needs.

Two, the City has, as a result of its habitual, long-lasting and patterned approach to homelessness, neglected the most vulnerable, the so-called "chronically homeless", the "service resistant", the "hard-to-house", those who supposedly "don't want to be helped."  As a consequence, and as the Weekly observed, Salem has something like twice the national average of chronically homeless.  That's why the downtown is the way it is, and it's only going to get worse if the City doesn't change its approach to the problem.

We agree with the Weekly's observation that resources "need to be used in the most effective possible manner" (really, who would disagree?).  But how shockingly ignorant the statement, "Providing a place to live or sleep may meet immediate basic needs, and that may be a needed first step." (Emphasis added.)  What other first step, dear Weekly, did you have in mind?  And based on what research?

Research has shown that providing housing first is the needed first step.  So, wake up Salem Weekly.  Wake up City of Salem.  This is not a new idea.  What's needed is permanent supportive housing, not sanctioned camping and car-camping programs.  A resource center would be nice, but it won't begin to address the needs of Salem's most vulnerable - the chronically homeless.

Salem's homeless problem is not widespread and uncontrollable, meaning it's not of "epidemic proportions."  It's chronic; built in; systematized.  It's the result of 1) capitalism, and 2) long-term neglect, and while we can't do anything about 1), we can do something about 2).  Other communities have made inroads, but only after they gave up habitual, long-lasting and patterned approaches to the problem, and followed the research.  C'mon Salem Weekly, help us out.  Don't follow habitual thought patterns.  Do your research.     

1 comment:

  1. Because so many factors work together to "create" homelessness it may be challenging to analyze and "work the problem." One way to do that is to list likely factors and arrange them in a causal model.

    In the meantime why not start with housing first and see how much of the problem that solves?

    Obviously decades of "interventions" and "programs" haven't solved the problem because homelessness is a symptom of economic inequality; something that is very difficult to "solve."

    Let's build housing first and go from there.