It’s been cold this week in Peoria, where I currently reside. Real cold. Mind-numbing, face-hurting, frost-biting cold. The high on Monday was 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The low on Tuesday was 5 below. And those were the actual temperatures. The wind chills with the latest Arctic blast regularly approached 30 below. The schools have yet to be closed for snow since we moved out here three years ago, but have now been closed three times due to cold temperatures. Evidently, with wind chills so low, frostbite can occur within ten minutes or so. And no one wants to be responsible for turning Peoria’s schoolchildren into a bunch of kidsicles.
I bring this up because it seems that these extremely low temperatures, along with Thanksgiving and Christmas, are the rare annual events that cause most folks to think about the homeless. I mean, I almost froze to death running outside in my pajamas to set the garbage can back up—I can only imagine what folks who lack adequate housing have to put up with in these conditions.
Last January, the U.S. Government reported that some 633,782 people in the United States were homeless (62,619 of whom are veterans). The good news is that this number has decreased since 2007: down 6.8% among individuals, down 3.7% among families, down 13.1% among unsheltered homeless, and down 19.3% among the chronically homeless.
And it is this last group I want to focus on.
According to the U.S. Government, a “chronically homeless” person is defined as “an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.” Data suggests that the chronically homeless only make up some 10% of all homeless people, but may account for as much as 50% of the services provided (though how best to interpret these numbers is debated). What can be said with certainty is that chronic homelessness is a major problem with complex causes that needs to be addressed on a number of fronts.
Luckily, there are organizations like the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte, NC, attempting to do just that—offering food, shelter, treatment, and community to some five to six hundred area homeless people. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the best way to help those who are chronically homeless is a Housing First approach coupling permanent housing with supportive services (such as case management, mental health and substance abuse services, health care, and employment).
This makes sense: What a chronically homeless person needs most is a home, not just a temporary shelter. They need the stability and security that permanent supportive housing provides—creating an environment in which other contributing issues (that exacerbate and cause of homelessness in the first place) can be addressed.
This is precisely what the Urban Ministry Center’s HousingWorks program does: “(G)ive chronically homeless individuals what they need most—a safe, stable, affordable home—and then provide the wrap-around support to help them remain housed and regain lives of wellness and dignity.”
This philosophy of “Housing First” recognizes the complexity of chronic homelessness and seeks a solution based on the premise that housing is a fundamental right, regardless of a person’s mental health, physical condition, or addiction. It’s a simple idea: get folks into housing first—provide a safe and secure home—and then work on whatever issues need attention in order to insure that the person remains in housing.
After all, their website asks: “Who among us could tackle sobriety while sleeping under a bridge?”
Housing First has become a major movement in the United States in the search for solutions to the problem of chronic homelessness, as both National Public Radio and the Wall Street Journal have reported. Indeed, the WSJ article reveals that, according to a Chicago-based study, providing permanent housing to the chronically homeless improves (and saves) lives as well as saving taxpayer money.
In Charlotte alone, the cost in temporary shelter, emergency room treatment, as well as hospital and jail stays is over $39,000.00 a year—for each chronically homeless person. That’s a cost that the community pays. In other words, it comes mostly out of our tax dollars. Compare that with the $13,983 annual cost that Charlotte’s HousingWorks program spends to provide both permanent housing and case management (including services like medical, mental health, and addiction treatment) for the same homeless individual. Less money to be sure, but the real savings is in the improvement of people’s quality of life and the success in providing meaningful treatment that saves and changes lives.
It’s just this simple: “HousingWorks saves lives and saves our community money.”
To that end, the Urban Ministry Center is having a benefit concert to help end chronic homelessness in Charlotte—its first annual HousingFest. On February 22nd, 2014 the Grammy award winning group The Blind Boys of Alabama and Grammy award winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale will be performing at the Neighborhood Theater in Charlotte, NC. Tickets for this worthwhile event are only $25.00 and can be purchased through the Neighborhood Theater’s website.
If you’re in the Charlotte area, I urge you to support this important cause and enjoy some outstanding musical entertainment in the process. After all, homelessness is chronic issue, regardless of the time of year and the weather.
Here’s a chance to help do something about it.
Editor’s note: A big, hearty welcome to those of you who are following us since last week’s post went viral (over half a million hits)! Our contributors are the faculty and (occasionally) students and alumni of the BLS Program at UNCG, which is an online multidisciplinary program for nontraditional students. With people from so many different disciplines coming together to write about whatever inspires them, this blog is rather eclectic. I think Matt’s post this week makes it pretty clear that we’re not just a parenting blog, though we do have quite a few parents and they do write about the topic from time to time. We may have a post on co-sleeping for you in a couple of weeks.
Feel free to browse back through our back posts. I’ve been working on the tags (which are inconsistent at best); you can now click on an author’s name in the tags to see all that author’s posts. I just looked at the “parenting” tag and realized it needs a lot of work, so don’t rely on that one just now. Enjoy! -JP