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The Case For NOT Advocating Housing First

I’ve always believed in the housing first principle. If you aren’t familiar, it’s the idea that you get the homeless a home first and then work on addiction, mental health and so forth.
This makes a lot of sense. Just ask Maslow:

Physiological, the foundation level, includes:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Shelter

It makes a lot of sense. How can you possibly focus on anything else if you don’t have those needs met first?
I’m suggesting that IN SOME CASES putting a person in an apartment or house might not be in the best interest of that person.
I think there are cases where a house or apartment above everything else makes really good sense.

  • Families with kids
  • Some woman
  • Some physically disabled people
  • Some mentally disabled people

When I use the word “some” I don’t know what percentage I’m talking about there. A better word might be “most”. I’m not sure.
While housing certainly solves certain problems, it also creates other problems.
The three problems I’ve observed are:

  • Isolation
  • Money worries
  • Paperwork

I’ll break each of those down:

Isolation

This is the largest issue, in my opinion.
When you are in a shelter, in a camp or just generally on the street, you have friends. You have people that you resonate with and work together.
This certainly can be bad. Heroin addicts tend to hang out with other heroin addicts. Meth addicts tend to hang out with other meth addicts. And so on.
But I’ve also seen it work in a positive way.
Sober people tend to hang out with other sober people. Or people that want to be sober hang out with sober people.
Christians tend to hang out with other Christians.
People clump up with their fellow in-group community.
We have 3 communities here at The Homeless Charity of Akron.

  • Group 1: People that want to give back and be part of a community
  • Group 2: People that want to give back but also have alcohol issues that get in the way.
  • Group 3: People that are still fighting alcohol issues almost entirely.

We don’t have the support for active drug addicts and people with significant mental health issues.
They come to us. But they don’t stay long simply because we don’t have a fit for them at this time.
All the people at our facility are homeless. They are either chronically homeless or are on a list waiting for a home.

The Impact Of Social Isolation | Social Wellness
Social, psychological and medical research has now demonstrated conclusively that there is a direct correlation between the degree to which a person feels connected to others and their physical and mental health.

The biggest risk of putting a single person in a home is this isolation. From the same article above, here are the consequences of being isolated:

  • Generally decreased feeling of vitality, less energy and feeling tired more often.
  • Greater likelihood of chronic illness such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.
  • More frequent bouts of sickness, such as colds or flu, and longer recovery times.
  • Longer recovery times from injury.
  • Regular feelings of loneliness.
  • Increased likelihood of depression.
  • Decreased level of happiness and satisfaction with life in general.

We are finding that the people, particularly in Group 1 and partially in Group 2, at The Homeless Charity are working towards a common goal. They are:

  • Building raised bed gardens
  • Building a wood workshop
  • Cleaning areas inside and outside the facility
  • Removing trash
  • Running the Second Chance Store
  • Running the clothes closet for other homeless
  • Helping newly housed homeless with items for their new house

The positive effects of community simply can’t be overstated.
There is a common feeling, right or wrong, among the homeless that no one cares and people are just trying to hide them away or push them away.
Housing has the effect of getting people off the street and out of the eyes of the rest of the community.
In some cases, I’ve seen this cause more psychological damage for the homeless person than simply letting them stay on the street.
Isolation increases which increases depression which increases alcoholism or drug use.
Some people are simply not ready to be in a home. They have no place else to go during the day. They have no job and they have no community.
The homed people often lose their community.

Money Worries

Most people I work with are given the minimum rent available: $50/month.
This is because they have no income whatsoever.
This is less than a single day’s work at pretty much any job.
On the surface this seems like a very doable amount. But so often it’s completely beyond the ability of some of these people.

  • They are still heavily using drugs
  • They are still heavily drinking alcohol
  • They still have significant mental health issues
  • They are still physically disabled
  • They are still felons and no one wants to hire them.

The list goes on and on.
$50 might as well be $500 or $5000.
On top of that many homeless find the stress of society extremely intense. The pressure of that $50 bill just adds to all the pressure which adds to the depression and the drug and alcohol use.
In some cases, they simply aren’t ready for the responsibility of coming up with $50 a month.
I believe, again, in some cases, the endless drum of a rent payment may outweigh the positives of a home.

Paperwork

We all know the kind of paperwork that goes into living.
As soon as you enter into the constructs of society you enter into the “system”.
Keeping up with that is another pressure that some of these people might not be ready for.


Let me be very clear: There are amazing organizations that are doing amazing work getting people into housing.
Akron is a widely known city for the impressive services offered to the homeless.
In no way am I trying to discount that or suggest that they are doing anything other than great work.
I’m simply raising the idea that some people might not actually be ready for housing.
There seems to be a need for community and how a person fits into that. This community need may actually be more foundational than is given credit.
The deeper I get into the homeless world the more I lose sight of how others feel about the homeless. I’m trying not to lose that connection. I believe it’s important to continue to understand how the rest of the community thinks and feels about the homeless.
A sentiment I’ve heard on several occasions is that people are surprised the homeless have any space in their lives to be a contributing member of society. Some people believe the homeless are struggling so much with day to day survival that they couldn’t possibly have desires and the ability to contribute to society.
Sure. That can sometimes be true. But in my observation that is a minority of the people I am working with.
I’ve never met people that are more giving than some of the homeless I work with. Their primary focus is helping other homeless.

  • Helping with their addictions
  • Helping with their psychological hurdles
  • Helping with their food needs
  • Helping with their shelter needs
  • Helping them get into their new homes

In some ways some homeless are so free and so unburdened by traditional society that they have more space and time and resources to give to the homless community than any of us do.
Additionally, every single homeless person I have met has a strong desire for community.
Akron has an amazingly strong food support system. It still has a few holes. But for the most part you can find a place to eat every day of the week.
That food drive is strong and primary. But after that I find people go in different directions.
Almost without a single variance, the homeless look for communities.
The community they choose then directs them on a path towards their next pursuit.
In the case of The Homeless Charity we are building communities where people can contribute and give back in ways they are ready for at this point in time.
Once their community gets built then they are ready for the next stage of their journey.

3 thoughts on “The Case For NOT Advocating Housing First

  1. Hi My name is Amanda Bradham my husband William Bradham and I have been married 8 years we have Two children and are in desperate need of help currently we are sleeping in our car and two weeks ago We found out my husband has spots on his lungs he need to have a biopsie done to find out if it is cancer or not . But we are homeless and sadly we have to put that off .please I am crying out and praying for some one to help us

  2. Good afternoon, my name is veronica . I am trying every and anything i can do to help this family . her name is Stacy . She is a young mother of three. Recently overnight she became a mother of 6 , by getting guardianship of her younger brother and sister. All Seven of them have been living in her suv. she has noone at all to lean on . I need to know if you can help me help her .
    Thank You for your time
    mira loma california

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