The purpose of this paper is to discuss the social policy on homelessness “Housing First”. In this paper I will include the history of this policy, how it was created, when and the basic elements of this social policy. To every issue there are opposing views and I will present those views along with the policy. No social policy is perfect and along with the strengths I will also expose weaknesses, the points will be explained throughout this paper. First I will discuss what homelessness is and then what are the factors that lead a family, child, vet or anyone for that matter into the category of homelessness.
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What does being homeless mean? It means not having shelter, a place to sleep, eat and be protected against nature’s elements. This issue is a concern to social service providers, government officials and policy professionals. Homelessness has been a major social issue In America but it is during financial crisis that this problem raises. The word itself “Homelessness” has a bad connotation, when the word homeless is uttered the immediate thought is that of a substance abuser, vagrant or a person with a mental illness. Although these are contributing factors they are not the sole reasons why a person ends up homeless. There are also other contributing factors such as poverty, unemployment, social exclusion (such as sexual orientation), natural disasters, foreclosures, war or disability. Now in 2012 and as of recent years we have seen the U.S economy decline economically a result from the housing bubble burst, bank crisis and wars. These events have skyrocketed chronic homelessness, it is of no surprise that the precursors to the U.S recession are a major contributor (Szep, 2008).
In order to understand the social policy called Housing First we must first discuss the history behind it.” Housing First” was introduced by a nonprofit organization called Beyond Shelter, this organization is based in Los Angeles. The non-profit organization Beyond Shelter was founded in 1988 in Los Angeles to fight poverty and homelessness within families with children (retrieved from http://www.beyondshelter.org/aaa_about_us/aaa_about_us.shtml). This organization introduced a model system called Housing First aka “rapid rehousing”. In 1996 the United Nations selected this model as 25 U.S best practices.
Housing First is a public policy it is an alternative to a system of emergency shelter/transitional housing progressions(http://www.beyondshelter.org/aaa about us/aaa about us.shtml).It focuses homeless families to be able to move back into permanent housing. This is done first acquiring housing as soon as possible then providing counseling. It also focuses on intervention providing social services after the housing has been acquired rather than providing temporary shelter or transitional housing first (http://www.beyondshelter.org/aaa about us/aaa about us.shtml). In contrast to other programs where the issues that lead the person to homelessness are addressed first before helping the person acquire housing hence the name given to this public policy Housing First. For example many social or public policies function first by getting the homeless person from the street to public shelter, from public shelter to transitional housing program and from there to their own apartment. In the housing first or rapid housing the homeless person is first placed in an apartment or house then pin pointing the issues that lead to become homeless. The federal government uses this to guide federal policies in attacking the problem of homelessness by rent assistance, housing stabilization. In 2009 The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) provides homelessness prevention
assistance to households that would otherwise become homeless, and provides rapid re-housing assistance to persons who are homeless as defined by section 103 of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11302).In 2008 Congress appropriated $25 million in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants for 2008 to demonstrate the effectiveness of rapid re-housing programs to reduce family homelessness( retrieved from http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/housing_first ).
The strengths of this policy is that homeless people get a housing as soon as possible without conditions. Thereby, afterwards getting the necessary help to assist them in maintaining a permanent residence. The common practice of assistance to family homelessness is some kind of temporary housing. The problem is, when that runs out, people are still homeless. “; This approach is simply to get homeless people off the street and into a stable, more permanent environment (http://www.beyondshelter.org/aaa about us/aaa about us.shtml)”. The idea is that a person can do better once placed in a permanent housing. Then receiving the services they need to maintain that permanent housing. This policy also helps to foster self-reliance instead of dependence (http://www.beyondshelter.org/aaa about us/aaa about us.shtml).Also, Intervention services, housing options, and transitional support for the foster care system are strategies to end youth homelessness.
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The federal policy formed on the model of housing first is a good idea but economically how long can the federal government sustain this program. The burden falls on state and local funding to non-profit organizations to support these services. Now with the current state of economy can this realistically continue to financially support this policy? There is a need for all types of housing for all kinds ‘of homeless people, families with children, elderly and individuals with disabilities or addiction. When you champion one methods then what about the other programs that have transitional housing or shelters you create a competition for funds. The roots of the problems must be attacked first not the other way around and opposite of the “Housing Readiness” philosophy, which believes that people need to address issues that may have led to their own homelessness before they enter permanent housing. If anything in social work it is known and practical t used different methodologies .Housing first seems to ride on the idea that it is better to do the opposite. I don’t know about this because I think I would rather attack the problem that has caused homelessness for example if the reason for being homeless is finding a job to sustain oneself, finding services to a mental issues or substance abuse then that is more viable than getting a house first . How can one maintain the cost of paying even if it subsidized by the government without being able to keep a job because of substance abuse lack of employment or perhaps a mental disease. I understand that the model of Housing First also assist with these social services after they have a permanent home but again the root of the problem should be taken care of first. I believe that one must learn to become long term self-sufficient before being placed in the responsibility of permanent housing. Also what about immigrants? How would an immigrant homeless person be able to even participate in such a program? They would be ineligible to participate in such program without being a citizen or permanent resident. According to Paul Boden executive director of Western Regional Advocacy Project, he quotes “How can they cut Section 8 but believe in Housing First as a concept? They’re cutting housing but doing Housing First. It’s not just ironic; it’s hypocritical (Law, 2007, NHI)”.
Now as far as the person I interviewed as part of my homeless policy project I would not see how this policy would apply to him. My interviewee would not be able to participate in this program for the simple fact that he is an illegal immigrant. If are undocumented, you are not be eligible for federal programs. Perhaps he would be in a separate category because of immigration status. I think in his case immigration policy would have to change in his case before the homeless policy does.
This policy is a very good policy in my eyes but there are shortfalls regardless of these shortfalls it does not fall short form being innovative. When attacking social problems there are variables and different perspectives. Scenarios are case by case and a one size shoe fits all is not realistic nor is it practical. What works for one population may not necessarily work for the other. Now our public, social and federal policy on homelessness is well intended it is not perfect. Affordable housing is a must and in order for that to occur our economy must be stabilized. It is like a domino affect the fall of one chip knocks the rest down and to get these chips back up it must be done one at a time. It is a long ardous time consuming process that must be done carefully and patiently. Every policy that we instill must be carefully reviewed evaluated and make sure that it applies to everyone and not just a certain population.
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