March 8, 2014 – Los Angeles, CA: My last post was in early January, so it has been at least two months since I felt motivated to sit down and share some thoughts. Basically, it has been a non-stop marathon of media articles about “the homeless,” either good news or bad news, depending upon which homeless populations you are rooting for, so-to-speak. In other words, veteran homelessness and chronic homelessness appear to be decreasing in many communities, i.e., efforts across the country to get chronically homeless individuals and vets and their families into housing at rents they can afford appear to be seeing some successful outcomes. Alternatively, family homelessness is “up” and continues to rise in some communities, particularly in large urban areas such as New York City and Los Angeles County. But small towns and cities are affected too, as funding for family shelters is decreased or even terminated in poorly thought-out efforts to adapt rapid-rehousing strategies into existing Continuums of Care.
The news articles and Op Ed pieces have been almost non-stop, as I read both the NY Times and LA Times daily – and then the Huffington Post. Having been one of the leading strategists (read “social innovators”) in efforts to end homelessness in Amercia for over 30 years now, I can only deplore the deep mess that we have gotten ourselves into. My efforts have primarily targeted homeless families (Beyond Shelter), but also individuals and the chronically homeless (A Community of Friends – the first permanent supportive housing intiative in the country).
As evidenced by national initiatives that have been promoted by prime movers in the field (I include myself here), we often know what we are doing. But sometimes even we can get confused. I am going to say loud and clear here, for anyone who reads this, that strategies to address chronic homelessness are NOT the same strategies you apply to successfully decrease and hopefully to end family homelessness. Just this week, I was reviewing some assessment tools adapted from screening for chronic homeless populations and was literally taken aback at the language used and questions posed for an adult head-of-household in a homeless family with children. I repeat, THE STRATEGIES ARE NOT THE SAME! But that is for another blog, coming soon, I promise.
This particular blog is to share my thoughts about the article today in the L.A. Times, L.A. & Orange counties are an epicenter of overcrowding – Emily Alpert Reyes & Ryan Menezes [March 8, 2014]. The article caught my attention and motivated me to share my thoughts because the focus of my work over the past two years has been on the prevention of family homelessness through “early intervention” and appropriate and timely responses to housing problems of low-income families.
One of the primary indicators of housing instability is overcrowded living conditions – and the majority of families who seek homeless services from government-funded Continuums of Care and other homeless services providers are leaving overcrowded conditions in which family members or friends were “helping them out during a housing crisis.” Rather than wait until a family is “eligible” for homelesness prevention services or family shelters and rapid rehousing programs, mainstream systems who serve them (Head Start, public schools, family service agencies, child welfare programs, health clinics and hospitals, workforce development centers, community college systems, etc.) should be providing that service, or group of services, that help families with children address crises related to their housing condition before they escalate!
Meanwhile, please read an excerpt from the L.A. Times article and then the entire article, if you believe, as I do, that we are maybe attacking the problem from the wrong end of the continuum:
Southern California is an epicenter for crowded housing: Out of the most heavily crowded 1% of census tracts across the country, more than half are in Los Angeles and Orange counties, a Times statistical analysis found. They are sprinkled throughout areas such as Westlake and Huntington Park around Los Angeles, and Santa Ana and Anaheim in Orange County.
From the outside looking in, it is a largely invisible phenomenon. Places such as Maywood and Huntington Park, south of Los Angeles, look little like the high-rises of Chicago or Boston. Yet behind the closed doors of small bungalows or squat apartment buildings, they are home to thousands more people per square mile than those large cities.
“This is an example of poverty that can go unseen in our communities,” said Jason Mandell, United Way of Greater Los Angeles spokesman. “It’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Partnering for Change National Housing Stability Assessment Initiative, please contact us. And don’t think the problem is too great to successfully address! It is that kind of thinking that gets us nowhere…
Tanya Tull, President/CEO – Partnering for Change