Walking the streets of my new neighborhood, I saw a sign posted on a telephone pole. The notice announced a tenants’ rent control meeting. I could understand why such a gathering was necessary. Thanks to gentrification, affordable housing has declined at an alarming degree, shifting the poor on to the streets. Something has to give.
Fortunately for the victims of this heartless economy, there are those who care. Some areas of the country have figured out it’s cheaper to provide housing for the indigent than to keep them in jails or hospitals — not to mention that it’s kinder, too. But kindness isn’t moving the equation. Pragmatism is.
Writer Scott Carrier has chronicled one program in Utah, not a state known for its liberal views, that gives homes to the homeless. (“Room for Improvement,” by Scott Carrier, Mother Jones, March 2015, pgs. 30-39) It’s called “linear residential treatment of continuum care,” and it has two guiding principles. First, It provides shelter to the homeless as well as a host of services, including health care, therapy and free counseling. Second, there are no conditions to qualify for the program, except need. No paperwork and no regulations to adhere to, except the condition of non-violence. If you’re a drug addict and unrepentant, you’re welcome. If you’re suffering from mental illness, you’re welcome. If you’re an alcoholic and want to go on drinking, you’re welcome.
To provide housing with no expectations that a client reform is a startling idea. But a funny thing happens when a person gets back a little dignity. Opportunity, rather than coercion seems to convince many people that they want to change. And as for being a financial success, there’s no argument. The program costs between $10,000 – $12,OOP per person a year, half the cost of the $20,000 it takes to treat a person living on the streets, (Ibid pg. 36.) and far less than the $30,000 to $50,000 it takes to treat them in hospitals or house them in jails (Ibid. pg 32) Given the program’s effectiveness, officials predict, homeless in Utah will disappear by the end of 2015. Impossible? Thanks to the program, only 272 homeless remain in the state.
Utah has figured it out: ending homelessness is cheaper than putting band aids on the problem. Mike Bloomberg, when he was Mayor of New York City, never did. Instead, he gutted housing subsidies for the poor having decided, “they promoted passivity instead of ‘client responsibility.’” By the time he left office, homelessness in the city had ballooned to numbers that exceeded those of the Great Depression –“60,000 New Yorkers – including 26,00 children – on the streets, in the subway tunnels and in the city’s sprawling network of 255 shelters, conveniently located far from the playgrounds of the 1%.” (Ibid pgs. 38-39.)
Hats off to Utah. Looking good for a red state.
(Originally posted 3/15/15)