Solving homelessness -- obvious if not easy
By Sam Davis
14 June 2016
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Combating homelessness has been an ongoing problem for cities across America for decades, yet minimizing and rehabilitating homeless populations still remains a struggle and continues to incite debate amongst city officials and residents.
Professor emeritus of Architecture Sam Davis proposes a number of solutions to solve this problem and suggests that supportive housing (housing with social services) is essential to reducing homeless populations for good, yet requires political will, money, focus and coordination up front. He explains that while funds have been allocated to solving this issue -- in the case of San Francisco, upwards of a quarter of a billion dollars each year -- the current approach is “scattershot” and funds are not spent properly.
“San Francisco now has 400 separate contracts for services with over 70 different nonprofit community groups. This is in addition to direct services provided by the city and county and the $20 million to arrest homeless people for quality-of-life misdemeanors,” Davis said. “There is no tracking system that allows all of these disparate entities to know if an individual is, or has been, served or enrolled in programs. The oversight of so many contracts is problematic and it is unlikely that each provides definitive results based on evidence that it is working.”
Davis suggests a “housing first” strategy which is not only the most humane option, but also the most economical approach. Supportive, permanent housing with social services on site gives homeless populations stability and the resources they need to get well and rehabilitate their lives so they do not need to rely on services in the future.
“When you are homeless, survival is your goal,” Davis said. “Finding a meal, a safe place to sleep and a toilet are your priorities, not health care, mental health treatment, substance abuse programs or job training.”
Davis lists a number of solutions to combat homelessness, including building smaller projects, using existing buildings as shelters and toughening laws on mandated affordable housing as a part of housing element plans in addition to improving current housing and shelter situations. “We should improve shelter design, convert existing buildings in marginal use and continue programs already in place, but with renewed efficiency, client tracking among service providing agencies and evidence-based evaluation of these programs,” Davis explained.