Of course we all want to end homelessness. Chicago is rallying behind a ten year plan to end homelessness which is now in its third year. The plan calls for a transition from the present shelter system to a new system of interim housing with short term support which will directly refer individuals without homes into permanent units.
While I back the plan to end homelessness, I have several concerns. I have been concerned that shelters are being closed prematurely, before an adequate number of affordable permanent housing units have been identified, putting people out on the street without any support at all. At Breakthrough we are trying to move toward providing interim housing but have not been able to come up with funding to stay open all day every day.
I am concerned that while we are growing the number of permanent affordable housing units through such new legislation as the Rental Subsidy Bill passed by the State Legislature last year which will add 2000 units of affordable housing, we are not allocating adequate funding to the support services that will ensure that residents with multible barriers to life stability will be successful in staying housed.
While I agree that the motto, "Housing First", makes sense, "Housing Only" does not. People who are desperate enough for housing to go to the Chicago Department of Human Services or organizations like Breakthrough for help, are already isolated and need to be drawn back into healthy community, not locked behind close doors, out of sight and mind, without any support. Nothing can replace the power of the supportive personal relationships that are built through grassroots organizations and ministries like Breakthrough. It is also not a good use of funds to subsidize someone's housing indefinitely, when perhaps, with counseling and job opportunities, he or she could transition to be able to support themselves without the subsidy.
The plan needs lots of money that we just don't have and aren't likely to find as federal funding is being cut back. Permanent subsidized housing costs about $6,000 per year per individual and that's without any support services. Adding services would cost another $2,000 per individual per year. At Breakthrough we will house and provide support services including meals and counseling for about 800 unduplicated individuals this year (many of whom will move into unsubsidized permanent housing) at the cost of about $1250 per individual.
I don't want to be negative. These are complicated issues and I know those of us who are trying to make this plan work are well intentioned. I sit on a city board and know the key players very well. They are hard working public servants who are doing everything in their power to better the lives of Chicago's poorest populations. I commend them and have thrown my hat in the ring with them to look for creative solutions.
The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has published a pamphlet identifying some of the concerns I share. We need strong leadership in finding answers to the questions they are bringing.