Thanks to Rebecca for pointing me to this link of a Time article about the Chicago Plan to End Homelessness. She asked for my thoughts, so here is my two cents...
While I have supported the plan in concept I have always doubted that there would be enough money allocated to make it work. I think it is wonderful to have a plan and it is very motivating to work toward ending homelessness entirely. I believe we could eliminate homelessness in Chicago, but not without the political will to channel lots of money into the process and I don't see that happening. We have made progress, but not nearly enough.
Basically the plan set forth by a wide coalition of funders, homeless advocates and government officials (of which I was a contributing member) espouses the "housing first" model. This has resulted in government dollars being directed away from shelters and toward subsidizing permanent housing units.
Research has shown that people without homes are more likely to achieve stability in their lives if they are housed first. That is kind of a "na dah" to me. Of course if we could put everyone in our shelters into their own apartments today, we would. And if there were no more homeless people waiting to take their places in our shelters, I would say, let's sing the hallelujah chorus and close all of the shelters in the city!
Of course, that isn't close to the reality of the situation. Our shelters are always full with a waiting list, and we try our best to get people moved into housing as quickly as we can. We have thirty subsidized apartment units for our participants, as well as the sixty shelter beds we offer, and they are always full too.
Housing people in apartments costs about six times as much as housing them in our shelters. Some of the guests who stay with us are able to get off the dole and live on their own, paying their own rent, if given the support they need for a time in our shelter. What motivation does someone have to get and stay employed and pay their own rent if they are handed a hefty rent subsidy under a "housing first" model when they are capable of working if given a chance? And if the subsidy is all they get (supportive service dollars are not readily available) then "housing first" becomes "housing only" and people can still be living by themsleves in addiction, isolation and poverty and be growing increasingly depressed. Of course, women fleeing domestic abuse situations need special protection that is not acknowledged in a pure housing first model. I think there are lots of other special services needed such as drug and alcohol recovery programs, life skill training, etc.
I appreciate the work of the legislators and advocates that brought about recent state legislation that has added a ten dollar fee to real estate transactions. I was part of that advocacy. This is generating an additional ten million dollars per year for rent subsidies, but that will only accomodate about 6,000 people, while there are something like 70,000 on waiting lists for subsidized housing. While we certainly need more affordable housing, I think to close the shelters is foolishness and will only bring more hardship on people who are waiting to find suitable housing that they can afford.
While Breakthrough gets some funding from the government we are not dependent upon government funds to stay open. When the city cut the funding for our men's shelter last year, we put out a plea to our private donors and kept our doors open. Not all shelter providers have that kind of diverse funding base. When others shut their doors it just makes our work more important and necessary. (By the way, the city later reinstated our shelter funding after facing severe criticism from homeless advocates.)
I believe the chronically homeless (those who are mentally ill and have been on the street for years) should be housed in some type of community setting. Giving them keys to their own apartments without adequate support will not ensure their success in independent living.
The work of Breakthrough and other homeless service providers is important because we build relationships with our homeless guests. I'm not saying other providers and government entities don't do that, but I think the depth of care that Breakthrough demonstrates is rare. Every person is different. We cannot assume that what is best for one person is best for another. So we allow our guests to choose their own goals and empower them to make good choices.
The ministries and organizations who have been operating shelters and day centers for years provide those caring relationships that make such a crucial difference in the lives of struggling people. A government dispensed rent subsidy will not have the same impact. Sadly, I am watching service providers close their doors because "providing the poor wanderer with shelter" as Isaiah sets forth in Isaiah 58 is no longer the politically correct thing to do.
The article mentions Daley's plan to require 10% set asides in new construction for those making $75,000 or less. I agree with the advocates who are asking the question, why not 15% for those making $60,000 or less. We need to stem the tide of the fast paced gentrification that is forcing residents out of their homes throughout the city by advocating for scattered site affordable housing that is really affordable.