What do you do whenever you encounter a homeless person? Do you reach for some spare change, or donate straight up cash? Gift cards maybe? Maybe your human kindness extends as far as donating a care package, or buying a complete meal for a homeless person. Perhaps you’re the type to donate time as opposed to money to a homeless shelter? All of those are acceptable and you should do them if you have the means. Whenever I see someone in need, I find it easiest to simply donate a few loose dollars because I usually don’t have the time to do much else. Which is fine, it’s understandable that people are busy. Unfortunately, every once in a while, I’m caught with nothing so I just walk or drive by, pretending I don’t see them. This usually results in some sort of guilt. It does happen but ignoring the problem is not the simple solution. There are over 6,500 homeless people in Los Angeles county alone (Chou). Despite mass efforts to reduce the amount of homelessness, we are still seeing too many people out on the streets all over Southern California. Whether we choose to believe it or not, homelessness is affecting everyone. Short term solutions like donating spare change do help, but we have to focus on the long-term solution. Fortunately, this also happens to be the simple solution. Reducing the number of homeless people in Southern California could be done by providing permanent housing and support, more access to health care and informing the general public about short term versus long term solutions (Chou).
One of the first things that should be done to reduce the number of people living in the streets is to provide supportive housing. Justgive.org describes supportive housing as “housing with on-site property management, licensed clinical social workers, and case managers. These professionals deliver access to the medical and mental health resources the formerly homeless need, as well as helping them learn to live with other people (after having been isolated for so long). The goal is, quite simply, to get people healthier and provide them with a place to live—permanently.” (justgive.org) Recent efforts have been made in certain regions of Los Angeles to combat homelessness in this way. “Measure H” which passed in 2016, “makes $355 million a year in sales tax revenue available for homeless services. Los Angeles city leaders have also started awarding tens of millions of dollars to help construct housing aimed at housing homeless individuals” (Chou). This was reported by a team of journalist who work for Los Angeles Daily News. Up until recent years, Southern California has focused on temporary solutions to help the homeless, like shelters which only provide food, and place to sleep for a short period of time. This was mostly due to a lack of research, and a lack of attention to find a solution. Today the problem of homelessness is being looked at differently. Long term supportive housing is found to be cheaper! A professor from the University of Connecticut USA, found studies that show the “The costs of emergency shelter, hospitalization, medical treatment, incarceration, and police intervention for the homeless population are quite high. Studies have revealed that providing homeless individuals with permanent supportive housing is a cost‐effective solution. A housing‐based approach to ending homelessness is a more effective long‐term approach and decreases the personal and public costs of homelessness.” So now more than one problem is being solved. Extra money could possibly be used to fund the medical care our homeless people need in the first place and manage to create more jobs related to homelessness.
Many studies point to mental illness as the root to homelessness (John Wiley & Sons). This is why access to medical services and mental health care is so important. Most of our homeless people are individuals with mental or cognitive disabilities. A study was done in japan by a group of MD’s to find a relationship between homelessness and disability. In their research, they took a sample of homeless people and “studies have reported that the prevalence of mental illness and cognitive disability is higher among homeless individuals compared to the general population, and the rates of mental illness among the homeless population have recently increased, Individuals with cognitive disabilities considered bad relationships with their family members to be the cause of their homelessness. Conversely, normal individuals considered their homelessness to be the result of debt more so than did individuals with mental problems. Individuals with mental illness had more difficulties escaping homelessness than did either normal individuals or individuals with cognitive disability. This tendency was observed most strongly among individuals with both mental illness and cognitive disability.” In conclusion they found, “Most homeless individuals considered economic problems to be the cause of their homelessness; however, difficulties with human relationships were also important factors and were more difficult for participants to acknowledge. Furthermore, these difficulties were exacerbated among those individuals with mental problems.” (John Wiley & Sons). This research helps us understand that homeless people need more than just somewhere to live, they need mental support and stability. Taking preventative steps to stop homelessness from happening in the first place would reduce numbers as well.
Many people don’t make the connection because they simply don’t hear it enough. The research has been done and studies point to the long-term solution, permanent housing. Permanent housing would cause a chain reaction of benefits for everyone. For example, funding is now available in some regions of Los Angeles. They are working on building permanent housing which creates job opportunities for people who build the housing, the people who will work to manage the housing once there done. Having people off the streets means police will be called out less for homeless related crimes. Paramedics and ambulances will also be called out less frequently which saves money, and gives our first responders more time as well. If more people looked at it this way they would do more to help. Another way to help is by contacting their elected officials. Let them know they care about the issue. Many people don’t know you could do this. Posting flyers in public transit or in frequented areas would increase the number of people aware of the issue. Advertising on various platforms especially online could help tremendously.
A popular misconception in society is that we are enabling the homeless when we do little things like donating money. I’ve heard people say, “there just going to spend it on drugs anyway”. That is not always the case, we can’t assume every homeless person on the streets uses drugs or alcohol. We now know that the root is mental illness. Providing permanent housing and mental health care is key. We also know; explaining the benefits, and how simple the solution is, could raise awareness thus causing people to care. We have a problem with a practical solution and we have the ability to change it. Maybe now whenever you encounter a homeless person you will think both short term and long term.
Holland, Gale. “Mental Illness and Homelessness Are Connected. But Not How You Might Think.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 7 Aug. 2017, 5am, http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-mentally-ill-homeless-20170807-htmlstory.html.
Nishio, A., Horita, R., Sado, T., Mizutani, S., Watanabe, T., Uehara, R. and Yamamoto, M. (2017), Causes of homelessness prevalence: Relationship between homelessness and disability. Psychiatry Clin. Neurosci., 71: 180–188. doi:10.1111/pcn.12469
Chou, Elizabeth, et al. “2018’s LA County Homeless Count Comes amid an ‘Explosion of Energy’.” Daily News, Daily News, 23 Jan. 2018, http://www.dailynews.com/2018/01/22/volunteers-will-fan-out-over-three-days-to-capture-the-scale-of-los-angeles-homelessness-crisis/.
Miller‐Smith, Monica. “Homelessness in the United States.” The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Family Studies, edited by Constance L. Shehan, Wiley, 1st edition, 2016. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/wileyfamily/homelessness_in_the_united_states/0?institutionId=5312. Accessed 07 Feb 2018.
“Homelessness.” World of Sociology, Gale, edited by Joseph M. Palmisano, Gale, 1st edition, 2001. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/worldsocs/homelessness/0?institutionId=5312. Accessed 07 Feb 2018.
Olsher, Sara. “Help the Homeless: Think Long-Term.” JustGive, 24 Feb. 2015, blog.justgive.org/2012/10/30/help-the-homeless-think-long-term/.