The German proverb — “it is easier to hurt than to heal” — is at the root of today’s homeless tragedy.
In 2013, the U.S. instituted a seismic shift in how it approached homelessness. Rather than fund the combination of housing and clinical services to support the homeless in healing from the disease and trauma underlying their struggle, federal officials opined that the provision of permanent housing subsidies would “end homelessness in 10 years.”
Under their new “Housing First” approach, requirements including work and sobriety vanished with the rationale that they were “barriers” to the homeless’ acceptance of the permanent housing. Successful non-profits that had insisted on such requirements disappeared as they became ineligible for funding from the nation’s largest financier of homelessness — the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
One decade later — to the surprise of few who served on the front lines in this battle, those who understand human nature — we face a humanitarian crisis of seismic proportions. The experiment in “helping” the homeless by absolving them from basic societal tenants has instead resulted in immense harm to the homeless and to communities across the nation.
Pre-pandemic data reveals a 20.5% increase in the nation’s unsheltered homeless population, over the 2014-2019 period, despite a 31.4% drop over the seven years prior.
California, the only state to fully adopt Housing First (2016), saw a 47.1% pre-pandemic increase in its unsheltered population.
Even more alarming is a pre-pandemic data analysis from the nation’s 20 largest cities revealing a 77% increase in homeless deaths over the 2015-2020 period. These majority of these deaths—drug overdoses, violence, traffic deaths and premature lethality of treatable conditions like heart disease — were preventable or treatable, according to the analysts.
Despite its predictable and unblemished failure, the Biden and Newsom administrations remain wedded to the Housing First approach. Their voters appear to be resigned to their ill-fate given the recent election outcomes.
For those who desire to chart a new course — a course that puts the homeless and communities on the path to fulfilling their innate potential — there is a solution. A new mini documentary featuring people who have risen from the ashes of homelessness and the non-profits that supported them in doing so outlines the antidote: a Human First approach.
This approach recognizes that human beings are complex and that housing is but one piece of the multi-faceted approach needed to support them on the path to healing and well-being.
It recognizes the need to fund, and in some cases mandate, disease treatment. Fully 78% of the homeless contend with the diseases of mental illness and addiction, whether a precursor to, or a result of, their homelessness.
And a Human First approach insists on the guardrail of personal accountability, including sobriety, to guide healing, growth and liberty.
As the homeless begin to heal, they will need additional services, such as employment training and life skills instruction to ensure that once they obtain their own housing, they can maintain it.
Nature has its own way of reinforcing this roadmap. The key to producing the world’s best wine grapes is the winemakers’ irrigation blueprint for the grape vines. The roots need to deeply permeate the soil to find water so the vine can build a foundation of strength and improve its chances for further growth and survival.
To produce its best fruit — to achieve its full potential — the vine must work for its water. Such is the case with human beings. The homeless are no exception.