As a society we have a tendency to normalize issues that we see a lot of – poverty, illness, homelessness being but a few examples. We say things like, “that is just what happens in big cities” or, “yeah, it’s a problem but it is something that we can never really hope to fix”. Maybe this helps us feel better about the reality of the world in which we live—if a societal dilemma is intractable, then the responsibility for its resolution cannot possible fall on our shoulders. It is almost as if we have come to see these things as acts of God, inexplainable, almost otherworldly examples of suffering that seem to exist on a plane separate and apart from that within which we see ourselves existing. I myself have held this worldview at one point in time or another, as shocking as the notion seems to me now that I could have observed something like homelessness so frequently, and yet have understood so very little about its true nature.
When I began working with Volunteers of America five years ago, it did not take long for my perspective to shift. I began to observe and experience a reality wherein homelessness presented as a decision that we have a society have not only made, but continue to make each and every day in the form of myths and misconceptions that become policy that, ultimately, becomes the crisis that has undercut our foundational, national promise of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I wasn’t the only one who came to this realization and, as the result of a national awakening, the tides of change began to creep upon our shores, and the cure for homelessness became clear.
Let us consider for a moment, the end of homelessness. An ailment which is intrinsically linked to sustained deterioration of mental and physical health (Oppenheimer, Nurius, & Green, 2016), costs communities roughly $30,000 per person experiencing chronic homelessness per year (Gibbs), and which tears away at familial ties, strips away freedoms so easily taken for granted, and undermines the principles of equality and opportunity upon which our nation was founded. Imagine that world – the recovery of the human capacity for progress lost in the mire of homelessness, a world where there are not ‘homeless people’, but just people – most importantly, a world where we acknowledge the value of every human being, regardless of circumstance. That is what can be accomplished, provided we have the will to see it through, and the grit to ask ourselves some tough questions.
How do we do it? Recent years’ of evidence have made that answer abundantly clear – we do so as a community driven by evidence and efficacy. Simply put – we do what the evidence shows to work, and we stop doing what doesn’t. We titrate our interventions accordingly, opting for the most outcome and cost-effective method shown to work for each individual household. Comparisons of these interventions with medical practice are not untoward when we consider the resources and services afforded each. If Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), offering permanent housing solutions with services attached, is the heart surgeon for those with the most emergent needs, then let us consider limited Transitional Housing (TH) for those with special needs to be the specialist provider, and Rapid Rehousing (RRH), which seeks to conduct generalist assessments and rapidly identify, prevent, and resolve homelessness with services and assistance suited to the majority of households, to be the primary care provider.
This trio of interventions is the cure for homelessness, being supported by all available evidence in showing that people become and remain housed as a result of this work and, in fact, community’s save money by funding this work. More importantly though is the opportunity to destroy the myth of the intractable issue, to do away with ineffectual excuses, and to leave a legacy for our time and generation in which we managed to overcome the indominable, and set a precedent for the challenges that our descendants will face in the years to come.
Brenton is the Division Director of Veterans & Supportive Services at Volunteers of America in Colorado. A Veteran himself, Brenton’s life and experiences have been invaluable in his service of supporting others.