The Housing and Urban Development released a report today claiming that “chronic” homelessness in America is down 15 percent - that’s 52,000 fewer Americans on the streets.
The report captures street counts in 3,800 cities and counties around the country from October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2007.
Beyond the fact that it’s actually July of 2008 and street homelessness is visibly on the rise, it’s actually 2008 - 10 months after the fact! Haven’t I been hearing about a housing and banking collapse? That must be in my head. After all, I’m just another one of those crazy west coast housing activists. Really, I don’t know shit.
“At the beginning of his Administration, President Bush set a goal to end chronic homelessness in America,” said a statement released by the White House Press Office. “Today, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Preston reported that the Administration has continued to make progress on this goal.” The statement further noted that the new results demonstrate that “targeted, focused resources can achieve measurable results.”
I’m amazed that more insiders and local governments have not spoken out on the truths of the 10-year plan to end homelessness. Of course, honesty does mean dollars - or the lack there of. What gives?
Back in 2007 I was slapped on the wrist by advocates claiming that I was fucking up their political will to end homelessness when I spoke out of turn to the Portland Tribune. But the reality is, street homelessness was no more on the decline then as it is now - it’s just in how the establishment spins and frames such figures.
Tim Harris, the Director of Real Change up in Seattle wrote a great piece this week - where the spin factor is in full effect.
The reality is things are not quiet on the western front. In fact, it’s a bit noisy and hard to concentrate.
The problem we find ourselves faced with is that when the federal government says jump, we all get in line to jump. The spin rolls downhill - from the Beltway to state and local governments, to affordable housing and homeless advocates, we all have to swallow the hard pill, fix the numbers and make it look like we are somehow winning the war on poverty - horseshit.
Chronic homelessness is a term used for individuals that have been on the streets for more than year. It does not include anyone that is doubled-up, children, families, etc. It more or less is a way to target the hardcore - which is fine so long as we don’t exclude thousands of individuals falling into homelessness and individuals living on the fringe of society - fading in and out of a stable living environment.
The failure of the 10-year plan also lies in the idea that homelessness is an individuals fault and not a byproduct of any number of things ranging from the war on drugs, mental health, domestic violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, on and on and on. My good friend Paul Boden captures this reality in a story that appeared in Street Roots in early July.
Finally, we have failed to recognize how much criminalization of people experiencing homelessness has played into the failure of addressing the problem at hand. On one hand we are told the 10-year plan to end homelessness is helping those hard to reach individuals that find themselves fallen through the cracks time and again through the criminal justice system, while on the other we enforce BS laws that create thousands upon thousands of individuals forced to live with criminal records and no way to gain access to housing. Bassackwards.
In short, regardless of the spin coming from Washington D.C., the federal governments 10-year plan to end homelessness is fucked. And I’m an optimist. And it’s as simple as that…