Urban planning community

+ Reply to thread
Results 1 to 20 of 20

Thread: City policies to end homelessness

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered
    Oct 2007
    Location
    San Jose
    Posts
    2

    City policies to end homelessness

    I only recently stumbled upon this site-- it's great. I'm very impressed with how you community members are able to turn to one another for planning/policy/professional advice. I'll get to my question, but some disclosure: I'm not a planner. I'm an amateur policy guy at best. But I am doing best practices research on policies to end homelessness for a city.

    So. I'm not looking at affordable housing supply-- it's outside the scope of my study/report/analysis/whatever you want to call it. Ignoring that elephant in the room, I'm looking at the service the system-- gaps in services, barriers to service, possible partnerships to provide/ease provision of services, etc. Access/impediments to affordable housing might be on this list, but not the actual housing supply.

    Do any of y'all have experience with city-level policies to end homelessness? Homelessness of all types: chronic, episodic, transitional, precarious, etc. Is this a question for planners?

    Some stats from a recent local homelessness survey that might fuel discussion:
    ~30% are "chronically homeless" (disabled and homeless continuously for a year or experienced 4 bouts of homelessness in past 3 years)
    ~80% are unemployed
    ~25% Have mental illness or depression
    ~25% Alcohol Abuse
    ~20% Drug Abuse
    Cause of Homelessness:
    Lost Job: ~30%
    Alcohol or drug use: ~20%
    DV: ~5%

  2. #2
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Machesney Park, IL
    Posts
    1,437
    I don't have any direct experience with this. But as far as Planning and homelessness, seems all we manage to do (unfortunately) is disperse the homeless, shoo them away.

    More employment opportunities, and affordable and accessible drug and alcohol treatment seem to be the real necessesaties, and more afordable housing.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
    Registered
    Feb 2007
    Location
    As far south of SoCal as I Will Go
    Posts
    5,382
    I don't think you will ever end homelessness in our society personally, however some cities throughout the nation, including those in the bay area have tried programs to where housing is made available and rehibilitation takes place. This to me is the best policy a city has, but unfortunately they don't come cheap, especially at the expensive of other critical services such as police, fire, transportation, etc. Maybe a way cities can fund these programs is looking at siphoning some of their TOT funds to help turn the tide of homelessness, or other type of tax that is frequent not by residents, but visitors. Just my 2 cents.
    Last edited by Raf; 30 Oct 2007 at 2:34 PM. Reason: spelling
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  4. #4
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    Registered
    May 2005
    Location
    New Town
    Posts
    3,912
    I have a friend (a cohort from planning school) who is the ED of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness and so I am speaking mainly from my experiences speaking with her. You can check out their website to see in more detail what they are trying to do from a policy point of view regarding homelessness: http://nmceh.org/index.html

    They just (last week) released the results of a survey on people experiencing homelessness with some very interesting statistics - a lot of figures that challenge assumptions many people have (including myself).

    You can read it here:http://www.nmceh.org/pages/Albuquerq...t-Sept2007.pdf

    Many of their policy initiatives are implemented at the state and federal level and not so much at the city and county level, so far as I could figure from their site. Here are two issues they have been working on and which tie in to some key figures enhanced in the above study:

    Creation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund: Working with a broad coalition of other advocates, the NMCEH helped to create a New Mexico Housing Trust Fund, with initial funding of $10 million to be used to meet the housing needs of low-income New Mexicans in a variety of ways.
    A big part of their push is to identify the factors that lead people to experience homelessness and to intervene (through policy) BEFORE people end up on the street. Of course, assistance to help people in crisis (by which I mean, already on the street) is extremely important, but creating supportive systems that prevent people from experiencing homelessness in the first place can not only assist in helping more people be productive members of society, but also reduces the overall public monies spent on homeless assistance.

    Their study found that "55% of survey participants lost their housing because of a crisis, including unemployment, illness, divorce, domestic violence or a natural disaster." Their approach is to develop mechanisms to help people stay in their housing through these crises.

    Affordable housing also relates to peoples' ability to get out of a homeless situation once they have ended up on the street. "Thirty-nine percent reported that being unable to find an affordable place to live posed a major obstacle to exiting homelessness." This seems obvious, perhaps, but coupled with the fact that "...many people who are homeless in Albuquerque are employed, yet still experience homelessness. Twenty-six percent of those we surveyed were employed..." suggests that not having work is not the only reason folks end up on the street. In a place like Albuquerque where housing costs have risen considerably over the past 7 years, this poses and increasingly challenging problem for our many low income residents (New Mexico was 49th in personal income last year, richer only than West Virginia).

    This dynamic of working people not being able to afford housing led to state legislation that tries to protect day laborers who are often screwed by employers that pay under minimum wage or sometimes not at all.

    Enactment of the Day Laborer Act: The Coalition took the lead in 2005 in advocating for legislation to protect people who work as day laborers from unfair practices that result in them not being paid or not being paid at least minimum wage for work they perform. The Act was passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor in 2005.
    Check out the Coalition's website in more detail to see if there are other policy initiatives that fit with your interests. Generally, though, I would say that in my experience, much of the coordinated response to homelessness is left up to the private sector - non-profit (faith-based and otherwise) advocacy and service organizations and non-profit, low-income housing developers. Government policies often initiate funds to facilitate the work of these groups, but rarely take on the problem themselves (by having, say, a Department to End Homelessness).
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  5. #5
    Member
    Registered
    Oct 2007
    Location
    San Jose
    Posts
    2

    thanks for the replies!

    CPSURaf: Before diving into the literature on this, I kinda felt the same way. I'm young enough that homelessness in America has always been an issue-- but in reality, it's a relatively recent phenomenon. 30 years ago, there was no wide-spread homelessness in the United States (so says the national alliance to end homelessness-- but I think this is backed up by more objective sources too). Deinsitutionalization, rising housing costs, growing economic inequality, the crack epidemic, increase in single mother households probably all contribute to the problem, but it's not a problem that is inherent in our society. It doesn't seem inevitable, or unfixable.

    Maybe the issue is that it is more of a structural problem than anything else-- so tackling it with little pilot programs or social policies will only scratch the service? It's hard to decrease income inequality and joblessness significantly with HIV/AIDS programs or wheelchair repair-- granted they both help. State/Federal level action might be required?

    wahday: Thanks for all the info! Interesting that 26% are employed down there. I wonder how many are part time/ full time-- I'll see if that's in the full report. About about 20% of our homeless are employed, but only 7% are full time. Many low-paying full time jobs are not enough to afford rent here, let alone part-time stuff. Is there any such thing a city-based WPA? Is this idea dead?

    I'm a big statistics guy, but it's helped me wrap my head around the issue to be skeptical of these broad summary stats. A framework that I've found helpful splits the homeless into three groups (instead of lumping them all together):
    1) Transitionally homeless-- single crisis event is the cause, just need quick help to be back on feet;
    2) Episodically homeless-- unstable income and housing, drifting in and out of homelessness, maybe underlying issues like drug/alcohol or mental illness; Need 6mths to a year of supportive services.
    3) Chronically homelessness-- extensive disabilities; unable to support themselves through work; will need long-term supportive services.

    ...and maybe 4) "precariously" homeless-- not yet homeless, but couch surfing, or with very unstable housing, and very at risk of becoming homeless.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
    Registered
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Promoting synergies...
    Posts
    3,563
    First you need to find your local jurisdiction’s continuum of care. That should let you know what efforts are in place and what are planned. There are many different strategies to end homelessness that are being used in your area. The key is to find which one will fit into your community. Here is a couple I am familiar with:

    Washtenaw (County, MI) Housing alliance is one of the most progressive groups I have seen. Their website covers many of their efforts and is a great place to start
    http://www.whalliance.org/

    DC has a plan to end homelessness by 2014. I worked on a few projects in DC and they are way behind in these efforts both on time and on resources but it worth a look. With the high real estate prices and the lack of land this model might be helpful for the San Jose area
    http://www.dc.gov/mayor/homelessness_report.shtm


    A good base resource is the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Coalition to end Homelessness.
    http://www.naeh.org/
    http://www.nationalhomeless.org/
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  7. #7
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2007
    Location
    Oklahoma City
    Posts
    2,904
    Is there a correlation between homelessness and regulatory policies intended to improve quality of life (i.e. legislation mandating certain size requirements for dwelling units or lot sizes/density, utility improvements [beyond the minimum req'd for survival], or building materials) that, while perhaps having good intentions, wound up driving housing costs up and/or pushing affordable areas beyond geographic reach for employment opportunities?

    It's kind of an absurd example, but at the turn of the 20th century (or presently in many large Latin American cities), homelessness might not have been as big a problem, but then again, a considerable amount of people lived in slums.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Plan 9's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2007
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    194
    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    It's kind of an absurd example, but at the turn of the 20th century (or presently in many large Latin American cities), homelessness might not have been as big a problem, but then again, a considerable amount of people lived in slums.
    There is a term for that, it escapes me right now, but something similar to being underemployed.

    The comment about homelessness not being a problem before is wishful thinking. It has always been there, there just wasn't any public conciousness that made it an issue. Don't forget the great depression, many many people were homeless. No matter what is done to combat homelessness, I agree that there will always be people who actually want that lifestyle (eventhough most of us will never be able to understand why), and those who think they want that lifestyle because of diminished mental capacity (from whatever cause, ie drugs, alchohol, mentally ill, etc), and so we may be able to lessen it, but there will always be some.
    "Future events such as these will affect you in the future."

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2002
    Location
    Southeast US
    Posts
    530
    ezlevin's original question:
    I'm looking at the service the system-- gaps in services, barriers to service,
    possible partnerships to provide/ease provision of services, etc
    My response would be that there is a gap in the services that could be provided, but it is not so much a city planning function, but a learning gap.

    Sometimes the best learning opportunity is to see the consequences of people's choices. ie: What happens if you don't pay attention in school. What happens if you don't save. What happens if you work for a company that doesn't provide insurance. What happens if you don't buy accident, health, and life insurance. What happens if you don't make the right decisions about drugs, sex, alcohol, friends, envy, greed, etc, etc, etc.

    People are not taught enough meaningful "life skills" at an early age. Schools could be teaching these "life skills," and showing realistic examples of what happens as a consequence of "bad decisions." It is just superficially touched on - yeah, everybody already knows that stuff. But until you see a real car wreck (or detox, or homelessness, etc.) and its consequences, it doesn't seem real, or that it would happen to oneself.

    Schools, parents, social clubs, and churches aren't teaching the hard facts of life. And our "society" puts down those organizations (like religions) that do.

    The media does not reach young people this message, instead, they occupy young minds with mindless music and video.

    So, I hope I have answered your question about where there are gaps in our service system. Unfortunately, I do not know a good vehicle in city planning that would provide solutions along this line.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 31 Oct 2007 at 10:00 AM. Reason: fixed quote tags

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2003
    Location
    San Diego, CA
    Posts
    7,061
    A few years ago, I took a class on "Homelessness and Public Policy" through SFSU. At the time, San Francisco had about one tenth the overall population of New York city and about the same number of homeless people. This is in part due to the mild meditarranean climate, which makes it easier to survive on the street. It is also in part due to liberal, supportive policies towards homeless people and very high costs of living in SF. (It's easy to have a job in SF and not make enough to rent an SRO.)

    There are lots of programs in the San Francisco Bay Area concerning homelessness. There used to be a free a website with the curriculum from the class I took but the last however-many-times I looked for it, I have not found it. All my old links to it are dead and it may just be gone. But I know that as part of that class I saw a list of more than 100 suggested policy changes or something like that. I don't know where it would be off hand but I believe it was online at one time. You can start with BAY AREA REGIONAL TASK FORCE ON REDUCING HOMELESSNESS (http://www.baha.org/) and then search on similar terms ("bay area homelessness project" is one of the things I searched on). The San Francisco Bay Area is probably THE source for cutting edge policy work for homelessness in the U.S.

  11. #11
         
    Registered
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Way out there
    Posts
    175
    Here in Memphis, there's an organization called Partners for the Homeless, which coordinates the continuum of care for our area. Partners advocates the 'housing first' approach.

    Planning in general has--unfortunately and to the detriment of the urban environment--largely overlooked homelessness, viewing it as more of a social ill than a problem that can be solved, or at least eased, by using good planning principles.

  12. #12
    Member
    Registered
    Jul 2007
    Location
    oakland, ca
    Posts
    8
    Great, important topic - I'd like to throw a couple points into the mix.

    A number of comments have forwarded the idea of looking locally for policies pertaining to the care and regulation of homelessness. While this is certainly useful, it is also insufficient: city or community policies towards homelessness are all too often confined to dealing with the local manifestations of a regional problem. This results in higher density populations of the homeless in places that are more tolerant - like Berkeley or San Francisco, here in the Bay Area - as neighboring cities and communities, whether tacitly or explicitly, encourage the homeless to move along. This is especially true in regions with advanced transit systems and public open spaces, giving those that are able the opportunity to move to those places with the most available resources, assemble and commune with others facing a similar plight, and to lay claim - as members of the public - to the public domain (see recent happenings in Golden Gate Park). Obviously, this leads to friction, and the very notion of sovereignty over the "public" domain becomes a contentious and politically fraught issue for debate.

    Due to the inequitable distribution of homeless populations, the result - at least in part - of an all too localized approach to homelessness, certain cities and communities pay a higher cost to support the homeless than do others, and this can be a significant strain on available resources. Further complicating matters, a lack of coordination in services provided between local public and private institutions can lead to a haphazard or unorganized approach to care that often fails to engender the goals of self-sufficiency and recovery to which these institutions would seemingly be dedicated.

    The answer - not the cure, mind you - is to develop regional policies and plans to address homelessness and to disperse services equitably according to established, regionally specific guidelines for care and recovery (I know I'm painting in broad strokes here, but I think such guidelines are indeed attainable). The notion that certain cities and communities can mandate policies that eliminate social services or pro-actively exclude the homeless and then declare themselves free of the problem of homelessness strikes me as absurd; however, I would argue, it is also a notion in wide practice.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2002
    Location
    Southeast US
    Posts
    530
    As far as implementation of policy goes, I am not too sure that is Planning's role. But perhaps making implementation of certain policies easier could be a legitimate goal.

    For instance, making more space available through zoning for institutional holding areas for homeless persons in proper places.

    A policy (adopted by others) might be that once a homeless person has been picked up for Vagrancy, and he cannot provide a bona fide residential address, he may be turned over to an housing institution (public or private) for food, medical care, clothing and sleeping areas.

    A second policy (by others) that might be implemented is that in order for a person to be released from such holding area, he must have passed certain drug, health or intelligence tests.

    Further, upon additional arrests (after warning to leave the community unless he could take care of himself), he might be required to learn how to apply for and get a job, or learn a trade, or get a GED, or at least advance one or two grade levels, etc. or be placed in the appropriate mental facility for people that cannot cope with reality.

    Yep, some people may never be able to get out. Yep, so maybe that is the best place for them and for society. Remember they are free to go if they can function.

    In the meantime they may be useful to the community by performing services such as trash and garbage pick-up or grass mowing and landscape trimming.

    I know that these are not really Planning functions, but now, I think the Planning question is, where would you house them in your city?

  14. #14
    Member
    Registered
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Toronto, Ontario
    Posts
    2
    I would recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell's article in the New Yorker from 2006 called "Million Dollar Murray: Why problems like homelessness may be easier to solve than to manage."

    http://www.gladwell.com/2006/2006_02_13_a_murray.html
    http://www.gladwell.com/2006/2006_02_13_a_murray.html

    He essentially argues that it is a policy decision. It is more efficient (i.e. saves more money) to supply housing for the chronically homeless than to continue to fund soup kitchens and shelters and most importantly, pay the medical bills for those who are continually on the street.

    He uses Denver as an example (emphasis mine):

    The cost of services comes to about ten thousand dollars per homeless client per year. An efficiency apartment in Denver averages $376 a month, or just over forty-five hundred a year, which means that you can house and care for a chronically homeless person for at most fifteen thousand dollars, or about a third of what he or she would cost on the street. The idea is that once the people in the program get stabilized they will find jobs, and start to pick up more and more of their own rent, which would bring someone's annual cost to the program closer to six thousand dollars. As of today, seventy-five supportive housing slots have already been added, and the city's homeless plan calls for eight hundred more over the next ten years.

    Moderator note:
    Please note that we do not permit posting URLs until a member has more than five posts (it's an effort to fight spam on the site). So, please be patient as the admins/mods get to the queue to validate posts. Your two duplicate posts were deleted. Thanks and carry on!. ~Gedunker
    Last edited by Gedunker; 05 Nov 2007 at 9:55 AM.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Sep 2004
    Location
    WA
    Posts
    112
    Please ignore me if someone else already references this. . .but the state of washington requires that these plans be drafted by nearly every county. . .

    These emphasis BOTH the services and the bricks and mortar housing. Spokane (surprisingly) was an early adopted/developer of a very useful HMIS system which is worth looking at. . .

    Here are a few links that you may find useful:


    http://www.spokanehomeless.org/

    http://www.cehkc.org/plan-final.shtml

  16. #16
    Cyburbian H's avatar
    Registered
    Feb 2003
    Location
    MKS
    Posts
    2,847

    Not a good solution, but historically interesting:

    I understand that Knoxville used to round up homeless folks and prostitutes, put them on a barge and send them down the Tennessee River to Chattanooga...

    I dont think they do that anymore, but when I was in school there, I heard they would still buy you a one-way bus ticket if you were homeless and you asked. (but I think that was rumor).

    Note: I am in no way saying this is a good solution.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  17. #17
    Cyburbian JNL's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2002
    Location
    Wellington, NZ
    Posts
    2,447
    Quote Originally posted by H View post
    I understand that Knoxville used to round up homeless folks and prostitutes, put them on a barge and send them down the Tennessee River to Chattanooga...
    Don't they still do something like this now, when the Olympics are coming to town, they hand out long distance bus tickets in the hope that the homeless will at least stay away long enough to make it look like the problem has been resolved? Where did I read about that? I know Vancouver is struggling to deal with the BIG problem they have, and I haven't got the impression that they're on top of it. Providing more and better quality low income housing will not solve the problem. As other people have mentioned here, there are usually multiple reasons why someone becomes homeless, often including drug and alcohol problems, and those issues need to be addressed too.

    In my understanding, we can never hope to end homelessness. We can do things to reduce it. but there will always be a fringe that are unable to or choose not to living in conventional housing. I heard of one woman in my own hometown who has some kind of disorder where she is extremely paranoid about other people being around her and hypersensitive to noise, so she chooses to live up in the hills and only come into town a few times a year to get supplies.

    I worked with some people involved in an expensive project to work one-on-one with some chronically homeless in Wellington, to first learn about their backgrounds and how they ended up on the streets, and then to set them up in public housing accommodation.

    From my understanding, some of the key lessons from the project were:
    • some people needed assistance with basics like opening and operating a bank account, in order to receive accommodation assistance and pay rent
    • some people may not know how conventional household items like a stove work
    • some people are not used to living in close proximity to others and don't know how to be a considerate neighbour
    • it's not a simple matter of providing a roof over their head - without also working on substance abuse problems and general life skills, they may cause distress to their neighbours and end up back on the streets by choice within a very short time
    • some people simply do not like to be confined by four walls and have to answer to anybody, and prefer the freedom of roaming free

    I believe there were some long term successes but there were also a couple of high profile incidents that got bad press for the project: one person who had been rehoused managed to burn their new house down, and another attacked a neighbour. This was a several hundred thousand dollar project for just a handful of homeless.

    Reading the transcripts of the in-depth interviews going back through their lives to find out how they ended up in their current situation was fascinating reading. It really helped highlight that it's overly simplistic to think that providing a roof over their head will solve their problems.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian H's avatar
    Registered
    Feb 2003
    Location
    MKS
    Posts
    2,847
    Quote Originally posted by JNL View post
    Don't they still do something like this now, when the Olympics are coming to town
    It is my understanding that Atlanta relocated their homeless population to south Georgia during the 1996 Olympics.

    I don’t know the all the facts on this, but as my family is from ATL, I can sure tell you that the usual homeless populations were certainly not present in ATL during the Olympics.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
    Registered
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Promoting synergies...
    Posts
    3,563
    Quote Originally posted by H View post
    It is my understanding that Atlanta relocated their homeless population to south Georgia during the 1996 Olympics.

    I don’t know the all the facts on this, but as my family is from ATL, I can sure tell you that the usual homeless populations were certainly not present in ATL during the Olympics.
    Exporting the homeless to other towns is very common. In Tempe they would put the homeless on a bus to Tucson, Detroit sent their homeless away for the Super Bowl, NYC has sent them to Philadelphia...in DC it was not uncommon to put them on a Metro and ask them to get off in Maryland or Virginia.

    During the Super Bowl I beleive Detroit also opened 24 hr a day shelters that would allow the homeless to come in but they could not leave. They were fed and entertained so the week prior to the Super Bowl before being returned to the normal level of services.

    This practice can be harmful to the individual since they are not aware of the support structure in place. From my understanding this is often done to homeless persons that are chemically dependent when they are in an altered state.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Sep 2004
    Location
    WA
    Posts
    112
    Getting back to the original post,
    Do any of y'all have experience with city-level policies to end homelessness? Homelessness of all types: chronic, episodic, transitional, precarious, etc. Is this a question for planners?
    I don't think so. . .at least the standard planner whose role is primarily involving land use and/or transportation issues rather than homelessness and housing issues. Again, in Washington State when they required the counties to write the 10 year plans to end homelessness the stakeholders were the social service and housing providers and the umbrella groups representing them.

    I remember speaking to one of the local APA people who was trying to recruit new members and they had (again this was just in my locality and may not represent anything beyond that) basically no membership in the City dept that adminstered HOME funds or in the dept that provided funding to social service organizations.

    While I think the training for planners would be useful in these areas, I think the lack of $$$ prevents a lot of people from entering that field. . .

+ Reply to thread

More at Cyburbia

  1. Tackling the problem of homelessness
    Economic and Community Development
    Replies: 0
    Last post: 28 Jun 2009, 6:31 AM
  2. Replies: 6
    Last post: 08 Feb 2005, 11:37 PM
  3. Homelessness in Urban Centers
    Make No Small Plans
    Replies: 40
    Last post: 03 Dec 2003, 7:22 PM
  4. Homelessness is uncalled for
    Economic and Community Development
    Replies: 77
    Last post: 22 Jul 2003, 5:08 PM
  5. Homelessness in your city?
    Cities and Places
    Replies: 13
    Last post: 08 Jul 2003, 2:03 PM