Monday, January 5, 2015

How to End Homelessness? Jobs

On December 17th, homeless advocate Eric Sheptock brought together a group of people to get some feedback on an article he was writing. Eric is himself homeless and lives in the CCNV (Federal City) shelter near Judiciary Square. (You can follow him on FB and Twitter.) We met in a basement meeting room in the MLK Library. The group included a resident of the DC General shelter, another homeless person, a former ANC commissioner from near Barry Farms, a resident of Barry Farms public housing, a volunteer social worker, and a Visiting Fulbright Professor and grassroots community organizer from Budapest, Hungary. Of course, these descriptions of the group do not capture the many other identities of these individuals. The discussion was completely fascinating and led to a great article that you can read at the end of this post.

The article shows how past attempts to end homeless have failed and asks whether the District government actually wishes to end homelessness. In 2004, the District implemented Homeless No More, the 10-year plan to end homelessness in DC. Homelessness was supposed to have ended on December 31st, just 5 days ago. Instead, homelessness in DC increased by at least 50% since the plan was adopted. And the DC government has ended programs that might help the homeless:
In February 2013 the plug was pulled on a sweat equity program open to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients, even though the majority of homeless parents in the job-training program were on track to be housed and employed. The $2.6 million spent renovating two buildings on Wayne Place in Southeast is cited as the reason for shuttering the pilot program. Yet city officials heralded it as proof that many welfare recipients want to work. 
The article suggests that the DC government does not actually want to end homelessness:
If we assumed the government is doing exactly what it intends to, it would appear D.C. Government intends to fail to end homelessness; it would appear that mayors Fenty and Gray each pulled together affordable housing task forces to create a facade of wanting to enable low-income workers to live in D.C. If that is not the case, then our government's track record on these issues looks grossly incompetent: spending hundreds of millions of tax dollars without ending homelessness. Either option is cause for concern. 
Instead of ending homelessness, the DC government has encouraged gentrification.

What might actually help to end homelessness? Living-wage jobs and a Homeless Bill of Rights.

According to the National Coalition for the Homelessness, Homeless Bill of Rights measures work to ensure that homeless individuals are:

  • Protected against segregation, laws targeting homeless people for their lack of housing and not their behavior, and restrictions on the use of public space.
  • Granted privacy and property protections.
  • Allowed the opportunity to vote and feel safe in their community without fear or harassment.
  • Provided broad access to shelter, social services, legal counsel and quality education for the children of homeless families.

The following cities and states have passed or are considering homeless rights legislation:
California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Baltimore, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and Madison, Wisconsin.

While a Homeless Bill of Rights is necessary to end housing and employment discrimination, I believe that Eric's main policy recommendation is a massive jobs program, jobs with a living wage. (What is a living wage in DC? Here is what MIT says.) A massive jobs program would help a whole range of people all across the United States.

Here's the article:

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