Social Issues While Living In A ‘Protracted Crisis’

It's difficult to even begin to have a conversation about homelessness in America anymore.

Even in progressive cities like Seattle and San Francisco, coverage of our historically high levels of homelessness has become so hyperpartisanized that it's impossible for people to agree on the causes of the housing crisis, let alone work together to find solutions. Where some people see homelessness as strictly an economic failure, others position each case of homelessness as an individual failure, blaming it on untreated mental illness or a drug addiction problem.

Let's be clear that simply building large amounts of housing will not solve our housing crisis, as some urbanists claim. But neither is homelessness a personal failing free from systemic economic pressures. A Zillow study from 2017 found that homelessness increases in cities where rents exceed a third of the average income, and each rent increase of $100 is associated with a corresponding jump in homelessness of anywhere from 6% to 32%. Given that median rents in some cities have skyrocketed by up to 91% over the past decade, that's a minimum of tens of thousands of Americans who are being pushed out into the street for the first time every year.

University of Washington Professor Josephine Ensign joined the "Pitchfork Economics" podcast to discuss her 40-year career working with homeless populations around the world as a researcher, nurse, and policy worker. Her latest book, "Skid Road: On the Frontier of Health and Homelessness in an American City," specifically explores the history of homelessness in Seattle.

How did we get to a point when nearly every American city is dotted with tent encampments? Ensign cites the "steady defunding of [Department of Housing and Urban Development] services, in terms of support for low-income housing redevelopments" that has taken place through the latter half of the 20th century, as well as "the gentrification of inner city areas that have displaced, especially, persons of color and people living intergenerationally in poverty," and the "deinstitutionalization of people with pretty severe mental health issues and developmental issues" that took place in the late '70s and throughout the '80s.

In short, there's no one smoking gun to point to as the root cause of America's homelessness crisis. Instead, a wide array of policy failures, worsened by American leaders' 40-year love affair with trickle-down austerity, have led to this moment. (For proof, consider the fact that European nations with robust social safety nets don't have the same growing number of unhoused people as we do.)

A universal healthcare system alone would resolve many of the issues that push Americans onto the streets, and which exacerbate their problems once they're on the street.

With rents and housing prices rising astronomically, we obviously need much more affordable housing in American cities right now. It's cheaper to house homeless people than it is to put them through the endless piecemeal cycle of homeless shelters and triage services that cost taxpayers somewhere between $30,000 and $80,000 per homeless person per year. But the fact is that physical shelter needs are only part of the problem.

"It's not just a problem with inadequate low income and supportive housing," Ensign said. "It is also the sense of belonging, the sense of community, the community supports in terms of health and social services, that are needed for people to be safe and healthy and happy in low-income and long-term permanent housing."

People experience trauma before they're forced into homelessness, and they experience trauma while they're homeless. If we don't have systems in place to address that emotional damage, homeless populations will continue to rise.

So what would Ensign do if she could establish policies to ameliorate homelessness in a major American city? "The biggest thing that I would fund is ongoing supportive services in shelters and day shelters and outreach programs," she said, including high-quality mental health and substance abuse programs for homeless families and individuals, "because if they're not quality, if they're not sustainable, it actually does more harm than good for people trying to become more stable in housing and health."

"With quick interventions and appropriate counseling and treatment for the child and for the family," Ensign said, those traumas "can be overcome and can actually become sources of strength."

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-in/finance/news/why-mental-health-and-social-services-are-as-crucial-as-physical-shelter-to-address-the-homelessness-crisis/ar-AARc6hG

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