By Emily Palmer, President, YNPN Milwaukee and Benefits Coordinator, Outreach Community Health Centers
I have spent time in several meetings lately discussing the problem of homelessness in our community. It is a complex problem, to be sure, so what do we do about it?
Milwaukee has a 10 year plan to end homelessness, and a continuum of agencies that meet on a monthly basis to discuss progress on this plan. Each year, task forces and work groups are developed and tweaked to figure out how to best end homelessness in 10 years.
In fact, each community across the nation is mandated by HUD (the Housing and Urban Development department) to have a 10-year plan to end homelessness. When this was first mandated in the 1990s, communities felt overwhelmed by this seemingly insurmountable challenge. Homelessness was seen as a multi-pronged issue brought on by unemployment, low education, mental illness, and substance abuse. Homelessness was seen as a product instead of so many other issues, that communities believed they needed to solve all of those issues to solve homelessness.
What has been found in the past five years is that homelessness is a symptom instead of an outcome. If we treat homelessness as the problem of not having a home, the solution becomes much more simple. Phillip Magano, former director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, stated that we have found the solution to homelessness, it is “to give people housing.”
You see, those who are homeless are just like you and me. They would like a stable place to be at night, they would like a shower in the morning, they would like to conquer their bad habits and get treatment for illnesses. However, they can't effectively do that without a stable place to be.
Consider the story of Million Dollar Murray, a chronically homeless man who cost the city $1 million per year to treat while homeless. When Murray was given a place to live, he was able to address the issues that complicated his homelessness and he received fewer tickets for loitering and the like. By treating homelessness as a symptom of a larger systemic issue, Murray's community saved money overall and Murray's quality of life improved. This has been shown in other communities across the country.
Homelessness is an issue that can be solved- by giving people housing.