Some have expressed surprise that I have been speaking up concerning Home For Good. As an original signee, I intended to support Home For Good. I was excited that the business community, long absent from the efforts to end homelessness in LA, was jumping in with both feet in an effort to address homelessness. If Home For Good had done what I hoped, brought in the business community to advance another strategy to add to the continuum of solutions to homelessness, I would have stayed very supportive, but they did not. Instead of humbly presenting another good strategy to the continuum, Home For Good presented Housing 1st/Permanent supportive housing as the one size fits all solution, or silver bullet to ending homelessness. In a meeting with the AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals), the speaker for Home For Good stated that not only is Home For Good the solution to homelessness, but that the rest of us; shelters, recovery centers, and transitional housing, had been doing it all wrong. I scratched my head and thought, “We shouldn’t encourage people to recover?” She said that while we had all managed the problem, Home For Good would solve the problem. This type of over-confidence from Home For Good was a cause for concern, but that over-confidence has also led to a big marketing and branding push by the LA United Way, The Chamber of Commerce, with help from the Federal, County, City government, and even some Foundations and it has effectively drawn resources away from shelters, recovery centers and transitional housing programs, closing many and reducing beds in others which in turn has caused more people to fall on the streets, in effect, not ending homelessness but adding to the number of people experiencing homelessness.
If anyone doubts me, come walk the streets with me. Since the launch of Home For Good, the number of people on the streets of Skid Row has nearly tripled, and I do not believe this is confined to Skid Row. This Housing First push is nationwide. The theory is that if you focus on the 10% to 20%, the chronically devastated from homelessness, provide them with a roof over their heads, a place to call home, with supportive services, you will end homelessness. The problem I have with that theory is that moving all of the resources and services away from the other 80% to 90% who are episodically homeless will leave them homeless and will cause them to become the chronically devastated from homelessness of the near future. There are studies that show that the chronically homeless of today were the chronically homeless and poor children of yesteryear, and leaving children on the streets today will produce tomorrow’s chronically homeless and devastated adults. This Housing First Push/Shift is happening throughout the country, and many are reporting a drop in homelessness, however, meanwhile, chronic homelessness is up 6 percent, people doubling up has risen 13 percent, people are turning to storage areas for living units, and 55 tent cities have sprung up outside of cities throughout the country as homelessness actually has increased.
Let’s use Home For Good’s published and much touted results as a model. Home For Good produced only 211 new units of permanent supportive housing. That is progress. However, as Home For Good signed existing agencies on, they began utilizing the statistics of those agencies as their own for an overall effect. Let’s say the existing agencies, last year, before Home For Good found x number of people housing. This year, they found x number of people housing, plus y, with y =211 new units of housing. It appears that Home For Good took x plus y, and with this new cooperation stated that Home For Good provided housing for 3,000 previously homeless individuals. Producing 211 new units of permanently supportive housing will not keep up with the number of people falling into homelessness, or those already becoming chronically homeless. Even 3,000 per year, will not end homelessness. 3,000 per year, along with the shelters, recovery centers, and transitional housing has a chance of making progress, but no one strategy has a chance of ending homelessness on its own.
Finally, the astronomical savings of resources that Home For Good advocates advanced initially always had me leery. Something in the range of $750 Million in savings was touted along with this strategy. “If people are in their own places, rather than on the streets, we will save $750 Million in shelter and emergency services, was the claim.” This showed a lack of understanding. The capital expenses of building the permanent supportive housing was left out of the equation, as well as the high operating costs to truly provide the needed services, security, and strong management. To build enough permanent supportive housing and provide support services for everyone experiencing homelessness in LA, using Project 50 as a model, would be in the range of $15 Billion for initial capital investment and $5 Billion per year for operating/supportive services. Those resources are not available, and will never be poured into this one solution. A much better, more practical approach is a multi-pronged strategy of prevention services, shelter, case management, recovery centers, transitional housing, along with affordable and supportive housing. See http://youarethemission.org
We have a permanent supportive housing unit next door to URM. A few weeks ago a resident was attempting to jump off of the roof. His actions tied up the LAPD and the Fire Department for the entire day. Where are the cost savings in that? It is not irregular to see the County Coroner in front of the building responding to an overdose death. Where are the cost savings in that? Last week, we caught one of their residents burglarizing our loading dock on video. What makes everyone think that a roof over the head of someone solves all problems? Since the launch of Home For Good it is reported by the Central City East Association that police calls to Skid Row are up 500% and fire calls are up 1000%. Where is the cost savings in that?
As the world, it seems, along with the government, some foundations, The LA United Way, the LA Chamber of Commerce have all moved to this housing first/ Home For Good strategy, the Board of Directors and leadership of URM has remained firm in our commitment to do our part in ending homelessness with the strategy of Life Transformation, followed by a job, then a home. Representatives with Home For Good stopped by one of our last Los Angeles Central Partners Collaborative a few weeks ago. They asked us to fill out a document, hand over our donor lists, and sign on the dotted line in order to receive the Seal of Approval from Home For Good that we are effective recovery centers and shelters. Mind you, Midnight Mission has been doing this work for nearly 100 years, LA Mission for 75, and URM for 120. Yet, Home For Good, in existence for 1 year, wanted to take charge and become the expert judge of our effectiveness. I responded to this audacity by saying, “You all can do whatever you want, and put the seal of approval on whomever you’d like, but URM will continue to effectively end homelessness through life transformation, then a job, then a home.”
I will again be kind and use the word over confidence. What causes wealthy powerful business people to believe that because now that they are on the scene, this complex issue of homelessness is somehow solved? You can say what you’d like, you can market and brand, but no one solution and no amount of marketing and branding, no matter how powerful the marketing machine is, will be the single solution for this complex issue of homelessness. Please take some time to have proven results, ask an outside group to audit your long-term results, and then carefully consider the effect before marketing in a way that hurts other efforts by good agencies.