Saturday, April 9, 2011

A student endorses the plan to end homelessness

The letter below was written by a student who was impressed by a recent report by the Interagency Council on Homelessness on how we could prevent and end homelessness. 

I am a social work student at the University of Illinois at Springfield. I care about the welfare of everyone, especially the homeless. In Springfield alone, there are more than 300 people that are living in shelters or on the streets on any given day, not including the homeless people that are staying with friends and family. I am writing to you because I support the plan to end homelessness in Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness (2011). As part of this plan, $83 million have been distributed to homeless programs in Illinois to help prevent and end homelessness. According to the Interagency Agency on Homelessness (2011), this program intends to focus on five area of action: “Increasing leadership, collaboration, and civic engagement, increase access to stable and affordable housing, increase economic security, improve health and stability, and retool the homeless response system”.
Our civilization has failed to prevent or end homelessness, and if we are to ever achieve a victory in this, we will need the support and direction of well-informed and sincerely committed leaders. It is almost impossible for one agency alone to overcome the obstacles associated with homelessness; therefore various leaders from social service agencies and political parties need to collaborate to accomplish this tremendous goal.  It is my hope that these leadership positions are filled with individuals based on their integrity and passion to rid homelessness, instead of their political affiliations.
Affordable housing, which is configured so that a person should only be paying 30% of their salary for their housing and utility needs, is hard to find considering the amount of people that work full-time for minimum wage. In the United States, 44% of households are paying over this affordability amount for their housing. Commitment to programs that provide affordable housing will help stop the cycle of homelessness.
 Improving economic security, health, and stability are also essential components that may reduce or prevent homelessness. Increased employment opportunities may provide individuals with the income they need to improve their well-being and their ability to move beyond being homeless. We need increased employment opportunities to give those able and willing a chance to earn enough to pay for their housing, and if the private sector doesn’t provide these opportunities, we ought to focus some government spending on creating such jobs, either through direct government employment (as was done by agencies such as the Civilian Conservation Corps) or by federal spending targeted at helping private agencies and companies hire more people to get important work done.
Increased healthcare and social support programs will offer vulnerable individuals the support they need to overcome the obstacles that could lead to homelessness. Approximately 25% of individuals who are homeless have a mental disorder. Persons who struggle with mental illness are more likely to become homeless, and persons who are mentally well and then become homeless are more likely to develop mental illness in response to their homeless state. In either case, improved availability, affordability, and effectiveness of community mental health and public health services, which are currently shamefully underfunded, would decrease homelessness. War veterans, who may have post-traumatic stress disorder, and survivors of abuse could potentially become homeless because they cannot cope with their mental illnesses.
The final part of this plan is increasing the response to homelessness. If the homelessness response is transformed into a rapid response, then people are more likely to receive assistance faster. Also if the assistance is obtained earlier on, then the individuals will be able to recover from homelessness sooner. Furthermore, they may not have to suffer as much with the feelings of insecurity and the loss of their home.
I’m suggesting that we have a set of housing units ready to be used as people near a point of becoming homeless.  Just as there are emergency rooms where persons with medical emergencies go to seek urgent care, there could be “security housing” were persons newly homeless could go immediately to begin living in a safe and satisfactory environment after losing their housing, and thus never become homeless on the streets or in shelters. Or, even more ideal, there would be a program to help people stay in their current home when they reach a point of being very near eviction. For example, for persons living in homes where rents or mortgages are below some set threshold, it might be most efficient to simply pay the rent or mortgage for the household, rather than allowing them to become homeless.
Senator Kirk, I encourage you to please support Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. As a social work student, I have become more aware of the needs facing the homeless and see this as an opportunity to gain a voice in show of support for those who are suffering or on the brink of homelessness. Programs and initiatives that provide hope for those in need give me pride in what my country is doing. I want to thank you for your time and consideration in regards to my views and concerns about homelessness.

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