In 2018, “the number of homeless people in Riverside County decreased by 4 percent” compared to the year before. Clearly, this is a good sign: reducing homelessness is imperative to providing these individuals with the support and resources they need to reenter the economy and live a productive life. For these reasons and more, it is important to continue helping the current homeless individuals and families.
The city of Riverside contributes to this issue, by using Housing First, a program that provides immediate shelter to the homeless population. Although this approach has helped many, in some circumstances it is better to use a different program like transitional housing, which prioritizes teaching the life skills that will set these individuals and families up for a more stable future.
Housing First is a way of helping homeless families and individuals by “providing permanent housing.” This means if someone takes this approach they would get these people off the streets and immediately place them into a permanent home. The reasoning behind this method is that “people need basic necessities” before being able to work towards other higher goals. For example, if an individual needs a job, they will not be able to do that, let alone focus on that task, unless their foundational necessities like food and a home are met.
By using this approach, Riverside has lowered their homelessness rate; yet, it may not be the most effective solution in the long run. Sometimes a program such as transitional housing can be more beneficial, especially for individuals needing long-term support.
The transitional housing approach, rather than simply housing the homeless, placed individuals into a shelter program. In this program families and individuals learn skills that will help them lead a more sustainable life. These shelter programs help people in a wide variety of areas, including financial help, unemployment, budgeting, mental illness support and much more. Once these people have gained these skills, they are then placed into a permanent home. This way, these individuals already have these skills in their back pocket and when they are faced with a challenge in their new home, they know exactly what to do.
According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the main causes for homelessness are “lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, mental illness accompanied by lack of needed services, and substance abuse and lack of needed services”. Additionally, typical families and individuals are barely getting by with their wages. After covering basic essentials like housing, utilities, transportation and food, people are often left with less than half of their income. As a result, they are deprived of other important things like healthcare and education.
Housing First does get people off the streets, however, it does not begin to address the core problem. For example, if an individual is unemployed with the Housing First program they would get a home, but they still would not have a job. Maybe the city could help them with rent, but for how long? With the transitional housing approach, this individual would first be trained on useful tools such as how to do a good interview and maintain job competency. By the time this individual has a permanent home, they would also have a stable job.
The Housing First approach does not provide the necessary support for some individuals. Substance abuse without the right support is one of the five leading causes of homelessness. If one simply placed an individual who has a substance abuse problem in a home, it is very likely they will continue to engage in this dangerous activity. Continuing on with the very thing that caused them to be homeless will put them in a perpetual cycle of homelessness. However, if we give them the help that they need while they are being supervised, then the outcome might be a better one, thus ending this cycle.
An organization called LifeMoves uses a transitional housing approach that helps individuals and families to live a better sustainable life. They are a “nonprofit committed to ending the cycle of homelessness in Silicon Valley.” With this approach they were able to help 89 percent of families and 73 percent of individuals “successfully (return) to stable housing, equipped with life skills and competencies needed to maintain a long-term self-sufficiency.” Without the skills and support taught at these shelter programs, it is very difficult to say if people’s housing would remain stable or long-term.
Most families and individuals in this situation had preset conditions that were out of their control. Maybe they have a low socioeconomic status or maybe they went to war and are now a veteran with PTSD needing real support, but devoid of access to these resources. In reality there are a lot of “other outside factors [that are] combined to work against them before they found themselves without a place to live.” Having this in mind, having a home is great, but it may not be what some individuals need. Some individuals need support and skills before they can live up to a well-adjusted life. The leading causes of homelessness show us that most factors require long-term support, and Transitional Housing will ensure that this happens. Ultimately it is not a “one-size-fits-all solution,” but something rather more complex. Still, having a conversation about these programs for the homeless will contribute to improving and helping this disadvantaged population.