June 18, 2022

THANKS, W!:

How Houston Moved 25,000 People From the Streets Into Homes of Their Own (Michael Kimmelman, June 14, 2022, The New York Times)

During the last decade, Houston, the nation's fourth most populous city, has moved more than 25,000 homeless people directly into apartments and houses. The overwhelming majority of them have remained housed after two years. The number of people deemed homeless in the Houston region has been cut by 63 percent since 2011, according to the latest numbers from local officials. Even judging by the more modest metrics registered in a 2020 federal report, Houston did more than twice as well as the rest of the country at reducing homelessness over the previous decade. Ten years ago, homeless veterans, one of the categories that the federal government tracks, waited 720 days and had to navigate 76 bureaucratic steps to get from the street into permanent housing with support from social service counselors. Today, a streamlined process means the wait for housing is 32 days.

Houston has gotten this far by teaming with county agencies and persuading scores of local service providers, corporations and charitable nonprofits -- organizations that often bicker and compete with one another -- to row in unison. Together, they've gone all in on "housing first," a practice, supported by decades of research, that moves the most vulnerable people straight from the streets into apartments, not into shelters, and without first requiring them to wean themselves off drugs or complete a 12-step program or find God or a job.

There are addiction recovery and religious conversion programs that succeed in getting people off the street. But housing first involves a different logic: When you're drowning, it doesn't help if your rescuer insists you learn to swim before returning you to shore. You can address your issues once you're on land. Or not. Either way, you join the wider population of people battling demons behind closed doors.

"Before I leave office, I want Houston to be the first big city to end chronic homelessness," Sylvester Turner told me. In late January, Mr. Turner, who is serving his final term as mayor, joined Harris County leaders in unveiling a $100 million plan that would use a mix of federal, state, county and city funds to cut the local homeless count in half again by 2025.

Mr. Turner chose his words with care, and it's important to parse his phrasing. "Chronic homelessness" is a term of art. It refers to those people, like many in the Houston encampment, who have been living on the streets for more than a year or who have been homeless repeatedly, and who have a mental or physical disability. Nationwide, most of those who experience homelessness do not fall into that narrow category. They are homeless for six weeks or fewer; 40 percent have a job. For them, homelessness is an agonizing but temporary condition that they manage to resolve, maybe by doubling up with relatives or friends.

There are at the same time many thousands of mothers and children, as well as couch-surfing teenagers and young adults who are ill-housed and at risk. These people are also poor and desperate. Finding a place to sleep may be a daily struggle for them. They might be one broken transmission or emergency room visit away from the streets. They're in the pipeline to homelessness. But they are not homeless according to the bureaucratic definition. They are not sleeping on a sidewalk or in their cars or in shelters. Houston can offer these people a hand, but Mr. Turner is not promising to end the precariousness of their lives.

"We are not here to solve poverty. We aren't here to fix the affordable housing problem" is how Ms. Rausch puts it, adding, "Think of the homeless system in America as an emergency room for a triaged slice of poverty. What Houston has achieved is to get itself far enough along in addressing the challenge that we can hope to begin to think about the pipeline to homelessness."


The Abolitionist: Bush's homelessness czar has some new ideas. Will liberals listen? (Douglas McGray, JUNE 2004, The Atlantic)

With his dark tailored suits and his silver banker's coif, Philip Mangano looks like a liberal Democrat's idea of a conservative Republican's idea of an advocate for the poor--which, as the Bush Administration's homelessness czar, he happens to be. It is difficult to imagine Mangano fasting on the Capitol steps in a ratty Army-surplus jacket, as the late activist for the homeless Mitch Snyder once did, much less winning over the bleeding hearts in the nonprofit world by promising to apply the President's governing philosophy to their cause. But the latter is precisely what he does. "Any investment we make will be research-and-data-driven, performance-based, and results-oriented," I heard him declare on a cold March morning in New York City, to a gathering of social workers and housing advocates. It is something he has said again and again.

Mangano's message is as pure an example as can be found in government of "compassionate conservatism," which argues that traditionally liberal social concerns can be advanced through such conservative principles as responsibility and accountability. Though this was the centerpiece of George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, the "compassion agenda" heralded in the President's inaugural address seemed to dissolve in the face of partisanship, underfunding, and an all-consuming foreign policy. What was once a unifying theme is now likely to be invoked by his rival as evidence of Bush's hollowness. "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds?" John Kerry recently asked an audience in Jackson, Mississippi, quoting from the Book of James. Mangano is nevertheless making a compelling case for compassionate conservatism in an unlikely field.

Widespread street homelessness is a relatively recent problem, at least in the modern era. It began to appear in the late 1970s, when the economy tanked, affordable housing began to disappear, and state hospitals, prodded by patients'-rights activists, released hundreds of thousands of the mentally ill into communities unprepared to receive them. Temporary shelters sprang up in church basements and neighborhood centers to address what was expected to be a short-term crisis. But the problem of homelessness persisted, and improvised measures became entrenched. After years of government neglect the Clinton Administration finally responded by tripling funding for programs to help the homeless and encouraging local organizations to offer a wide range of services, from counseling to health care. But, incredibly, the numbers of the homeless only increased. Today a patchwork of federal, state, city, and private money supports more than 40,000 programs--some cheap, others expensive; some staggeringly successful, others struggling; each with its own agenda; and few accountable for the work they perform. "We're trying to disrupt this ad hoc approach," Mangano says. "We're saying it needs to be strategic."

Homelessness is one of the few corners of public policy in which traditional liberal ideas have gone largely unchallenged. But Mangano believes that many professional activists, though well intentioned, have given up on ending homelessness. They have accepted the problem as intractable and fallen back on social work and handouts as a way to make broken lives more bearable. In doing so, he says, they have allowed "a certain amount of institutionalism" to take root. The Bush Administration proposes to solve the problem by beginning with the hardest cases: the 10 percent who are severe addicts or mentally ill, and consume half of all resources devoted to homeless shelters. Mangano believes that by moving these chronic cases into "supportive housing"--a private room or apartment where they would receive support services and psychotropic medications--the government could actually save money, and free up tens of thousands of shelter beds. The Bush Administration, spotting an opportunity to increase the return on its investment, is seeking to end chronic homelessness within ten years. Not only is this possible, Mangano insists, but it is common sense.

Mangano's forthright presence has divided a close-knit community. Perhaps not surprisingly, supportive-housing advocates and those who work with addicts and the mentally ill tend to be enthusiastic about his ideas. Outreach workers and emergency-shelter managers are divided. "There are people threatened ideologically and financially by this sort of change," explains Dennis Culhane, a professor of social-welfare policy at the University of Pennsylvania. "Absent new resources, shifting resources to permanent housing will take resources away from shelters." [...]

Mangano believes that the breakthrough in the battle to abolish homelessness occurred only in the past five years, after Dennis Culhane determined that about one percent of the nation's urban population was homeless each year--more than anyone expected. Culhane studied this group and discovered that most were homeless for less than two months, but a hard-core minority--about 10 percent--stayed in shelters about two years, on average. "The emergency-shelter system," Culhane explained, "designed as a safety net, was serving as an expensive form of permanent housing." He measured just how much the chronic cases cost by tracking 10,000 mentally ill homeless people in New York, 5,000 of whom were placed in supportive housing and 5,000 of whom remained in shelters or on the street. It turned out that the first group cost the city no more, and probably less, than the second. A wave of similar studies reinforced his findings.

Mangano arrived in Washington, in 2002, well liked by both Republicans and Democrats. But skeptics wondered whether he could defend anti-homelessness programs from spending cuts, much less persuade a preoccupied conservative Administration and dozens of Democratic mayors to work together on an issue that doesn't register as a priority for voters. Through relentless travel and lobbying he has produced encouraging results.

On that March morning Atlanta's mayor, Shirley Franklin, an outspoken supporter of Mangano's, and Angela Aliota, a civil-rights lawyer in charge of San Francisco's chronic-homelessness plan, had traveled to New York to meet with city officials who were preparing to release their plan to battle homelessness, and to visit two programs that Mangano was eager to replicate elsewhere. We piled into a white cargo van and headed to East Harlem, where Pathways to Housing manages close to 500 apartments for the mentally ill. Its founder and executive director, Sam Tsemberis, is a man after Mangano's heart. When we arrived, he distributed copies of a new study in the American Journal of Public Health that tracks Pathways's performance. "Every program can bring forward people whose lives they saved," he explained. But that doesn't make them all equal. "If we didn't have scientific data, it would become a debate." Tsemberis has ministered to the so-called "treatment-resistant" for decades, and pioneered his "housing first" model after being struck by how many clients distrusted social workers and simply wanted a place to live. Offer them the apartment first, he believes, and you don't need to spend years, and service dollars, winning their trust. His success rates are high, his costs relatively low. "You can see why that resonated with the compassionate-conservative types," Culhane says. "It's exactly the kind of thing they've claimed they're looking for: sensible policy interventions that do right for the people and for the taxpayer."

As the solution to poverty is wealth, so too is the solution to homelessness homes. 

Posted by at June 18, 2022 8:17 AM

  

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