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Homelessness: why the verb matters

By Kerry Morrison

December 5, 2014

The turning point for me arrived in 2004 when I attended a “big ideas” session at the International Downtown Association (IDA) annual conference in Vancouver.  Phil Mangano, the head of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) addressed a standing room only group of BID executives and described how, for too long in America, homelessness had been “managed.”  The policy goal of the Bush era was to “end” homelessness by asking local jurisdictions to set measurable goals to which they would be held accountable – and work their plans.

It’s been ten years since that sea change, but here are some of the operative concepts that are driving true change in homeless policy:

  • Housing First is the accepted strategy to invite people directly off the streets and into housing. Intermediary “stops along the way” in a shelter, or mandatory sobriety requirements, for example, are not productive and are actually more expensive.
  • It is less costly to house people than to let them languish on the streets. Dozens and dozens of cost studies attest to this.  A famous study, Million Dollar Murray, documented that allowing a homeless man suffering from alcohol addition to languish on the streets cost the city of Reno $1M.  A  2009 study conducted by Home for Good here in Los Angeles documented a 43 percent drop in costs associated with housing four people with special needs who were previously cycling through emergency rooms, hospitals and jails.
  • Providing food and showers to people, though helpful, enables homelessness. A provocative book that has helped many do-good organizations re-think how they help is Toxic Charity.   Faith and philanthropic groups are encouraged to look at how they can participate in the process of moving people from streets to a home; and help keep people housed through companionship and community-building initiatives.
  • Agencies, nonprofits and individuals are encouraged to collaborate to bring more resources to the table, and to avoid working in siloes. Silo-busting is occurring through collaborative efforts such as the recently launched Coordinated Entry System in Los Angeles.
  • Each individual suffering from homelessness is unique and there is no “one size fits all” strategy to ending homelessness. Over the past five years, targeted surveys have helped to reduce the anonymity of those living on the streets and identify their needs through assessments that rank individuals by their vulnerability and their unique shelter and service needs.

Over the next year, we will blog about how these concepts are playing out in Hollywood, and how progress is being made in bringing our homeless neighbors off the street and into their own homes.  Ending homelessness happens one person at a time, and there is great hope that this goal is truly achievable!

This blog is part of a series entitled “Exploring the Micro-Neighborhoods and Macro Trends” which stems from the presentation given by HPOA staff at the 2014 All Property Owners Meeting.  For the complete series, click here.

Kerry Morrison is executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance.  She serves as a Mayoral appointee to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and blogs at www.onlyinhollywood.org.

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