As this year ends, the confusing tallies of homelessness in America persist. Take the Federal Government’s perspective on enumerating homeless people in our country, this past week their “point in time” estimate found a 2.1 percent decline in homelessness from a year ago. Not surprisingly, national leaders credited their efforts for the decrease.
Two days later, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released their survey of hunger and homelessness in American cities. They reported a 6 percent increase in homelessness, along with significant increases in people accessing food pantries and shelters.
Who to believe? National leaders or local leaders?
In reality, 2011 has been a good year for strategists trying to end homelessness. Very important initiatives were implemented that certainly housed more Americans than ever before – from the national initiative to end veterans’ homelessness, to the federal homeless prevention program, to local programs like Los Angeles’s Home For Good.
So how will 2012 fare? If the momentum to end homelessness in 2011 doesn’t spill over to 2012, our streets could still be mired in human tragedy at levels unseen before.
Here are the top ten ways American homelessness could increase in 2012:
Ten: A focus on the insignificant. Diversion is our way of ignoring difficult problems. Homelessness will increase if our country continues its obsession with Justin Beiber’s paternity tests or mourns the breakup of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, rather than preoccupying itself with housing homeless Americans.
Nine: Redevelopment agencies are eliminated. They say California is a trendsetter for the country. Currently, the Golden State is fighting with itself in court and among politicians on whether redevelopment agencies should be eliminated. These agencies around the country are designed to create urban renewal (like Portland’s Pearl District or San Diego’s Downtown), and fund affordable housing. If the trend sticks, affordable housing around the country could be threatened.
Eight: UnCharitable deductions become economic policy. There is a movement in this country to eliminate charitable donations as tax deductions in order to help balance the federal budget. Since homeless agencies depend on charitable donations this economic policy could shut down many agencies.
Seven: Occupy Main Street vacates. Not just Wall Street, but Main Streets across America are still struggling with an economy that is hurting so many people, even those who have worked all their lives. The end of the occupy movement would shut down a prophetic voice that questions how this country cares for all of its citizens.
Six: A voiceless presidential campaign. An expensive political campaign that consumes donations (that otherwise could go toward housing Americans) and devours media attention is encumbered with debates over polarizing issues, like tax laws and budget deficits. Poverty and homelessness are never discussed.
Five: A Super Committee is assigned to end homelessness. We all know how the Congressional Super Committee resolved this country’s budget crisis. It didn’t. If the same strategy was implemented in ending homelessness, it too would fail.
Four: Band-Aids become the easy solution. Three decades ago, this nation utilized a Band-Aid approach to addressing homelessness, by providing food lines and shelter beds. They were quick and inexpensive ways to appease a country concerned about homelessness. Permanent supportive housing, led by national leaders like the Corporation for Supportive Housing, is a more modern and effective solution. But with the expense and time of building houses, some are still tempting to return to the easier Band-Aid approach.
Three: America returns to Iraq. Although this month marks the official end of the war in Iraq, most are not discussing the impact war had on homelessness in America. But if you’re an outreach worker on the streets, you can see firsthand the mental devastation war has on homeless veterans. A return to war means an increase in homeless vets.
Two: 100,000 Homes becomes a slogan. Besides the move to invest in permanent supportive housing, there is no other grass-roots movement in America that has had such a historic impact on homelessness than the 100,000 Homes Campaign. Over one-hundred communities across the country have embraced the task of indexing and committing to housing the most vulnerable homeless Americans. In 2012, the campaign will reach its third and final year. If this country does not continue to embrace ending street homelessness for 100,000 Americans, then this campaign will become a mere slogan. And our country will be worse off.
ONE: European debt crisis becomes an American crisis. Who cares if our European brethren are on the brink of bankruptcy, when America has its own economic problems? We should all care. “It’s a Small World” is not just a ride at Disneyland; it is an accurate description of how this world is economically tied together, from Asia, to America, to Europe. When one fails, we all fail. We have already seen how a bankrupt economy can wreak havoc on American families, causing many to become homeless.
The Year 2012 could become a banner year for significantly reducing homelessness in America, or it could sadly become twelve more months of hell on our streets. It is our choice.
Photo credit: Elliott Brown