News, Policies, & Trends Opinion

Ending Homelessness: The Wait is Killing Them

By | Feb 17, 2017

When working in communities to address homelessness, I feel like an antsy kid – I don’t want to wait. I’m fidgety because the lag time seems so long. I am baffled why it’s taking our country so long to house its poorest people. I just want people housed.

The wait reminds me of when I was a child during Christmas. I could never sleep the night before. The smell of eggnog, the images of wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree, and the hope of hearing Santa slide down our chimney made my little 10-year-old self become an insomniac. It was so difficult to wait for Christmas morning to arrive.

Today, the wait to end homelessness is excruciating. But obviously in a much different manner than waiting for the luxury of presents.

Homeless service agencies in neighborhoods across our country work tirelessly to care for our homeless neighbors. Every day and every night, they are providing housing, food, clothing, and counseling for people struggling to get off the streets.

Housing developers are investing millions of dollars to build supportive apartment buildings for people who have been chronically homeless.

The works seems endless.

The amount of money spent to serve and house people who are homeless across America also seems overwhelming. Billions of dollars have been spent. Yet, for those of us working on the front lines of homelessness, we know the money coming in is still not enough.

For neighborhoods that feel paralyzed and hopeless that their growing homeless encampments are becoming permanent fixtures, they too, know that the current pace of resources and solutions is not fast enough.

Then there is the constant act of talking. Community leaders put on events to discuss the issue of homelessness. Task forces are created. Summits convened. Conferences, with their dozens of workshops, are held. All created to end homelessness. And although important, as service providers we want to spring into action right away.

For the past 20 years, I’ve seen dozens of homeless initiatives come and go. I’ve been to hundreds, if not thousands, of community gatherings, house meetings, rallies, summits, task forces, panels, conferences, and secret behind-the-door political meetings, to address the issue of our poorest neighbors living on our streets.

Yet, decades later, we still have far too many people living on our streets. One person is too many, but more than 45,000 in Los Angeles, 115,000 in California, and over half a million people nationwide is unconscionable.

Last month, the City Council of a city in Northern California voted to approve the entitlements and funding for our 78-unit permanent supporting housing apartment building. We spent more than a year working with the community to convince them that permanently housing people who are homeless is better than letting them stay on our streets.

In every community, the amount of staff time and agency resources to get one simple building approved, let alone built, is significant, and time consuming.

After the Council approved our development, the mayor calmly stated, “… all we need is 49 more of these developments to seriously address our homelessness issue.” He was correct. But I guess that he too, was just as frustrated with the slow pace of ending homelessness.

I want to shout, “Can’t we go faster?” and let’s “put the pedal to the metal!” But I know there is a process and that ending homelessness for so many people is not as easy as just handing over a set of keys to thousands of people.

I think about all the Veterans, our families, and the individuals who are so anxious to move off the streets and out of shelters. They’ve filled out reams of paperwork, they’ve done the interviews with landlords, they’ve worked with our case managers and therapists to address barriers – and still they wait. Like a child on Christmas they wait for the morning when they’ll wake up and get the gift they’ve been yearning for – a home.

We have the solutions to end homelessness, it’s the wait for all the resources that’s exhausting and makes us impatient. But it’s the slow pace of addressing homelessness in our country that is literally killing people who are dying on our streets. We should all feel the sense of urgency to fund solutions and end homelessness every single day, until it’s no longer an issue.


  1. Posted Feb 20, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    It is the situation once upon a time I felt like an antsy kid :(

  2. Hobomatt
    Posted Mar 29, 2017 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    "far too many people living on our streets." Well, no barrier, no requirement handouts and freebies help the majority of homeless people move OFF our streets. An unintended consequence., however, is that a significant minority use the handouts to remain ON our streets. We have had ZERO conversation about "helping vs enabling". Maybe it is time!

  3. Posted Jun 6, 2017 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Here in Los Angeles despite the new programs homelessness is up 25% or so. Unfortunately, it's become such a symptom of a wider systematic issue of economic injustice that just visible homelessness is becoming an overwhelming problem, let alone the invisible!

  4. Posted Aug 22, 2017 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Hy Roberts, Amazing article, thanks for share with us.