A Prescription for Homelessness

I talk often about the problem of homelessness. I have been fortunate not to have been without a home in my lifetime, but there were many times I was a paycheck away from losing everything.

homeless

I think my concerns for people who live on the streets began when I was a preteen. I was living in an abusive situation and weighed which was more dangerous, staying in my current situation or running away.

In the end, I decided that at home I at least had a chance to get to a room with a lock on the door for protection, something the streets would never provide.

I guess I was twelve the first time I seriously considered running away. Since that time knowing there are people out there who have no safe place to go, no heat in the winter, and no reliable food supply breaks my heart. I know that could have been me.

“Sometimes it’s easy to walk by because we know we can’t change someone’s whole life in a single afternoon. But what we fail to realize is that simple kindness can go a long way toward encouraging someone who is stuck in a desolate place.”
~~Mike Yankoski

There are many, many people out there who are trying to solve the problem of homelessness. There is no one right way to solve this but I am hopeful each time I hear of a new program trying to eradicate this problem.

This week I read about a new proposal that should it pass and spread to other communities would change the way we view and treat homelessness.

In Hawaii, state senator Josh Green, has introduced a bill that would reclassify homelessness as a medical condition.  Green, who is also a physician, has seen the health problems first hand that the homeless experience and believes giving medical treatment only to send the person back out to the streets is simply putting a Band-Aid on the problem.

“Do not avert your eyes.
It is important
that you see this.
It is important that you feel
this.”
~~Kamand Kojouri

As part of the bill Green has introduced, doctors would be able to write a prescription for housing as part of their treatment for a homeless person.

Based on “research that shows healthcare spending for those who have been homeless for long periods and struggle with mental illness and addictions falls by 43% after they have been housed and provided with supportive services.”

When we hear homelessness is too expensive to tackle consider this: “many of the individuals he hopes to house cost the healthcare system an average of $120,000 annually, yet the annual cost to house an individual is $18,000. He thinks that the total savings to the state could be hundreds of millions of dollars a year.”

“You call this progress, because you have motor cars and telephones and flying machines and a thousand potions to make you smell better? And people sleeping on the streets?”

~~Howard Zinn Marx in Soho: A Play on History

The bill, should it pass, would require a person be homeless for at least six months and must suffer from mental illness or a substance abuse.  It won’t address all who live on the streets but it would help those least able to care for themselves.

The bill is working its way through the state legislature and is expected to be voted on this week. There is currently a lot of support for it, but there are also detractors who feel giving doctors the ability to prescribe housing is broadening their powers too far.

“I don’t know. I got nothing. No house, no people, no place. Maybe that’s troubles. Don’t I say?”
~~Alex La Guma A Walk in the Night and Other Stories

 

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18 thoughts on “A Prescription for Homelessness

  1. well, when I started reading, I though “GREAT”….

    but I most strongly disagree with him putting the caveats of “mental illness or a substance abuse” on the ability of these folks (the homeless) to get a home.

    that seems to me like someone who has another agenda, perhaps one pushed by Big Pharma or such. If one is labelled with those “conditions”, no doubt there will be many prescriptions suggested/prescribed, and if one does not take them regular, no doubt one will be disqualified.

    I do not think all homeless, even some who have been so, have those qualifiers.
    and
    I think if someone has lost their job/hit unexpected expenses/lost their homes, of course they will get depressed (who would not?), but that does not mean “mental illness or a substance abuse” is their biggest problem.

    Could it (the law) not just be passed such that …”anyone who cannot manage and is homeless”, or some such?

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    1. It seems the limitation of only mental health or addicted individuals being eligible for housing prescriptions is because it would have failed otherwise. The worry was that people who were struggling but had housing would give up their homes and then “get” free housing. They are too worried about the program being taken advantage of by lazy people. Shame isn’t it?

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  2. Denver has a huge problem with homelessness. I see it every day because the bike paths all run along the rivers and creeks here, and there are enormous encampments of homeless people in all of the open space areas. The economy is booming here, but the flip side is that there’s an enormous housing shortage, especially an affordable housing shortage. Seriously, I live in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, and houses on my block are now selling for about $260K – and that’s considered dirt cheap. It’s crazy! And if you want to rent… well, it’s virtually impossible to find ANYTHING for under $1200/month.

    So there are people who are homeless simply because they can’t afford what’s available here. The news recently did a spotlight on a man who has a full time job making $24K/year, and is living in a storage unit because it’s all he can afford. That’s more than I make! I’m so, so grateful for my house, because I’d never be able to afford to live here if I had to buy or rent in this economy.

    But the problem for people with mental health or addiction problems goes way beyond pure economics. Denver is starting to experiment with the “housing first” model for people in that category. They’re building a new complex about a mile from my house which will be run by Denver’s Mental Health Center. It will house about 100 chronically homeless people and provide outpatient services for others. It’s right along the bike path, so it will be interesting to see what sort of impact it has. But every study out there shows that it’s far, far cheaper (not to mention more humane) to house the chronically homeless than to simply shuttle them in and out of jails and emergency rooms.

    Anyhow, it will be interesting to see what happens with this bill in Hawaii.

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    1. The price of housing is outrageous! If you want something affordable you have to move way outside the urban area which then requires a car to get anywhere. I’ve watched cities tear down the affordable housing to build condos and other homes for the wealthy leaving no where for the poorer folks to move to. Erie, where I was born, is an example of that. The oldest homes were closest to the lake as the city built up from the lake out because that’s where all the goods arrived. All of a sudden the wealthy wanted lake views and their yacht clubs so they tore down all the old homes for these fancy places and even barred access to the lake to the rest of the city’s residents. But it goes further because the poor who lived along the lake also used the lake to fish and reduce their food bills, now they have no where easily accessible to fish.

      It’s great to hear Denver is addressing the mental health people. I remember when Reagan closed the mental health home care places and all those people ended up on the street. It was hailed as a great cost cutting effort at the expense of a safe environment for those not able to live on their own. Has there been any push back from the community saying they don’t want “that kind of people” living around them? We have problems with group homes where the neighborhood gets together and bans them from opening.

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      1. You know, I don’t really believe in the concept of sin, but the whole idea that people with serious mental illness, who really cannot care for themselves, should be forced out onto the streets, just so that rich people can pay less in taxes… well “sinful” is really the only word I can think of that comes close to describing that… or maybe “shameful” or “reprehensible” or “inhuman” – you get the picture. I basically have no words strong enough to describe how very angry it makes me.

        Anyhow, I have actually not heard a single word of complaint about the new facility being built, except from homeless advocates who say that it’s too small and won’t come close to adequately addressing the issue. Of course, the few blocks immediately surrounding the site are pretty much, for lack of a better word, a slum. Seriously, it’s in the area that I refer to as “the kill zone” – partly because it’s right on the busiest most congested arterial in the city, which has the highest rate of pedestrian and cyclist deaths in the entire state, and partly because it’s surrounded by run down apartments where you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who can speak English… and where there are gang shootings at least a couple times per year. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of children and good people there too, but they’re not the kind of folks who are gonna mount a campaign of any sort.

        I guess we’ll have to see what happens once the place opens – I mean it’s located about 12 miles from downtown, which is where most of the homeless congregate – so it will be interesting to see if it attracts more homeless to the area or what. But I, for one, think that it will be a very good thing to have at least some sort of “official presence” on that street corner, and hopefully to get at least a few of the homeless people off of the streets and getting the sort of medical and psychological help that they so desperately need.

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        1. It’s a shame the home for the homeless has to be in the slums to be ignored but if that’s where most of them are then a shelter is better than being out in that area. I couldn’t agree more with you on how the rich treat the homeless, really anyone who isn’t their equal. I’ve been trying to ignore the news as it’s really depressing me at the moment but just heard Trump’s budget has a huge increase for defense but wants to cut education by a third and even cuts to Women and Infants (WIC). That one really pissed me off. Carter started that program. Carter was asked to overturn Roe v Wade but said he couldn’t legislate using his religious views. He then asked what women needed if they were to carry to term, the answer was food security and he started WIC. The result was a drastic drop in the number of abortions. So if the Pro-lifers don’t want more abortions you would think they would at least leave this program in place. I should stop there or I’ll vent all my frustrations and no one wants to hear that.

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  3. I wish there was a way they could come up with a way to house at the very least veterans with PTSD and alcoholism as a result of serving. I do believe military service creates the environment for alcoholism. Then house those that are truly mentally ill so they can get the treatment they need. We need to house mothers and their children and help them get back on their feet. I know there will be people who will try to take advantage of the help but it’s time we quit housing them in prisons and give them a real chance. I think it would be cheaper in the long run and more humane. Lets hope. There should be a place for those of us who were being abused at home could go for awhile. At least I had my grandparents. I didn’t know them but they saved me.

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    1. I agree with you. If we break our veterans through combat the least we should do is be there for them when they return and get them all the help they need. I saw first hand the extent alcohol plays in active military service it’s no wonder so many come back alcoholics.

      I too hate the idea of a single child having no home, we can’t call ourselves a great country until we take care of the most vulnerable.

      Like you, in the end it was my grandparents who saved me. We were lucky.

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  4. Can’t remember the city, but they were doing a similar program with drug addicts. There was much more follow through than before and the police and hospitals were working together. So far it was a success and saving the city money. I’m glad that we’re starting to realize that many problems can’t be solved by only putting a bandaid on them. People and their problems are often much more complex than can be helped with just a one or two time visit.

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  5. I Hope that they get that Bill past Lois.. I agree about the band-aid.. and not getting to the core of Homelessness.
    Here too its a greater problem and is on the increase.. Its so sad, as we have discussed before..
    Take care and enjoy your weekend Lois..
    Hugs Sue xxx

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    1. Hi Clare! I’m also glad someone is trying to address homelessness from a medical position. If we put all ideas together we could end it once and for all..

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