Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Families: The Next Big Thing

The news from Massachusetts this week is that family homelessness is up dramatically. There is a "right to shelter" law in that state that requires an accurate count of families in shelter. In other states, the numbers are less clear, but anecdotal evidence suggests that Massachusetts, where the number of homeless families is now up to 1,800 from 1,400 in June of last year, is not unique.

Not surprising. Federal funding priorities in recent years have been targeted to the elimination of visible homelessness, and local efforts have largely followed the funding. Meanwhile, the sorts of supports that make the difference between mere poverty and homelessness — food stamps, housing assistance, childcare support, access to health care — have all lost ground.

The argument has often been made by the Bush Administration's US Interagency Council on Homelessness and their lap dogs at the National Alliance to End Homelessness that ending homelessness is much easier than ending poverty or solving the housing crisis.

This is true. But only if you're talking about visible homelessness. If you're at all concerned with the other, more invisible, ninety percent of homeless people who don't look like winos, then things get a little more complicated.

When a community commits to housing with services for those with the most severe addictions and mental illness, visible street homelessness will most certainly decrease. When this is combined with intensified policing of the poor, as is the case in nearly all Ten Year Plan cities, you can get those numbers down even further. The business of ending homelessness is good for business.

But this isn't ending homelessness. It's reducing the evidence of homelessness while poverty increases and affordable housing becomes more scarce. It's classic Bush administration perception-management smoke and mirrors.

The next load of shit coming down the pike from the USICH will be Ten Year Plans to End Family Homelessness. This promises to be a good deal trickier.

The first planning conference, sponsored by the NAEH will be hosted right here in Seattle this February. Philip fucking Mangano is already telling us how solving family homelessness will be all about the data.
The overall number of homeless people is up from a few years ago, Mangano said, but nobody can pinpoint an exact number of families because reporting requirements vary widely from state to state.

“Our desire would be to have many more states step up and track the data,” Mangano said. “Research and data, that’s what should drive the resources that we make available. Instead it’s often anecdote, conjecture and hearsay that does that.”

Here's a radical idea. Maybe solving family homelessness isn't so much about the data as it is the resources. Maybe if the feds weren't doing their best to kill public housing and routinely slashing other supports for low-income people, fewer families would be in such desperate situations.

Maybe, if we spent less time tracking data and engaging in gut-busting bureaucratic exercises to chase a few crumbs of federal funding, and more time demanding the government be less beholden to corporations and the wealthy and more concerned for the welfare of ordinary people, we'd see finally some real results.

If it were up to me, one message would come through loud and clear this February. No Resources, No Plan. The feds don't get to put us through their hoops and look all concerned and active on the issue of family homelessness unless they start walking their talk. Otherwise, it's just more smoke and mirrors.


"Uta" Urban said...

Is the "No Resources, No Plan" tack effective where big money is involved? Maybe I'm jaded, or don't yet understand, or a little afraid of losing more. What can't big money and big power do, even as "we the usual indignant" complain? Bush openly cut funding to the poor and disabled in favor of an unpopular war, yet this was virtually ignored by the rest of America.

Short of a major recession, or the moment the aging population reaches
"critical mass" and seriously seeks resources, Americans just don't seem to "get it". Perhaps our energies need to be focused on the non-impoverished and non-homeless general population.

Get mid-level moneymakers and constituents in touch with their fear of being the next disenfranchised, via mass mainstream education that brings it close to home (hapless brother, sick sister, old parents, the time they got laid-off or temporarily disabled). Get them familiar and uncomfortable with the weaknesses in a plan they want to rely on to work. Then bring some of them on-board to meet Mangano in February. (I thinking I'm reiterating the cross-class approach to activism)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, interesting! Maybe no one cares about cutting funding for the poorest, because if they are more miserable, so what? Throw them in corporately-owned jails and pay unionized guards to take care of them.

But if the middle class starts to feel the economic pinch in a real way, then perhaps Congress cannot ignore their pain. Could it be that the "war on poverty" was not really about the poor at all, but rather about creating and maintaining stability for the middle class?

Nowadays, it might even be one step further removed: Only when the employers of the middle class start to feel economic pain will Congress devote resources to rational social purposes. For example, the current debate over health care is driven by the desperation of General Motors and other corporations, not by the needs of the middle class, the poor, or any other segment of real people.

I guess what I'm suggesting is that progress for the poor can only happen as part of a broader social movement that involves the middle class. Congress must be willing to raise (or rather, restore) taxes on the rich to pay for programs that will benefit middle-income people.

The Democrats are creatures of the corporations almost as much as the Republicans (with some exceptions). Perhaps a visionary President in the mold of Roosevelt, JFK, or LBJ is needed.

Bill said...

I still find irony, and worse, catastrophe, in the search for "numbers." I think it is enough, as it appears to be when there is a fire, flood, landslide, and so on, when ONE FAMILY is homeless. I am reminded of the total jerk Ron Swicord of Bothell who cowardly sends out emails under the name, "Test," that are pro-right-idiocy and who served on the Citizens Advisory Commission on Homeless Encampments as the appointment of County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert (says a lot about both of them). Mr. Swicord said homelessness is not an "emergency," but rather, at best, an "urgency." Of course, because he voted against everything, obviously he felt the urgency only in one of his addled lobes. My point is that we fail to listen, see, comprehend, and yes-even-have-compassion for the homeless, families included. ONE is too many families homeless. If we cannot think in some way close to that, duh,......