First, a house
No, I don’t have an easy solution to homelessness. I don’t believe anyone does. But I like to read about experiments that seem to work. Like this one in Finland.
Since 2007, their government has built homeless policies on the foundations of the "Housing First" principle.
Put simply, it gives rough sleepers or people who become homeless a stable and permanent home of their own as soon as possible.
It then provides them with the help and support they need. That may be supporting someone trying to tackle an addiction, assisting them to learn new skills, or helping them get into training, education or work.
Housing First is not an unknown concept in Canada. As far as I can tell (and no, I’m not an expert), wherever it is implemented it seems to be fairly successful, if by “successful” we mean helping people get off the street and stay off the street and ideally find ways to reintegrate mainstream society including by getting a handle on any addiction problem there might be.
I know many bristle at the idea of, you know, just giving someone an apartment when they’re on the street. Because it costs money. And we don’t like the idea of giving someone money or a place to stay in exchange for nothing.
The model where homeless folks get temporary help in shelters by promising to stay sober isn’t working all that well either. At least, not in every case. Shelters offer amazing services, to people most of us have often given up on. But their help is by design temporary. That doesn’t mean it’s bad or wrong in any way. I know they have success stories; cases where they were instrumental in turning someone’s life around, which I applaud. But for some of their clients, it’s not enough. Some people require more help, ongoing help. They need the help first, without being asked to do this or not drink that.
If you look at a couple of the Housing First case studies we have from Canada, you see that a large proportion of the people who were given a place to live remained housed after six or 12 months. Those people are no longer on the street. Yes, they need resources and assistance to get their lives back on track, but life is like that; we are all liable to hit rough patches and need help. It’s a mistake to think anyone is immune from it. True, most of us manage without going so far down that we wind up with no place to live, but for those whose lives spin out of control, more help is needed. And not just a meal and a bed for one night.
Turning our back on them or refusing help that works because we don’t want to “reward” homeless folks with a roof over their head because they have addiction issues or other problems is short-sighted. It doesn’t take into consideration the huge resources (emergency health care, mental health care, police and first responder resources) that are needed on the street. When homeless people feel secure under a roof of their own and interacting with support workers, they require fewer emergency services, which are always more expensive anyway.