Beyond Housing First: Essential Services to Combat Homelessness

Outreach team addressing homelessness

Experts emphasize that while housing remains crucial for reducing homelessness, the current crisis demands a comprehensive approach that includes preventive measures and robust support services.


Experts Weigh in on the Significance of Prevention and Support Services for Homeless People

Prioritizing housing is the proven strategy for reducing homelessness. However, according to experts, the homeless crisis in America has reached a point where even housing alone might not be enough to turn things around. Due to the gravity of the situation, a rounded approach to homelessness should include prevention services in addition to permanent, affordable housing.

Below, you will find a list of the most essential services needed to help reduce homelessness, according to experts. Some of the services we need most might surprise you.

Homeless Prevention Services Such as Renter Protections, Subsidized Housing, and Support

The mainstream media continues to misrepresent the root causes of homelessness. Regardless of what you may have heard on the news or read in the most recent online social media post, the actual leading cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. Secondary factors like addiction, mental health issues, low wages, and unemployment exacerbate the problem.

To truly tackle homelessness, prevention services such as renter protections and eviction prevention are crucial. Recent trends highlight the urgency:

  • Double-digit rent hikes
  • Record-breaking eviction rates
  • Exorbitant broker fees and application fees
  • Mass crises of rent-burden and subsequent rises in homelessness

The above-listed woes are due to a nationwide lack of eviction prevention services and renter protections. Something’s got to give, and it starts on the public policy level. If we want to reduce homelessness, we must make the renter market affordable for average and below-average income earners.

In an in-depth discussion with Invisible People, Rachelle A. Matthews of Community Solutions emphasized that preventive measures, housing-first programs, and supportive services can significantly reduce homelessness.

“Housing first programs and subsidized housing are key to reducing homelessness. But beyond affordable housing, supportive services and preventive measures can also help reduce homelessness,” Rachelle said.

She also emphasized the need for low-barrier shelters complete with wraparound services.

“Outside of housing, communities should be providing safe and accessible emergency shelters with fewer entry requirements,” she said. “In addition, skills training, resume workshops, and job placement services can help homeless individuals gain employment.”

Creating Community Spaces for Mental Health Support

Mental health support also plays a vital role in preventing homelessness. Mental health specialist and Elwyn crisis counselor Bruce Lockett talked with Invisible People about “a place where the unhoused community can come for mental health therapy regularly that’s not a hospital.”

“I would like to see a community center where we could conduct therapy,” Bruce said. “Because in the therapy sessions, we’re not just talking about their mental health. Of course, that’s the ultimate goal of the session, but we’re also looking at them from a physical perspective. Do they look healthy physically?”

“We’re asking them if they have any barriers to treatment or need help with transportation,” Bruce continued. “We’re asking about family relationships and checking all aspects of their lives by just meeting them a couple of times a week.”

“I think that a lot of unhoused people don’t like going into hospitals for checkups because every time they go there, there is a price, whether that price is a copay or a new prescription or even a doctor passing harsh critical judgment and making them feel uncomfortable as if something is wrong with them just because they happen to be homeless.”

“So, I think that a place that’s not the hospital where they can come just to check up on their mental health is very needed,” Bruce said. “We could work as an interdisciplinary team – the doctors, the social workers, the case managers – and we could all benefit from obtaining this information in a setting where the person is more relaxed speaking to a social worker rather than a physician.”

It’s worth noting that the stress of being homeless itself can take a severe toll on a person’s mental health. For this reason, even someone who did not have any mental health issues before becoming homeless is likely to suffer from one or more of the following merely from the homeless experience:

Rachelle agreed with this stance, adding, “Mobile clinics can bring healthcare services directly to homeless populations who may have difficulty accessing traditional healthcare facilities. Mental health services and substance abuse treatment can offer rehabilitation and ongoing support for individuals struggling with mental illness or addiction, which are themselves barriers to housing.”

Street Outreach: Connecting with the Unhoused Community

Outreach teams have proven much more effective than law enforcement teams in obtaining permanent housing, especially for unaccompanied youth. Crisis center worker Dominique Riley emphasized a great need to personally hand out pamphlets containing resources for unsheltered individuals listing places they can go to do the following things:

  • Charge phones
  • Get food
  • Apply for employment
  • Apply for aid
  • Access temporary or permanent shelter options

Street outreach teams can also be instrumental in quantifying homelessness. As housing expert Beth Sandor of Community Solutions pointed out in a previous Invisible People interview, accurate data is a key and often missing element in solving the homeless crisis.

Case Management Services: The Missing Link

Crisis team supervisor Brandi Spencer-Phoenix emphatically stated that case management services are the most significant unfilled need in the homeless sector at the moment.

“I would say more case management is the top service we need right now because it’s one thing to say, for example, get dental. There are services around where you can get free dental,” Brandi said. “But a homeless person might not know about that because they don’t have a case manager.”

“Having a case manager is the missing link to being able to assist vulnerable people in need. A case manager can assist with setting up appointments, finding transportation, applying for various kinds of healthcare and aid, applying for jobs, and hopefully exiting homelessness into a situation of permanent, secure housing,” Brandi explained.

Talk To Your Representatives About Reducing Homelessness through Services

From prevention and outreach to case management and mental health assessments, all the services you see above are part of a continuum of care already proven to reduce homelessness. Tragically, right now, legislative policy is prioritizing criminalizing homelessness over solving it through housing and services.

Talk to your representatives about reversing policies that harm the homeless community and creating policies that prevent and reduce the homelessness crisis.


Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith

     

Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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