Unraveling Homelessness: The Urgency of No-Strings-Attached Housing First

Housing First

In this article, the author passionately advocates for genuine Housing First initiatives, stressing the urgent need for unconditional housing solutions to address homelessness.


There’s always a catch, conditions, stipulations, or caveat. We need real, no-strings, no-catch Housing First. After all, Housing First isn’t housing first if housing doesn’t come first. 

Housing First is the best and only real option to end homelessness. It returns dignity and humanity to the homeless person and acknowledges that every person deserves a safe and adequate place to live. Housing First acknowledges that no person deserves to die on the street.

We have the means and the resources; we can do it. We must stop making excuses.

Making excuses is equivalent to admitting that some lives matter more than others. That is unacceptable. Additionally, we must reject the anti-homeless messaging that says “homelessness is a choice” and that people are only homeless because they want to be.

Homelessness is by far the most traumatizing, dehumanizing experience a person can have. No one is homeless because they would rather be there than anywhere else. It is absurd to believe such a thing. Homelessness should have no place in a modern society, a first-world country. Yet there are, on average, over 650,000 homeless people in America. 

In the article, Homelessness is a Policy Choice, Not a Personal Choice, author Kayla Robbins reminds us that:

“Rampant levels of homelessness are a feature of our current capitalist system, not a bug. You are supposed to see people being forced to live in absolute squalor regularly so that you have a constant reminder that no matter how bad conditions get at your first, second, or third job, the consequences for falling behind on a housing payment even once will always be worse.”

Americans have simply accepted that homelessness is a part of life. Not only is it accepted, but it’s expected. This makes such an atrocity easy to look at. We have become numb to the sight of it. We aren’t marching on Washington over those 650,000.

Have we been beaten down so much that we have no fight left in us? I hope these words can revive that fight within us.

In my personal experiences, as well as those I’ve seen in others, there’s always a catch in the cases where housing is offered. For me, I just didn’t qualify for any of the housing programs in New York City. There was no funding for a homeless person like me. To them, I was young, college-educated, able-bodied, and without children. Housing was available to others who could fit into these categories, but it still wasn’t without some catch. 

Those who have an addiction are usually expected to get clean and stay clean in order to receive and maintain their housing. Addiction is a medical condition and a difficult thing to overcome. People with an addiction are people, too. To withhold housing from people with a substance use disorder only sends a message that they’re not worth housing.

My question is – can you blame them? Drugs and alcohol make homelessness a little more tolerable. For some, it’s the only escape from the horrors of everyday life. It is the only way to get warm at night when you’re sleeping outside. Even addicts deserve dignity. And they deserve to be housed first.

In the documentary Vegas Tunnels by Channel 5 with Andrew Callaghan, he interviews a social worker with Shine A Light. This nonprofit specifically services the homeless community in the sewers under Las Vegas.

As a former homeless person, he shares his opinions on the homeless population living in the sewage tunnels – stating that none of them want to be housed because that means having to get clean. He shares the appeal of having no bills to pay and nowhere to be.

I immediately worried about how viewers would receive this. As a formerly homeless person myself, it really is a daunting task to try and reintegrate yourself back into society when you’ve been told countless times that you’re worthless and do not deserve to be a part of that society. I’ve also been on the receiving end of a social worker who shared these same thoughts.

Like many housing programs, it also came with its stipulations. Shine A Light’s housing program requires the client to get and stay clean.

Many of the homeless people living in the sewers under Las Vegas shared how difficult it was to get an ID and how much of a barrier that was for them. Many could not access a social security card or birth certificate to obtain an ID. This required a sponsor who could receive the item in the mail for them.

Without an ID, they can’t get a job, apply for public assistance, get an apartment, or open a bank account. As a homeless person, your choices quickly disappear. Before long, it really appears like there is no way out. How do you turn around after that?

The only real way to penetrate this barrier is for Housing First to be delivered with dignity and compassion—without the catch or caveat.

We have to deliver humanity back to those we took it from. That is how the healing starts. That is the only road to healing and, in turn, genuinely solving homelessness. If we don’t believe everyone deserves it without stipulation, then we will never solve homelessness because it does begin here, in the heart. 


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Jocelyn Figueroa

     

Jocelyn Figueroa studied Creative Non-Fiction at The New School and is a blogger and freelance writer based out of New York City. Formerly homeless, she launched her own blog discussing shelter life in New York City. Today, Jocelyn is on a mission to build connections through storytelling and creative writing. Check out her book about homelessness at https://ko-fi.com/scartissueproject

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