When It Comes to Homelessness, We Must Stop Thinking Short Term

temporary housing for homelessness

We’re Wasting Our Resources on Bandaid Solutions that Aren’t Moving the Needle

It’s no secret that we need radical change at the governmental level to make homelessness a thing of the past in this country. We know that the solution to homelessness is permanent, affordable housing. And yet, all of the programs springing up lately to “help the homeless” provide short-sighted solutions like temporary tiny houses. 

Of course, it’s easy to argue that even these modest changes are helping a few people a little bit, so they’re better than nothing. Also, these sorts of modest proposals are the only ones likely to make it past the watchful eyes of the neighborhood NIMBYs.

But too often, we do the bare minimum and then pretend that the entire problem is solved. A small-town council might think it’s “off the hook” after instating one local overnight shelter or safe parking lot. When a better, far-reaching proposal comes along that could do more to help the town’s unhoused residents, the council may be reluctant to accept it. Instead, they point to the bare-bones effort they’ve already made and claim that should be “enough.” They’ll say there’s simply no room in the budget for anything further.

In that situation, settling for a small step up may have actually stalled progress in the long run. What should have been a stepping stone never actually led anywhere.

That’s why it’s time to stop thinking short-term and start pushing for significant changes.

The Roller Coaster of Temporary Housing

The inherent flaw in temporary housing is the simple fact that it is temporary. Most often, people are placed in temporary housing where they spend too long on a waiting list for permanent housing. They may spend a few weeks or months in temporary housing, adjusting to their new, temporary lifestyle. Then, when their time is up – because it is a temporary housing solution – they have to start the whole process all over again at another temporary location. Meanwhile, they are still on a waiting list for permanent housing. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam, or at least until you get tired of being jerked around and opt-out of the temporary housing roller coaster for good.

There is not enough temporary housing to match the number of unhoused people in nearly any city across America. But that doesn’t mean that building more temporary housing is the solution.

The more significant problem is that temporary housing was designed as a short pit stop between sleeping on the streets and being placed in permanent, affordable housing. However, the permanent, affordable housing people are meant to transition into from temporary housing does not yet exist. So most often, people simply “transition” from temporary housing option to temporary housing option, if not back onto the streets.

If we’re going to spend the time, money, and effort convincing local NIMBYs and government officials to let us build significantly more housing for our homeless neighbors, it should be safe, permanent housing. It should include all the amenities we’re accustomed to having in the average American home – like a bathroom, kitchen and running water. A lot of temporary housing projects lack these features. It doesn’t make sense to build out a ton of housing that doesn’t adequately meet the needs of the intended occupants.

It’s also worth considering why we think these housing options are “good enough” for homeless people when most wouldn’t live in such a place ourselves. Especially now that we know they’re not as temporary as the name implies. A person could spend years going from one place to the next.

With More Permanent Housing, We Need Less Temporary Housing

The good news is that building more permanent housing will automatically lessen the burden on the existing temporary housing options. Then we can allow them to function as intended – as temporary solutions. When people have permanent housing options available, they aren’t moved around from one temporary house to the next. This frees up room for the next person. With an adequate supply of permanent affordable housing, each person’s stay in the cramped quarters of temporary housing could truly be temporary.

Without enough permanent housing, everyone is more or less trying to fight a blazing inferno with a spray bottle. The process is exhausting for those trying to help people out of a broken system and those trying to survive it. We must stop thinking short-term. We must stop wasting our time, energy, and the limited resources we’re able to secure on band-aid solutions. These are not moving us closer to a solution. We need to pivot and use our resources on efforts that will actually move the needle.

Pushing for Real Solutions

It’s time to pressure our representatives for big changes to address homelessness. For too many years, all levels of government have opted for the smallest investment possible when it comes to housing.

We need to let them know that this will not work any longer. The NIMBYs are loud, so we have to be louder.

Let your representatives know that you want action on permanent affordable housing now. Another temporary shelter project is not going to cut it.

We must focus on building more permanent, affordable housing options. This action will provide permanent housing for people transitioning out of temporary housing. At the same time, it will create more openings in temporary housing for people transitioning off the streets.

Permanent housing is the piece we’re missing, thwarting all other efforts to help people out of homelessness. If we want to get anywhere, we must focus on long-term solutions like permanent housing.

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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