Homelessness is an issue that affects almost every area of the United States, but surprisingly throughout history there has not been much legislation to help end this issue. Since the federal government unveiled the ten year “Open Doors” plan in 2010 to prevent and end homelessness, many states have started to combat the issue at differing levels with their own state legislation.
Youth Homelessness is a widespread issue in America that only hurts the future of our country. The main issue with youth homelessness is identifying who homeless youth are to be able to give them the help they need to succeed. The National Alliance to End Homelessness found that in 2014, 194,302 youth were homeless on a single night. They further state that only approximately 50,000 youth are helped by programs a year.
Here is an infographic further detailing youth homelessness in America.
With such a lack of support, it is even more important to keep support networks that exist functioning and to implement new ones. United States representatives Steve Stivers and Dave Loesack introduced HR576 – the Homeless Children and Youth Act – that would work improve resources to serve these children.
“No child should ever be without a home, let alone be forced to navigate bureaucratic red tape just to prove that they are actually homeless, my bill would streamline the definition of ‘homeless’ to enable us to fully understand the problem, so that as a society we can get them the help they need.”
The main issue facing homeless youth is the ability to get through the public education system. According to the Seattle Times, the state’s homeless-student population has increased to 32,494 children in the 2013-2014 school year. In January, Olympia introduced SB5065, the Homeless Student Stability Act. This act would require the state to give some of the much needed help to these students by having a dedicated staff liaisons in school districts that have 50 or more homeless students. These liaisons can give them the aid they need to navigate the difficulties of being homeless and finishing school.
California introduced SB252 that attempts to prohibit the Department of Education or testing companies from charging an exam fee to young people who are homeless. Often it is difficult for homeless youth to finish standard public high school, so tests like the GED or other high school proficiency and equivalency exams are the only way for them to continue on with their lives and education. Often these tests range between $150-$200, a fee most homeless youth are unable to pay. It is important for youth homelessness to have legislation fighting to improve their situation, but general homelessness in the United States is also incredibly important.
Alleviating General Homelessness Around the United States
Recently there have been huge moves in legislation in different areas of America to once and for all alleviate homelessness. The leaders of this movement are Arizona and Utah who have entered in a “friendly competition” to combine strategy and commit to end chronic homelessness. President Obama praised Phoenix Mayor, Greg Station, for his work and expressed his own continued dedication to alleviate homelessness, “We have to keep going, because nobody in America, and certainly no veteran, should be left to live on the street.” Most states are focused primarily on alleviating youth and veteran homelessness, following with other areas. Here is an infographic detailing veteran homelessness in the United States
Utah has been getting a lot of publicity for their “The 100,000 Homes Campaign” which has effectively housed 105,580 people thus far. This collaboration of 60 communities with the single goal of housing 100,00 chronically homeless people is showing that something actually can be done. Chronic homelessness is defined by the federal government as “a person with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more or a like individual who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years”. This works because it is a completely different approach than what has been used in the past.
The old, standard practice to alleviate homelessness was to help a person find a job, overcome problems that contribute to their situation and then transition them to permanent housing. Using this method, Salt Lake found its agencies were spending around $20,00 per each chronically homeless person each year. Conversely, the new practice, “Housing First”, does the reverse by giving people a home first, and then helping with their issues and finding long-term employment. This program has only cost the state about $8,000 per person and has been pretty successful.
Here is a video that explains the program more.
These movements have spurred others across the nation. In Seattle, Jonathan Grant is lobbying for legislation to support homeless encampments. In Florida, they introduced the Services for Ending Long-Term Homelessness Act which aims to establish a grant program to provide permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless whose needs cannot be address by traditional affordable housing. Although housing is proving to be the first step in alleviating homelessness, there are still many other issues that need to be addressed.
Homeless Bills of Rights
Other legislation states are attempting to implement to further protect and aid the homeless population is Homeless Bills of Rights. These bills are meant to protect the civil and human rights of homeless people. The main rights that these bills aim to protect are equal rights to medical care, free speech, free movement, voting, opportunities for employment and privacy. These rights are incredibly important to the quality of life and safety of the large homeless population across the United States.
Here is an infographic showing the homeless population per state:
Rhode Island was the first state in the United States to pass a Homeless Bill of Rights on June 27, 2012. Following in their footsteps, Connecticut and Illinois have also passed similar bills of rights. Colorado, Oregon, Hawaii and California are all considering similar legislation, like California’s Right to Rest. Indianapolis was the first U.S. city to pass a Homeless Bill of Rights on March 6, 2015, however their mayor vetoed it on March 14, 2015. The reason the Mayor vetoed the bill because he did not think that officially giving these rights to the homeless will do anything, but advocates of the proposal say that the homeless need protection from police discrimination.
An issue with homelessness is that in some areas the people are subjected to extreme violence or criminalization charges. Criminalization charges can make it incredibly difficult to reduce homelessness because of how a criminal record can influence your ability to find employment and housing. Dangers for homeless people aren’t just being subjected the elements of severe weather, but also subjection to the risk of violent attacks. These violent attacks have become so popular that some states are considering legislation to categorize crimes against the homeless as hates crimes.
What are your opinions on the different strategies states are using to alleviate homelessness? Do you think that these practices can eventually lead to the end of homelessness?