NetHomeless

A One-Size-Fits-All Solution to Homelessness Doesn’t Exist


The idea of “one size fits all” might apply to some things in life. But when dealing with homeless people, it’s not a suitable approach.

There is no one way to be homeless and no one way to solve it.

Just as each person is unique, each story and outcome are different and unique. It’s a simple idea that meets with a lot of resistance. And yet, realizing this is critical to solving each person’s unique crisis.

When we say, “homeless person,” it invokes an image in minds. For most people, that image is of an unwashed person wandering around with a cart full of plastic bottles or sitting on a sidewalk with a cup full of coins. 

Certainly, those images are not entirely false. Those people are often the more visible of us. Many of those people have no home at all. They might or might not go back to a shelter in the evenings. They might have ended up there by drug or alcohol use or by sheer bad luck. Either way, they are the stereotypical image that most people imagine when they hear the term “homeless person.”

In 2022, homelessness is represented by far more varied images.

You have sidewalks filled with tents where families and elderly and single people are encamped. These individuals represent any sampling of people from low-income to the fallen middle class (if the middle class even exists anymore).

This isn’t a new sight on Skid Row, but it’s also not something that was once common across Southern California. Neither are the tent villages that now exist under bridges and sidewalks around the country. These people are living through a horrifying experience.

A tent might offer you a bit more shelter than the street. But they are very easily destroyed by bad weather and have a short life span if used daily. That’s because most tents aren’t designed to be lived in full-time. There is also the constant fear that your tent might be raided by law enforcement or that if you leave it for any length of time, you’ll come back to find your belongings stolen. This type of fear and stress is called anticipatory anxiety.

Then there is the vehicle-dwelling homeless person.

That would be me and others like me. We live in our cars or vans. This option offers more safety than a tent and more shelter from the weather (assuming the vehicle is in good condition). If everything is working, it offers heat and air conditioning options.

This is also the most expensive option. You have car insurance, vehicle repair, maintenance, and fuel. You are certainly safer, and it makes lots of things easier, but in the end, it’s not the same as a home. Plus, there is no guarantee you won’t be harassed by law enforcement. Criminals can still break into your vehicle. It’s not a stress-free situation.

Of course, there is the scariest possibility of all, which is what might happen if the vehicle is totaled in an accident or becomes run down to keep running with just minor repairs. What if you have nowhere to stay when it breaks down and has to be at a repair shop? The stress of worrying about all this is endless and destructive to your body.

With all these different versions of living without a home, and such a wide and varied description of each person living like this, why are there so few solutions to help people?

Someone once suggested that since people have traditionally seen all homeless people as “bums” who “deserve” this fate due to bad choices, they don’t deserve compassion or help. Therefore homelessness has always been ignored as a national problem to be solved.

I’ve often heard the phrase “one paycheck away from homelessness.” Covid has served as a catalyst for homelessness, as too many people are facing eviction or have already been evicted. The housing crisis didn’t happen overnight, but the seeds were planted long ago and have had lots of time to take root. Salaries have remained stagnant as housing costs, fuel, and groceries have soared.

Families struggling and unable to make ends meet are the familiar face of the current housing crisis. They are real, they are in trouble, and those numbers have been rising consistently. But there is the unforgotten population, the genuinely invisible among us – the disabled and the elderly.

Senior citizens are a rapidly growing segment of the homeless population. These people have worked their entire adult lives and could never earn enough to stash away money for retirement. Now they are forced to continue working until they die.

Others of retirement age are physically unable to work and worse off financially. Imagine reaching retirement age and not being able to live indoors.

Disabled people, whether physically or mentally disabled, represent many homeless people. Many people who are disabled or elderly have no one who can take them in. They have outlived their family and friends and have no connections.

Some people, like me, are willing to settle for far less than others so long as their basic needs are met. Yet there are no provisions for me. This whole system is broken on so many levels. I certainly don’t expect to see it solved any time before I die. The tragedy of my life might have been averted had there been a working support system in place. Perhaps I could have gotten back on my feet and become productive again.

One size doesn’t fit all. It doesn’t even fit most. Different situations, circumstances, and needs all call for different solutions.

Housing First is the most significant step in finding those solutions.

Housing First puts people into housing within the general community and then provides help, be it job placement, mental health services, medical help, or whatever else they need to become stable and perhaps even fully back on their feet. It’s cheaper for society than the failed shelter systems and much better for the homeless person.

I can only hope this model becomes more widely used to help eliminate homelessness in America. 

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Invisible People is a nonprofit organization. We rely on the support of friends like you — people who understand that well-written, carefully researched stories can change minds about this issue. And that’s what leads to true transformation and policy change. Our writers have their fingers on the pulse of homeless communities. Many are formerly or currently homeless themselves. They are the real experts, passionate about ending homelessness. Your support helps us tell the true story of this crisis and solutions that will end it. Your donations help make history by telling the real story of homelessness to inspire tangible actions to end it.

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