An open letter to Pierce County Councilmember Jim McCune and other caring and prudent Northwest leaders.
I've spent many hours researching our "homeless problem", sparked by my friendship with a young homeless couple. You, also, both personally and as our representative, must be concerned about those street corner beggars and parking lot loiterers. To be clear, we are not talking about the 85% of total homeless who lost their housing but take full advantage of social services (and friends) to get rehoused within weeks. It is the 15% that avoid real help…the addicts and mentally ill…the incapable and also the public leeches that I have in mind. My guess is that you wish, as I do, that there was a way to solve that problem.
Now there is. You have probably heard of it: Housing First. It is just getting off the ground in Everett and Seattle, with the kind help of Utah, which has embraced it state-wide. I hope to explain it clearly enough that you will become an advocate here in Pierce County and Puget Sound where solutions are needed.
Go back 20+ years. Dr. Sam Tsemberis was a psychiatrist at New York University. He saw that the efforts in New York City to help street people overcome obstacles (addictions, etc.) before can give them help to move into subsidized housingjust wasn't working. His research and training convinced him that a home, alone, without preconditions, is therapeutic in itself, making personal change easier. A home comes first before other problems. He named it Permanent Supportive Housing. The supportive social services are "built in".
"What! Give those bums a home?", people will say; "Isn't that an expensive giveaway?"
Not at all. Cost analysis research sparked by President George W. Bush's 10 year Initiative discovered that most cities have been paying triple the cost of Permanent Supportive Housing, with all that cost (of police time, E.R. room, social services, etc.) doing NOTHING to get them off the streets. Paying triple the cost to enable homeless people to stay homeless doesn't make sense. NOT building small "homes" (apartments) sounds like a huge waste of tax monies.
But that Permanent Supportive Housing apartment isn't your dream home, either. It's small, just big enough to for a bed, desk, small cook stove, and a tiny bathroom. It's cramped space is an incentive for those capable of overcoming whatever kept them homeless to use the "Supportive" services on-site, (perhaps down the hall from the central community/utility room), to eventually get a job and a rented real apartment. Others may stay the rest of their life, because it is "Permanent". No one can just evict you without strong cause. You lock the door at night. What you do is your business. It's your private room. It has heat and water.
Permanent Supportive Housing,then, requires a design of building that can safely accommodate hundreds of small soundproofed units connected to office and Supportive services with an in-house communication system. These buildings have already been designed and built – in New York, Colorado, Florida, Utah, etc.
Other places, such as Everett (see the excellent attached article by Chris Winters) are just beginning,with smaller projects to start with and learn from.
HOUSING, of course, ENDS HOMELESSNESS. It's that simple. But it's not so simple to carry out. Property locations/purchase, architect's blueprints (though I'm sure there are prints from completed buildings available). Funding sources were mentioned in Chris Winters articles.
Pathways to Housing,www.pathwaystohousing.org,is the umbrella organization started by Dr. Tsemberis, and it should have plenty of detailed information. Find the Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Jim, I have two worries about this. While this "solution" is what the National Alliance to End Homelessness calls; "…not only the right thing to do, but the financially responsible thing to do", it is a different kind of housing. Ifear that those who see only dollar signs will ransom any such project with demands for special requirements to drive the cost up. The State Legislature or the County Council may have to provide exemptions and changes in the regulations written for customary home building. These couldn't be the usual building design.
The second worry is the public perception. The media, hopefully would cooperate in showing people that, while it is a "free home" of sorts, it is very minimal and that the savings in county spending far outweighs the "gift" to each homeless person ENDS the SIGHT OF HOMELESS PEOPLE LOITERING ON PUBLIC LAND. Even at that, some homeless people will feel they are "losing their freedom" and balk. Incentives may be necessary.
Compassionate citizens, too, will need to be taught why "helping the homeless", is not helpful at all…lF THE PERMANENT SUPPORTIVE HOUSING IS AVAILABLE. The purpose of Permanent Supportive Housing is to provide private space so that public space no longer need be used for private living purposes.
I hope you will agree that it is a compassionate, yet fiscally responsible, way to truly help the homeless in a way that will allow those who can to return to a normal life. I hope you will share this information and seek to cooperate with others who are interested in seeing formerly homeless people starting a new life…without the wet sleeping bag.
From: Wayne Cooke, 24203-88th Ave. E., Graham, WA, 98338 Phone: 253-847-4614