By: Amanda Froelich,
It seems a tragic paradox that there are more empty houses in the United States than there are homeless people, yet 1,75,000 individuals still remain on the street, and almost 1/3 of them go hungry every day. Overlooked by those with modern conveniences, it seems a common occurrence for struggling souls on the street to be ignored in the midst of crisis.
There is mixed reception on the issue. Some cities detest homeless people lingering about in parks or around busy, metropolitan areas during the day:
- City council members in Colombia, South Carolina, were concerned that the city was becoming a “magnet” for homeless people, therefore they passed an ordinance giving the homeless an option to either relocate or get arrested. After backlash from police offers, city workers, and advocates, however, the council later rescinded the ordinance.
- Philadelphia passed a law that banned the feeding of homeless people on city parkland. Religious groups objected to the ban, and announced they would not obey it.
- In 2013, the city of Tampa, Florida – which had the most homeless people for a mid-sized city – passed an ordinance allowing police officers to arrest anyone they saw sleeping in public, or “storing personal property in public.” The city later followed up with a ban on panhandling downtown, and other locations around the city.
- In Raleigh, North Carolina, the city asked religious groups to stop their longstanding practice of feeding the homeless on city parkland. Not surprisingly, religious leaders announced that they would risk arrest rather than stop.
And then there are those who are fed up with the situation, adopting extreme tactics to cope with the mess of frustration.
- Earlier this month, Hawaii State Representative, Tom Bower, began walking the streets of Waikiki district with a sledgehammer, smashing shopping carts owned by homeless people. “Disgusted” by the city’s chronic homelessness problem, he literally took matters into his own hands. But the reception to his over-the-top actions gained him no popularity, therefore he shortly thereafter declared, “mission accomplished”, and retired his sledgehammer.
Refusing to acknowledge the homelessness crisis will not resolve the issue, however. That’s why Utah’s actions are so commendable.
In the past eight years, Utah has quietly reduced homelessness by 78 percent, and is on track to completely end homelessness by 2015.
How did this state accomplish such a noteworthy feat? Quite simply: Utah solved homelessness by giving people homes. In 2013, the state recognized that that the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail stays for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker.
With this intelligence, the state began giving away apartments – with no strings attached. Each participant in Utah’s Housing First program also receives a case worker to help them become self-sufficient, but they can keep the apartment even if they fail. The program has been so successful, other states are hoping to achieve similar results with programs modeled on Utah’s.
Perhaps Utah relied on a page from the 2009 report, Homes Not Handcuffs to implement change. The National Law Coalition for the Homeless used a 2004 survey and anecdotal evidence from activists to conclude that permanent housing for the homeless is cheaper than criminalization. Housing is not only more human, it’s economical.
Utah’s results show that all locations have the ability to implement decidedly progressive solutions to solve problems like homelessness. No longer can the non-glamorous issues be ignored; with the technological resources and capability to care for global citizens worldwide, the time to progress as a race and care for all inhabitants of the planet is now.