The only way we’re ever going to solve homelessness is by giving free housing to homeless people.
Not cots in homeless shelters. Not beds in domestic violence shelters. Real, actual, permanent housing, with a door they can lock and the freedom to come and go as they please.
It seems like a stupidly simple solution to an incredibly complicated problem, but this is the only way we’re ever going to end homelessness for good. Everything we’re doing right now is like flinging thimbles of water onto a house fire, and it’s time to call the fire department. Don’t believe me? Consider that:
Providing free housing is actually cheaper than what we’re doing right now. Even when you factor in the cost of having round-the-clock mental health staff on hand in housing facilities, giving the homeless housing costs about one-third as much as leaving them on the streets. How is that possible? People who sleep on the streets go to the hospital a whole lot more than anyone else. Being homeless is hard on your health - you are more likely to be assaulted, experience frostbite or heatstroke, or fail to manage a medical condition like diabetes. Homeless people are also more likely to get arrested for minor things like public urination or loitering, and it’s hugely expensive to arrest them, process them, put them in prison and put them through court dates. We save so much money and eliminate so many problems by just giving them somewhere to live.
It’s extremely difficult to get a job when you don’t have an address. There’s a huge amount of prejudice against homeless people, and the same people who shout “get a job!” are the first to toss someone’s application in the trash as soon as they see “no fixed address”. Having an address also makes it easier to vote, open a bank account, keep up with your taxes and obey the terms of your probation.
Homeless people waste a lot of time standing in line for shelters and services. Shelters have limited space available, and if you want to make sure you have a bed for the night, you need to be there long before the doors open. The same thing applies to soup kitchens. When your whole life revolves around being in line for vital services for hours on end, it’s hard to make much progress in getting your life together. Providing people with housing gives them more time and more flexibility to return to school, find jobs, or reconnect with family.
It’s virtually impossible to manage a mental health condition or recover from addiction when you have no permanent housing. It’s just not going to happen. Recovering from a mental health issue requires stability, routine and a safe place to retreat to, which are impossible when you live on the streets. Living rough makes it extremely difficult to show up to appointments, hang on to your prescription medications and avoid trauma. It’s more efficient for everyone involved to provide housing to the mentally ill first, and bring mental health services right to their doors.
It’s hard to make much progress in life when you can’t accumulate possessions. Think about how hard your life would be if you had no safe place to store your things. When you’re homeless and sleeping in shelters, you can only keep as much stuff as you can carry with you, and most of your energy is going to go towards keeping that stuff safe. You can’t take advantage of clothing drives, because you can’t carry too many clothes. You eat a lot of fast food, because you have nowhere to store or prepare groceries. Showing up to appointments, interviews or shifts is difficult, because you have to lug everything you own with you to ensure nothing is stolen. Having a room with a lock changes everything.
It keeps children out of the foster system. Ending up on the streets often means losing your children - if you can’t provide children with a stable home, that’s grounds to take them away. Families fleeing domestic violence can find themselves re-traumatized when children are placed in foster care due to inadequate housing. Providing stable housing allows families to stay together and minimizes trauma for children and parents, as well as foster care costs.
It preserves basic human dignity. It’s hard for most of us to imagine how humiliating and dehumanizing it is to be homeless. Imagine not having access to regular showers, or even toilets. Having nowhere to clean your laundry. Having your schedule dictated by a homeless shelter. Sleeping in rooms with dozens or hundreds of other people, with absolutely no privacy. Being chased out of businesses and public places. Enduring the crushing boredom of having nowhere to go. Being treated as less than human. It’s impossible to maintain hope and dignity in those conditions, and no human being should have to endure that.
We live in a society that treats housing like something you have to “earn” by proving yourself worthy of it, and that toxic thinking has put us in a position where we’re literally willing to spend more money to have people sleeping in the streets. It has to stop. Housing is a bare minimum requirement for human dignity, and it should be a human right. Everyone deserves a safe and private space of their own, regardless of their abilities, mental health or circumstances. No one is asking for luxury condos here - dorm-style settings with private rooms and shared bathroom and kitchen facilities have proven to be effective. This isn’t about who “deserves” housing; if you are a human being, you deserve a safe place to call home.
I’m gonna try to put some issues I have with housing into as few words as possible:
Rent takes up half of my income, which sucks. I’ve met my landlord exactly once. He’s nice and all, but he hasn’t set foot in the flat in 2 years. I supplied the furniture, I clean the property, secure it, manage it, pay for the utilities, repaired the shower when it broke - I run this home, but he gets half my income because he owns the building. This just seems like bullshit to me.
And the rejoinder is, “Well if you don’t like it then work hard and buy your own home!” - but here’s the thing about that:
If I work very hard, maybe someday I could afford a house of my own. But it’s literally impossible for everyone to do that. If everyone owned their own home, nobody would rent, and landlords wouldn’t exist. If I want to own a house, maybe someday I could; but if I want everyone to then that’s impossible. So even if I work my ass off to climb the ladder the system is such that somebody, somewhere is always going to have to give half their income away and live insecurely. Equality and secure housing for all is literally impossible as long as housing is sold and rented on the market; insecurity, homelessness, and exploitation are ineradicable. The same system that tells me to take personal responsibility and work hard makes it impossible for everyone to succeed in that way.
Don’t mind me I’m just screaming about all the empty neighbourhoods in my country that no one can move into because private builders want to charge hundreds of thousands of euros for them and no one can pay so they sit empty while children and adults sleep on the streets here in the cold and dumbfucks blame refugees instead of the government who should fix this by seizing the properties and publicising them
Also I don’t care how much was spent on them, it’s evil to create homes and deny them to people because you’re not making the exact amount of money you want
People need homes, affordable homes, fuck the rich who built these places and allow their greed to damage the community
Additional fact that I find many people don’t know: in huge swaths of the US people trying to access homeless shelters don’t have legal protection from discrimination of any sort, including things like racial, religious, or gender discrimination, let alone things like sexuality or trans status, even in shelters that receive government funding.
Many courts insist that shelters don’t count as a dwelling for Fair Housing Act cases but also insist they don’t count as a public accommodation under the Civil Rights Act and similar laws.
Even if a homeless person had the resources to take a discrimination case to court, which most do not, depending on the jurisdiction in the US it might not be illegal for the government funded shelter to go so far as to put out a literal sign reading “No Muslims, No Black people, No gay people”.
It’s pretty much impossible to overestimate just how much US law denies even basic protections to homeless people. And the fact that homeless people are very disproportionately people of color (especially Black and Native people), LGBT, and/or disabled isn’t a coincidence, not only are they targeted, it’s part of the reason the garbage capitalist US courts are so willing to dehumanize and deny any protection to homeless people in the first place.