The challenge of homelessness in the United States is indubitably a key area for policy analysts, government service providers, and government officials. Homelessness in America is a complex, widely occurring, as well as persistent that incorporates many psychological, social, and economic dimensions. After years of economic decline and war, the ranks of homelessness have increased significantly to include families with children (35), persons fleeing domestic violence (30), the mentally ill (20-25), children (25), and military veterans (23) (National Student Campaign, 2012). It is also important to note that homelessness has decreased slightly over the years, particularly among the military veterans and for people experiencing chronic homelessness. However, the number of persons experiencing homelessness as part of family has increased slightly. These changes can be attributed to policy changes and economic climate in America over the years. For example, there has been increased investment by federal government in effective solutions including permanent supportive housing aimed at chronically homeless individuals and veterans (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2013). In addition, there have been some efforts by private sector to prevent and end homelessness for individuals and families. However, despite these efforts, growing housing cost burden and increased competition for housing resources combined with population increase have contributed to persistent homelessness challenge in America. The broad range of private and public responses to various aspects of the problem of homelessness in America is adequate.
Homeless Veterans Programs is one of the main public responses to the problem of homelessness in America. Military veterans constitute a significant proportion in the ranks of the homelessness at 23. Veterans Affairs department is determined to end homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015. The entire department has directed its resources and energy into bringing to an end veteran homelessness. Its programs provide comprehensive, individualized care to homeless veterans while at the same time striving to provide lasting solution to the problem (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2013). Through several federal programs, the Veterans Affairs department in conjunction with the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development are working towards providing permanent and supportive housing services for homeless veterans. Under this housing assistance program, homeless veterans and their families are provided with vouchers across the country to live in market rate rental housing. The Veteran Department also helps homeless veterans through the Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program where community-based agencies provide service centres or transitional housing to homeless veterans. In addition, through Acquired Property Sales for Homeless Providers Program, the Veterans Affairs Department help homeless veterans obtain homes. It obtains foreclosures on Veteran Affairs-insured mortgages available for sale to shelter homeless veterans (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2013).
In order to empower them and help reduce veteran homelessness, the Veteran Affairs department also provides job placement and development, vocational assistance, as well as ongoing supports towards improving employment outcomes among homeless veterans (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2013). Besides, through Veterans Affairs’ Compensated Work Therapy Program, it helps homeless veterans in returning to competitive employment; this is critical in helping them have reliable income and overcome the homelessness problem. It further helps homeless veterans through health care programs to provide care for veterans through VA Hospitals and Community-Based Outpatient Clinics. Veterans served the country well and addressing the problem of homelessness among them is a great honour for their service (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2013). This response relates to criminal justice in a big way. Unemployment, depression, and hopelessness have been cited as some of the factors that affect heavily on the criminal justice system; they contribute to high rates of crime and thereby overburdening the system. Therefore, when Veterans Affairs Department addresses some of these issues particularly among veterans and their families, it goes a long way in reducing the burden on criminal justice system.
The second major public response to homelessness in America is by U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has a principal agency mandated to protect the health of Americans, as well as support the delivery of important human services, particularly for those who are least able to assist or help themselves. Therefore, the delivery of services and treatment to persons experiencing homelessness is its major activity. It coordinates the services with other Federal partners who provide complementary and housing service programs, which is crucial component to achieve the objective of preventing and ending homelessness in America (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2007). This response aims at preventing episodes of homelessness especially within the HHS clientele, including families and individuals. It also aims at helping eligible, homeless families and individuals receive social and health service. It further seeks to empower states and community partners to improve their response to families and individuals experiencing homelessness. More importantly, the HHS strategic plan seeks to develop an approach of tracking Departmental progress to reduce, prevent, and end homelessness (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2007). This response has yielded various positive outcomes, key among them being the reflection of the changing set of priorities and challenges in responding to homelessness in America.
The third public response to homelessness in America is by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). It was formed through the enactment of the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act on July 22, 1987. It was formed as an independent establishment within the executive branch of government to review the effectiveness of federal programs and activities in assisting people experiencing homelessness. Its other mandate entailed promotion of better coordination among various agencies, as well as informing local and state governments and private and public sector organizations about the availability of federal assistance to the homeless families and individuals (U.S Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2013). The council creates a national partnership at all government levels and with private sector as well with the view of reducing and ending homelessness in America. Along with that, it seeks to maximize the Federal Government in contributing towards ending homelessness. It is made up of 19 federal cabinet secretaries and heads of various government agencies who work towards achieving the outlined goals as regards preventing and ending homelessness (U.S Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2013).
The laws and policies underpinning this response greatly relates to the criminal justice system. Its design, programs and activities insist on the need for aggressive criminal justice responses in addition to the social and economic responses. Criminal justice components such as law enforcement agency and corrections are involved in USICH works with the view of addressing criminal justice issues relating to homelessness. It helps criminal justice agencies at federal, state and community level to implement initiatives and programs that are critical in not only addressing the problem of homelessness in general, but also the specific issues that bring about homelessness in America. In addition, it evaluates, monitors, and recommends improvements on agencies including those involved in criminal justice system in dealing with those experiencing homelessness by disseminating the best practices (U.S Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2013).
In addition to the public responses to homelessness in America, there have been private responses to the problem as well. For example, the Architectural League of New York has been actively involved in providing responses to this problem. Even though policy responses to homelessness have shifted in the last decade, designers have been focusing on a majority of architectural action on spaces that are occupied by homeless constituents, where they design temporary shelters for the homeless people living in the street (Katz and Chiao, 2009). The Architectural League of New York is one of the private sector players who have been playing critical role in responding to the problem of homelessness in America. It has been instrumental in ensuring that designers work alongside homeless service providers and city organizations in identifying the type of issues beyond housing that proper design is well equipped to address appropriately. It has focused on improving effectiveness of outreach and service, in addition to the quality of space themselves. This effort is important in helping to end the chronic homelessness. Moreover, it helps in ensuring that flexibility is attained in order to maintain efficiency especially in the densely populated areas. They emphasize the need for the design to focus on flexibility thus easing the use of space and facilitating multiple functionalities on a tight budget (Katz and Chiao, 2009).
The role played by private sector in addressing the problem of homelessness in America is founded on the business models that are in line with social policy. For example, the Architectural League of New York focuses on issues facing small-scale and large-scale homeless service providers. It calls for the need to reflect on a much larger dialogue on privacy in public space and openness in institutional settings. While the need for urgency in addressing the problem cannot be ignored, a broader approach in addressing the spatial and large-scale social issues should be considered too. It is for this reason that private players who are involved in addressing homelessness should have a platform that inspires spirit of open source development, as well as collaboration rather than competition between private and public sector players (Katz and Chiao, 2009).
Moreover, private sector response to homelessness in America is provided by other organizations including the National Coalition for the Homeless. This organization provides response from the viewpoint of factors that cause homelessness and how these underlying factors can be addressed in order to comprehensively solve the problem of homelessness. For example, it cites unemployment, underemployment, and low wages as the main factors contributing to homelessness in America (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009). Many Americans are experiencing falling or stagnant incomes, fewer benefits and less secure jobs. This situation was further compounded by the recent global financial crisis that left a greater American population homeless. More and more workers are presently facing cut in hours, while nominal weekly earnings have gone down. As a result, many of them are unable to afford housing. There is a evident connection between homelessness and impoverished workers; this can be seen in homeless shelters, most of which are housing large number of full-time wage earners (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009). Related to this issue, is the issue of job security and underemployment. Job security and job stability have deteriorated in recent years, a situation that has led to loss of jobs and difficulties for displaced workers to find new employment.
The National Coalition for the Homeless seeks not only to highlight the issues surrounding homelessness, but also to point out on the possible solutions to these issues. The coalition acknowledges the role played by other agencies in addressing this problem; in particular, it seeks to work closely with USICH in organizing for responses aimed at reducing and eventually end homelessness in America (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009). Its response to the problem of homelessness mainly focuses on closing the gap between housing costs and incomes. It advocates for better pays and living wage for employees in order to enable majority of workers to afford housing. It also urges the government, private and labour sector to work towards creating opportunities for more Americans to secure employment opportunities, which pay a living wage, necessary in meeting basic needs which include housing (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009).
Apparently, the broad range of private and public responses to various aspects of the problem of homelessness in America is adequate. As has been noted, various government departments and agencies are at the forefront in working towards reducing and eventually ending homelessness in America. The private sector is playing an equally important role in providing technical support as well as through advocacy as is the case with the National Coalition for the Homeless. There is no doubt that the efforts and resources allocated towards programs and initiatives of addressing the problem of homelessness are quite adequate and it is expected that in the near future, this problem will have been addressed to a satisfactory level. However, it is worth noting that there are various threats towards the realization of this goal. These include relatively high levels of unemployment and lack of support to the members of society who can least help themselves. For this reason, it is important for the public and private sector stakeholders to focus not only on the reduction and on ultimate eradication of homelessness in America, but also to mitigate the potential threats of achieving this goal.
- Katz, Deborah and Chiao, Terri. (2009). Private/Public: Rethinking Design for the Homeless. Retrieved on 31 July, 2013 from http://urbanomnibus.net/2009/11/private-public-rethinking-design-for-the-homeless/
- National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2013). The State of Homelessness in America 2013. Retrieved on 31 July 2013 from http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/the-state-of-homelessness-2013
- National Coalition for the Homeless. (2009). Employment and Homelessness. Retrieved on 31 July 2013 from http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/employment.html
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2007). Strategic Action Plan on Homelessness. Retrieved on 31 July, 2013 from http://www.hhs.gov/homeless/research/endhomelessness.html
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2013). Homeless Veterans Programs and Resources. Retrieved on 31 July 2013 from http://va.gov/HOMELESS/index.asp
- U.S Interagency Council on Homelessness [USICH]. (2013). Homeless Crisis Response. Retrieved on 31 July, 2013 from http://www.usich.gov/plan_objective/homeless_crisis_response