How can we prevent homelessness?

There are many methods in which together, as a society, we can prevent people from ever having to experience homelessness.

First, we can work to create a more equitable society where some groups of people do not experience extreme levels of poverty and all people have access to housing they can afford and job opportunities with adequate pay. 

This enables families and individuals to be able to fund the housing, food, and other basic necessities they need to survive, as well as additional room in the budget to save for emergencies.

Secondly, we can create a safety net for individuals and families who do find themselves at risk of homelessness by providing temporary support through diversion, financial assistance, counseling or other services that prevent individuals and families from entering into homelessness

Preventing Homelessness Once Individual/Family Falls into Risk of Homelessness

Homeless Prevention

As evident in the name, homeless prevention works with people before they lose housing.

It is an approach to solving possible homelessness by empowering a person to identify safe, immediate, and appropriate alternatives to entering the homeless services system, such as shelters. 

An organization helping with diversion will work alongside a person or to family brainstorm possible solutions to the issue(s) threatening their housing stability, with an emphasis on trusting the person to be an expert in their own solution as they regain control over their housing crisis.

Homeless Prevention strategies range from connecting a neighbor to rental support available in the community, helping a neighbor apply for social support like disability, medicare, or food stamps to help them meet their budgetary needs, or helping them connect with family or friends who can provide them a place to stay while they back on their feet.

Sometimes an organization works with a landlord to ensure that a neighbor can stay where they are currently residing, to work through any issues that could result in eviction, or organize a payment plan for repayment of missed rent. 

The organization can then act as a mediator to develop a resolution that will allow the household to stay in their current housing. The goal of diversion is the lightest touch possible so community resources are available to those who need them most.

Homeless prevention is often a preferable approach to immediately placing someone in a shelter because it can be more cost-effective, it can ensure necessary shelter beds are available for those who need them most, but most of all, it prevents an individual or family from experiencing the trauma of homelessness.

Employment & Education Services

Job readiness training and job-seeking support offered to people at risk of homelessness can help neighbors achieve higher wages and higher quality jobs.

When a person is working one or two minimum wage jobs, they often have little leftover in the monthly budget (after rent, food, utilities) for emergencies or rental increases. 

That’s why employment services can be a critical tool for helping people compete in the modern job market and obtain jobs that pay above minimum wage.

People experiencing poverty and homelessness can encounter a number of factors that can prevent them from gaining quality employment including ​​limited education and skills, varied job histories, misplaced legal documents, limited access to transportation, cosmetic difficulties, such as missing teeth, and physical and behavioral health conditions.

According to San Diego’s Point-in-Time count report (2018), 30% of individuals polled reported a loss of job as the primary cause of homelessness.  

Through hands-on training, education, and job development, employment programs, such as Father Joe’s Villages Employment & Education Center, foster empowerment and provide tools for facing the complicated, competitive world of employment.

Preventing Homelessness by Creating Housing

There are thousands of organizations across the world implementing solutions to alleviate poverty and inequality.

At Father Joe’s Villages, we help to reduce and prevent extreme poverty by working to expand affordable and supportive housing opportunities in our community.

Affordable Housing

Housing becomes less affordable when the housing supply cannot keep up with the demand for housing in a region.

When housing becomes less affordable, the budgets of low-income families and individuals are squeezed, leaving little room for anything but survival. In fact, half of all San Diego homeowners don’t make enough money to meet the region’s cost of living, with 60% of local renters falling short by thousands of dollars per year.  

By building more affordable housing in the community, organizations help to reduce the pressure on low-income neighbors and provide more affordable options for those that need it most.

Affordable housing enables folks to maintain housing long-term because the housing stays within a price range that is proportional to their income bracket.

Through the Turning the Key initiative, Father Joe’s Villages committed to adding 2,000 units of affordable housing dedicated to neighbors overcoming homelessness, on top of the over 400 affordable units already offered by the organization. Learn more here.

Supportive Housing

Supportive Housing, sometimes referred to as Permanent Supportive Housing, is housing that is reserved for people with a physical disability, mental illness or long-term substance use disorder who need regular support to maintain housing stability. 

While Supportive Housing is provided to people who have been homeless, this type of program prevents ongoing and future homelessness for at-risk individuals with a history of chronic homelessness.

Residents of supportive housing communities receive a long-term rental subsidy that is sensitive to their income and ongoing support services to help them maintain their housing. 

At Father Joe’s Villages, for example, Case Managers help clients set and achieve goals and get connected to resources, while Tenant Services Coordinators teach life skills and host social activities that build community.

A Registered Nurse provides wound care, patient education, and medication management. 

Supportive housing is a compassionate and dignified solution to homelessness for people who would otherwise struggle to maintain housing on their own. Often, supportive housing is the best solution for addressing or preventing chronic homelessness amongst people with severe mental illness and debilitating disabilities.

However, communities often don’t have the resources to provide supportive housing to all the individuals who may benefit from it.

For that reason, building and raising funding for new supportive housing communities can be critical for preventing homelessness for people most in need.

In Conclusion

Homelessness prevention programs and associated initiatives are often a cost-effective and compassionate approach to preventing individuals and families from living without shelter on the streets and entering into the cycle of homelessness.

People who have never had to live on the streets may be unaware of the stereotypes, myths, and barriers that people who are homeless experience. 

The basic necessities housed individuals take for granted are often out of reach to those struggling with homelessness. Being unable to afford professional clothing, not having a fixed address, and food insecurity are just some of the circumstances that inhibit people from moving off the streets. 

These barriers make it even harder for unsheltered neighbors to break the cycle of homelessness by inhibiting their ability to save money, apply for jobs, or even get accepted for housing. 

5 Barriers People Experiencing Homelessness Face

1. Not Having a Permanent Address

Not having a permanent address can be problematic for people living on the streets when they are trying to attain employment or other types of income.

The majority of companies require a permanent address from job applicants to ensure they are residents of the state and to conduct background checks. Having no proof of residency can make it more difficult for unhoused individuals to be considered for an open job position over an applicant who has an address. 

Some neighbors experiencing homelessness purchase a PO Box or use a homeless shelter as an address when they apply for jobs. However, because of the stigma surrounding homelessness, candidates who use a homeless shelter or PO Box as an address may be viewed as unstable or unreliable and be passed over during the screening process. 

2. Inability to Afford Professional Clothing

First impressions are everything when interviewing for a job and, unfortunately, most employers judge on appearance. A candidate dressed in professional attire almost always has an advantage over one dressed casually. Not only that, but many service-level jobs require uniforms or mandatory clothing like non-slip or steel toed shoes, black slacks or button-down shirts. 

For people experiencing homelessness, spending money on clothes may seem like a luxury they can’t afford. That’s why Father Joe’s Villages’ Employment & Education services provide access to professional clothing for those most in need. 

The “Dress for Success” closet gives neighbors in need professional outfits for important job interviews so they look and feel their best on their journey to regaining self-sufficiency. 

3. Poor Dental Health

They say that a smile opens doors and creates possibilities. Imagine, however, going to a job interview and being terrified to smile because of poor dental hygiene or appearance. 

Imagine avoiding social situations and hoping to fade into the background because of the shame you feel at each thought of missing teeth or other dental issues. 

Imagine ceasing to eat because of the excruciating pain you feel with each bite.

Father Joe’s Villages Dental Clinic provides comprehensive care to neighbors experiencing poverty and homelessness. General Dentists, Prosthodontist, Registered Dental Hygienists, and Registered or Certified Dental Assistants work to prevent and eliminate dental disease while promoting good oral health for patients of all income brackets. 

In 2020, over 600 people in need received dental care through Father Joe’s Villages Dental Clinic. 

4. Receiving Tickets for Minor Offenses

Neighbors experiencing homelessness often receive citations for minor offenses such as unauthorized removal of a shopping cart, jaywalking, parking a car overnight, loitering, or sleeping on a sidewalk. 

These infractions can create significant barriers when trying to secure employment and permanent housing. Not to mention that these tickets add additional expenses to people who simply do not have the means to pay them.

The Homeless Court Program (HCP) is a special Superior Court session for homeless defendants hosted by Father Joe’s Villages. To help people resolve outstanding misdemeanors and warrants, Father Joe’s Villages works with HCP participants to actively identify and overcome the causes of their homelessness, empowering them to successfully comply with court orders.

5. Lack of Nutrition

Each day, nearly 450,000 San Diegans struggle to put food on the table and more than 170,000 of those suffering from hunger are children. Numerous studies have found that lack of nutritional food is associated with increased risk of health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.   

Father Joe’s Villages’ Food Services program provides hundreds of meals each day to those experiencing homelessness in San Diego. Access to even one meal a day can drastically reduce the likelihood of short- and long-term health problems caused by lack of nutrition or even starvation. 

That’s why each meal served through Father Joe’s Villages’ Food Services program is designed to ensure neighbors get their daily helping of vegetables, protein, and whole grains. 

Additionally, when a neighbor is focusing on where they will find their next meal, they have less time and energy to focus on accessing services or looking for housing and employment. By providing daily nutritious meals to people in need, Father Joe’s Villages helps neighbors focus less on simply surviving, and more on truly thriving.

Wrapping Up

Most people who experience homelessness face additional barriers than those with homes, from lack of nutrition to being unable to find a shelter. These barriers can be difficult for those experiencing homelessness to overcome.

Through their mission to prevent and end homelessness, one life at a time, Father Joe’s Villages provides a comprehensive array of services and housing aimed to help neighbors overcome any obstacle standing in their way of a brighter future