Homeless Man Seeking Kindness

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 experiencing homelessness are often negatively misrepresented in our society. They are characterized as dangerous criminals worthy of incarceration, or sad figures suffering from severe mental illness who are beyond help.

Many people don’t realize that, in fact, there are many faces of homelessness– from people overcoming substance-use disorder and those living with mental illness to veterans struggling to readjust to civilian life and families who can’t make ends meet.

Overall, stereotypes of homelessness tend to fault people who are homeless for their situation. In actuality, homelessness is as diverse as any other population. Many people become homeless because they can no longer afford their rent—whether that’s because of job loss, health issues, addiction, death in the family, rent increase, or a host of other reasons.

What are the Stereotypes of Homelessness?

People experiencing homelessness all have mental health issues or substance use disorders. 

Because the relatively small number of people living on the streets who suffer from paranoia, delusions and other mental disorders are very visible, they have become the stereotype for the entire homeless population.

While some of those we serve at Father Joe’s Villages are people struggling with mental health issues and substance use disorders, there is a myriad of reasons people become homeless.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women

According to Safe Housing Partnerships, thirty-eight percent of all domestic violence victims become homeless at some point in their lives. Many abuse survivors don’t have a strong support system they can rely on and must therefore seek supportive housing and health care resources from state-run agencies or organizations.

In 2016, the National Network to End Domestic Violence recorded over 41,000 adults and children across the country fleeing domestic violence found refuge in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. Those escaping abusive conditions would rather take their chances in a homeless shelter or on the streets than remain trapped in consistently violent homes.

Systemic racism underlies disproportionate levels of homelessness in Black, Indigenous and People of Color

Systematic racism is another factor that underlies disproportionate levels of homelessness in Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. For example, a practice from the 1930s called redlining allowed government-backed bodies to mark maps of minority communities in red and label them as poor financial investments. These deliberately oppressive policies are still felt by the residents in neighborhoods that were redlined nationwide.

Census data shows that Black households pay unaffordable rents and mortgages more frequently than white households: in 2016 in California, more than 60% of Black renters paid more than 30% of their income to housing.

According to the California Coalition for Youth, based on national surveys, between 1.6 and 2.1 million youth ages 12-24 are homeless over the course of a year. Many of these youths are homeless because they are fleeing discrimination and abuse at home. They often don’t have the familial safety net or resources that would prevent them from falling into homelessness.

It is estimated that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQI+) youth make up thirty-nine percent of the street youth population. LGBTQI+ youth leave home more frequently and are exposed to more victimization while on the streets compared to heterosexual homeless youth.

People want to be homeless 

Often, people experience homelessness when they are dealing with circumstances that make it difficult to maintain housing stability and all other options have been exhausted.

At its core, San Diego’s homelessness crisis is a housing crisis.

With record-breaking rent prices and the nation’s lowest vacancy rate, affordable housing is the largest barrier to solving homelessness in our city—and other cities across the country are starting to struggle with the same issues.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) reported that in 2012, there were 10.3 million renters across the country whose income was low enough to earn the HUD classification of “extremely low income.” Meanwhile, only 5.8 million rental units were available that the over 10 million ELI individuals could afford. And, on top of that, out of every 100 units, only one was available.

Those figures have only gotten worse since then. The Census Bureau showed that in June of 2020, roughly 65 million non-elderly people lived with families whose total weekly earnings fell below the poverty line.

For years, rents have increased while wages have remained stagnant making job loss the second leading cause of homelessness. Startlingly, in 2019, Charles Schwab reported in their “Modern Wealth Survey” that 59% of Americans are just one paycheck away from homelessness.

Few people want to be homeless. For an overwhelming number of the population just one unforeseen emergency can lead to homelessness.

People who are homeless are lazy

When Pamela, a former Father Joe’s Villages resident, could no longer afford her apartment on her fixed income, she moved into a tent in an empty field in San Diego. At 59 years old, Pamela’s days became consumed with searching for food and hauling heavy buckets of water to her tent so she could drink and bathe.

In order to survive, many people who experience homelessness are constantly in search for the necessities of life, such as food, shelter and a source of income. Therefore, due to the barriers that they face, many people experiencing homelessness do not even have the option to be lazy, since they are focused on survival.

Many individuals suffering from illnesses and/or disabilities physically cannot work. In San Diego, according to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH) Point-in-Time We All Count Report, 58% of those who are unsheltered have a disability as compared to 10% of the general population. 32% of those individuals have chronic illness.

Even worse, people living on the streets often have co-occurring conditions, including multiple chronic and disabling health and behavioral health conditions. These conditions prohibit these individuals from gaining employment

The Harm of the Stigma Around Homelessness

Negative stereotypes and dehumanization can increase discrimination, violence, and hate crimes against people who are homeless. When we objectify or dehumanize, it can make it easier to treat people poorly. Eliminating stereotypes associated with homelessness helps to humanize homeless individuals and promotes effective change through empathy.

We cannot define people solely by their homelessness. Each person experiencing homelessness contains a multitude: They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, artists, writers, businesspersons, entrepreneurs, athletes, and so much more.

We must see the person for who they truly are rather than the stigma society has created of them if we truly wish to prevent and end homelessness.