The unhoused ought not go unheard
When it comes to addressing homelessness, rather than pouring more resources into the same old solutions, we should meet unhoused communities where they are and listen to their ideas.
For all of the divergent opinions about homelessness in the United States, there is one thing most everyone can agree on: it is growing.
All across America, big cities and small towns alike are seeking solutions, trying new things, soliciting billions of dollars in tax revenue and seizing emergency funds.
And while there are certainly examples of success, programs with good sense and notable potential, it’s clear to anyone paying attention that the overall strategy is not working.
Efforts that place individuals in long-term homes with appropriate levels of autonomy and support simply can’t keep up with the landslide of people falling into homelessness every month. In between, ill-conceived projects wind up using lots of resources with little result. Inefficiency, bureaucracy, redundancy and a stunning lack of cohesion generally makes things worse.
Other endeavors, such as sweeps, displacements, anti-homelessness laws and approaches that are varyingly dismissive or paternalistic, actually serve to cause further harm.
As a nation, by and large, we are flummoxed.
Many housed individuals — eyeing the swell in homelessness, the ineptitude of their tax dollars, and developing fears that their neighborhoods are at risk of irreparable transformation — have become agitated and even aggressive.
Meanwhile, the growing ranks of the unhoused continue to suffer and die on the streets.
So what do we do?
How can we move forward on one of the greatest issues of our time?
I posture that we should start by going back to the drawing board and rethinking our strategy from the ground up.
As with any issue, that *must* begin with open-minded, radical listening to the folks who are impacted.
Having lived in a cargo van for the last 1.5 years of my life, spending much of that time parking and living in unhoused encampments, I have discovered that many such communities have their own, thoughtful ideas for solutions — ones not only would be cheaper and more immediately feasible than those often devised in government offices, but could actually work given that they take into consideration the needs and wants of the folks at the heart of the issue.
It is high time we reconsider the tired strategies that have left us floundering, and look toward new approaches.
As for what that might look like in practice, I present Wood Street Commons, an unhoused community where I lived for four months, and a small-scale example of how outside-the-box thinking might actually work.