THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SHELTERS AND SUPPORTIVE HOUSING
Different types of homeless people have different types of needs. Most people who become homeless are only without a home for a short period of time due to unforeseen events or financial circumstances. For these individuals, shelters and emergency supports are appropriate to help them get back on their feet quickly. Most citizens never notice these temporarily homeless individuals and families.
The homeless you see on the street corners are likely to be chronically homeless individuals. Supportive housing provides a permanent solution to this most visible and costly element of the homeless population.
Shelters that operate on an emergency basis are inappropriate for these individuals because their homelessness, and the problems that caused their homelessness, are chronic and long-term, not a temporary emergency.
Treat homelessness as a temporary problem that can be solved with temporary assistance.
Are necessary and appropriate for individuals experiencing temporary homelessness in need of emergency assistance.
Cannot effectively serve the emergency needs of temporarily homeless individuals and families if their capacity is being strained by chronically homeless individuals who have little hope of ever "landing back on their feet" without significant assistance.
Are designed to serve a continual flow of different individuals, not the same individuals day after day, year after year.
Rarely provide 24-hour operation, privacy, or secure space to store personal belongings—hallmarks of freedom that chronically homeless individuals need and want.
Often impose strict rules on guests and alcohol; while understandable from a group safety perspective, these rules are more likely to alienate chronically homeless people with substance abuse problems than produce instant sobriety.
SUPPORTIVE HOUSING SOLUTIONS
Recognize that some homeless individuals will never return to mainstream society without permanent supportive services.
Aid residents in securing unclaimed benefits for which they are eligible, such as social security, thereby offsetting the costs of the project.
Provide flexible supportive services that maximize each resident’s ability to live independently without mandating participation in specific classes or treatments.
Integrate caseworkers and programming to assist residents in dealing with and overcoming addiction, mental illness, chronic health problems, and physical disabilities; developing money management and other life skills; and securing and retaining gainful employment. Residents with jobs are asked to contribute a portion of their income as rent, just like other subsidized housing programs.
Provide a long-term solution centered on individuals, not a pipeline. Supportive housing does not impose caps on the length of stay nor try to push residents towards moving out.
Empower homeless individuals to make lasting changes in their lives by providing the ultimate symbol of dignity: a key to their own place. Building rules and policies are flexible and incorporate tenant input, further respecting that dignity.
Without a doubt, emergency shelter beds are essential in any comprehensive strategy to address the problems associated with homelessness in a community like Dallas. At the same, no lasting or substantive solution will be found without the development of permanent supportive housing.
What has been your experience in working with homeless persons when it comes to housing and shelter? I'd be eager to know both your experience and your reaction.