Recently, John Greenan, Executive Director of the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, traveled to Ireland to present a paper at the Second International Housing First Conference at the University of Limerick. No doubt, John represented us well with this presentation.
While he was away, he sent me an email that made me think (John's like that continually!). Here's just a part of what he communicated to me:
. . . going to the Housing First conference made me realize just how much we are doing. Combined, CitySquare and Central Dallas CDC are housing more formerly homeless people than any European country except France.
The Cottages themselves are a bigger project than any countries but France and Belgium have taken on.
France has now managed to house 600 homeless people for two years--after a full two-year planning process with real experts in the field--people with doctorates in the social sciences and psychology and the full support of the French government (which in France means a lot). And the only reason the French were able to do so much is because their national health system is so robust that they didn't have to bring on or pay for additional support services. All they had to do was find the people and put them in apartments with vouchers. . . .
Actually, Denmark is doing a project for twelve homeless men, but that's it. Ireland thinks it has a terrible problem because Dublin, which is almost exactly the same size as Dallas, has 100 "rough sleepers" (the European term for unsheltered homeless people). We had almost three times that number in Tent City alone before it was taken down.
I understand John's point, and am encouraged by it.
But, there is something else here: a troubling comparison. European nations experience nothing near the terrible scale of our homeless population in the U. S.
Why is that?
I'm sure there are contextual complexities that I don't understand. However, it seems clear that European nations do a much, much better job at prevention than we do in this country. Many of the factors that topple individuals and families into homelessness just aren't present in France.
Why do you suppose this is true? I
n large part Europe does better at preventing homelessness from ever happening because of things like:
Universal health care
Mental health services
Worker's leave benefits
Much of our hard work on housing development would not be necessary if we as a people decided to put in place systems of protection and support designed to assist and benefit neighbors who need a hand up, back onto the road to success.
Lots to think about here.