In an earlier guest column I suggested a three-stage process to support those experiencing homelessness in an effort to help them rejoin mainstream society. In this column I describe how to possibly administer and fund such a scaffolded support system.
Any effort to improve homelessness has to be an all-hands-on-deck project. Governments, nonprofits, religious institutions, the private sector and dedicated volunteers all need to rally together around this issue — and, at least for a period of time, make the project a top priority.
Leadership of a particular kind is needed. Project success will require establishing a clear vision and implementation roadmap, creating diverse partnerships and coordinating a wide range of resources and activities.
A core function of government is to establish and maintain a social safety net for those who need it, including the homeless. Given this role, governments should play a central role in launching the project, providing leadership and planning resources to facilitate a rapid implementation. Building a broad-based team with on-the-fly problem solving authority would be essential.
Many exceptional local resources already exist that have been working on combating homelessness and could make important contributions to a new, expanded project. Strengthening partnerships and collaboration around a common strategy would infuse new ideas and energy into a communitywide effort.
While a fully developed implementation strategy would require broad input, I offer up a few examples to illustrate how the project might be organized to support the three stages of intervention I originally proposed, (1) intake, (2) stabilization and (3) integration.
During the intake stage, initial contact with potential clients would be undertaken by teams of two people with social -work expertise following a standard protocol. A supervised intake facility needs to be readied to support about 10 clients at a time. This could be in a rented building or in a tented FEMA -style compound (relieftents.com). Within a few days, clients would enter the stabilization stage, freeing up space for the next wave of clients.
During stabilization, clients would transition to a variety of settings based on needs established during intake. All would be supervised. Each client would have an assigned social worker who would be a single point of contact for accessing resources and problem-solving. Group homes and distributed shelter dormitories for six to eight individuals or families would be typical. Pallet shelters (palletshelter.com) are a good example of this kind of accommodation. The emphasis during this stage would be preparation for work.
The integration phase would begin when regular employment is secured. Clients would move to more permanent supervised housing in distributed apartment clusters (four to six apartments) in larger complexes. Or perhaps housed through innovative residence sharing programs like that offered by Home Share Oregon (homeshareoregon.org). Transportation might be provided through subsidized ride sharing programs promoted by employers.
Eventually all remaining scaffolding would be removed and full independence regained as clients exit the program.
Start-up and early implementation activities could be funded with American Rescue Plan resources intended to address pandemic-caused problems. In addition, philanthropy sources should be sought with the goal of matching public sector resources on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Now is the time to quickly develop and implement a homelessness support plan. Winter is coming.