By Cassandra Tribe
In the last part of this series, I had mentioned that the initiatives which target housing the chronically homeless as the primary priority have an arc of success that peaks early and then declines as the numbers of the chronically homeless housed is exceeded by new persons entering the homeless population.
In this part, we are going to examine initiatives from the European Union that have proven successful in containing the growth of the population and begun to make inroads to permanently reducing the number of homeless.
Many countries in the European Union were first confronted with the issue of homelessness back in 2001. It is not that they suddenly developed a homeless population, but that transience in Europe has more of a cultural and economic precedence. Transient workers “sleep rough” as they travel between countries and jobs.
It was not until the economies began to tremble and the UN championed the 10-year plan initiatives that these countries began to recognize that most of the population that were “sleeping rough” were not doing so because they were en route to another location, but because they had nowhere to go.
The EU has an advantage over the US in approaching the issue of homelessness because they do not have entrenched habits of social service institutions to try and break. They are able to formulate new plans and institutional approaches that utilized decades of research on the issue.
The primary initiative used in the EU is a three-pronged approach that targets (in the following order) youth, persons within one-year of the potential of homelessness, and the chronically homeless.
The age of youth-at-risk in the EU is 25 and below. This portion of the initiative identifies youth who are at risk for poverty due to poor circumstances, educational history or being located in economically depressed area.
They are placed in rooming situations, after the equivalent of graduating from high school, with established families and given a housing stipend (which they are responsible for using to pay rent to the sponsoring families).
This is not similar to the foster care system because the youth in question is considered an independent boarder. The families they are housed with are also considered to be at risk of potential of losing their home within a year. The presence of the youth and their stipend helps to alleviate that potential.
A program called “The Flat Exchange” exists in France in which adults can register both apartments or houses that have rooms available for boarders during the work week and as workweek boarders seeking rooms.
This allows people to live closer to areas in which there are jobs, or where they already have work, and save the cost of transportation and/or moving.
The government agency acts as a kind of roommate service and provides assistance with travel costs and sometimes a temporary stipend to cover the housing cost. Also, by utilizing a weekly boarder, the at-risk homeowner can defray rent and mortgage costs.
People in industries at risk for layoffs, or who have recently lost their job, have services made available to them to take advantage of re-training, job searching and mediation to help re-negotiate leases and mortgages on a temporary basis to alleviate financial stress.
Both landlords and banks agree to a tenure agreement for the tenant that guarantees they will not be evicted during the term of agreement. In exchange, the government may contribute funds to partially subsidize the rent or mortgage, grant the property discount on city services and taxes, and/or enroll the property in the community service portion of their unemployment benefits.
This program requires all persons on unemployment to contribute 16 hours a week to community service. Community service is not just labor, but also involves using the unemployed with professional skills in a variety of placements.
This gives services to the community that may not otherwise be afforded, keeps people in the habit and mind set of working (preventing the development of mental and emotional issues) and allows participating businesses to try out workers.
Lastly, the chronically homeless are moved into permanent living situations as quickly
One of the points that should be recognized is that a core part of the EU membership agreement and written in the constitutions of the individual countries is the ideal of housing as a human right. In the US, the concept of property ownership as a right is enshrined.
The struggle to change that within our constitution requires more than legislation, it requires an absolute change to our mindset about what success is and our sense of personal space.
In the next part of this series, The School for Shelter, we’ll look at the global projections for homelessness and the current initiatives being presented to the UN. We will also examine how it may be possible to transform a culture that enshrines the ownership of the property into one that worships the idea of shelter and care for all.