I was encouraged last week to watch a press conference held by US Government on Federal Response to Homelessness. Finally, there is an admission that what the government has been doing to tackle the homeless problem over the past seven years hasn’t been working as expected. In fact there are more people that are homeless today than there was seven years ago. As a result, change needs to happen, and one of those changes comes in the form of giving faith-based organizations a voice in providing solutions to homelessness not only federally, but locally as well.
It is not that we haven’t been doing something about homelessness, but because we don’t employ the governments mandated approaches of housing first, rapid rehousing, and low-barrier shelters, we have been ignored as a valid solution to the homeless problem. At times, they invite us into the discussion, but they expect us to set our identity as Christians aside and embrace the secular ethic and solutions and deny the sacred ethic and solutions that we hold dear. This is something that we will never do, we can’t set aside prayer, bible base programs, biblical counselling, church involvement, or sharing the Good News of the gospel, all the things that actually work and change lives.
So it is good news that the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) chose to take a fresh and honest approach to solving homelessness. They released a 30+ page document, titled Expanding the Toolbox: The Whole-of-Government Response to Homelessness. This confirms what many missions like ours knew all along, that homelessness presents a multifaceted problem that requires a multifaceted solution that shouldn’t exclude faith-based non-profits. This is a big shift in Federal policy that tended to ignore the good work of missions like ours simply because we choose not to compromise our identity as Christians in favor of accepting government money.
So here is my summery of the report that I plan on distributing locally to hopefully effect change in our community:
- Homelessness was the lowest during the years 2007-2014 due to these factors:
- Multiple approaches to solving homelessness were funded by the government not just one, housing first
- Personal participation requirements for individuals were embraced in order to ensure people moved from substance abuse to sobriety, from unemployed to employable, and from being dependent to independent.
- Faith based non-profits found it easier to collaborate with their communities without compromising their identities.
- Homelessness has risen 16% across the nation over the past seven years. On the west coast it is even worse where homelessness has increased 43% over the same amount of time. This increase has happened because of the approach in:
- Designating funding to rapid rehousing regardless of ability of the person to sustain housing. This has produced alarming failure rates (in many large cities 25%-75% of people that enter Housing First solutions end up back onto the streets before the end of the first year.)
- The end of government funding to creative, non-housing first programs (transitional housing) that meet the needs of each person differently and holistically.
- Not seeing the need to collaborate with non-profits that didn’t embrace Housing First.
This report and the supporting statistics reveal that no amount of money is capable of successfully housing homeless people long term. Underling issues and root causes such as trauma and addictions cannot be ignored and must be addressed in order to help individuals experience personal transformation that helps them rebuild their lives.
This means that funding allocations should be re-evaluated, and new standards set to address homelessness. For our ministry, we don’t want to seek government money, but we want to be a voice at the table because we do have a tried and true approach to homelessness that changes lives.
Our biblical life-transformation ministry and similar ministries across the country recognize the importance of reducing our guests’ dependence on federal homelessness assistance while, at the same time, increasing accountability, as appropriate. This plan envisions an approach that dramatically reduces homelessness by providing individuals and families with wrap-around services and trauma-informed care while addressing the root causes of homelessness.