Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Permanent Homes for the Homeless ; in a Shift, Authorities Stress Long-Term Housing over Transitional Shelters and Expand Services for Most Needy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Permanent Homes for the Homeless ; in a Shift, Authorities Stress Long-Term Housing over Transitional Shelters and Expand Services for Most Needy

Article excerpt

The homeless families continuing to spill into the overcrowded US shelter system are helping prompt a major rethinking of the nation's strategies to attack the problem.

From the streets of the Bronx to the halls of the federal bureaucracy, the focus is shifting: from simply providing emergency shelter and transitional housing, to creating permanent, stable homes for families and individuals forced out of an increasingly expensive and competitive housing market.

At the same time, policymakers are calling for the development of more supportive housing - with services like counseling and drug treatment - for the most vulnerable of the homeless.

The transition has been underway for some years. Successful experiments in San Francisco; Columbus, Ohio; New York City; and five other states are now fueling optimism that the nation can make major progress in solving homelessness.

"We've learned from experience that simply providing shelter does not end homelessness," says Carla Javits, president and CEO of the Corporation for Supportive Housing in Oakland, Calif. "There's a structural problem where many people's incomes are simply too low to afford housing, and that's becoming increasingly clear."

The change in thinking is reflected at all levels of government. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced a new policy that shifts more funds into creating housing for the homeless. And this month, the US Conference of Mayors put the creation of affordable housing at the top of its agenda.

So has the Bush administration, which has now joined with advocates in calling for an end to chronic homelessness. In May, the Millennial Housing Commission (MHC) that Congress appointed in 2000 released a comprehensive analysis of the nation's housing stock, concluding that: "There is simply not enough affordable housing." It also pointed out that the poorer people are, the less likely they are to be able to find places to live.

"The commission was struck that there's a growing documented connection between the lack of affordable housing and homelessness," says MHC executive director Conrad Egan.

Over the past five years, research has shown there are two categories within the homeless population. The greatest number of people are "transitionally" homeless, cycling in and out of shelters fairly quickly because of the loss of a job or a family illness.

The federal government calls these people "extremely low income." Because they make less than 30 percent of the median income, they are the most at risk of homelessness because of skyrocketing housing prices.

While there's a perception that middle-class people also face an affordable housing shortage, a report done by the Department of Housing and Development last year found that the extremely low- income face the nation's only "true, substantive" housing shortage. …

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