As the cost of living continues to skyrocket in the Denver metro area, more and more people are finding themselves struggling to pay rent. Even worse, while the city around them flourishes with new apartments and homes, over 5,000 people have found themselves homeless during this housing boom (Brown). Instead of finding new ways to help people afford to live here, Denver is trying to push our homeless population out of the city completely. As a country, we pride ourselves on our ability to help other countries’ poverty and starvation problems, but when will we decide that it is time to help our own poor and starving people living on our local streets?
The solution to homelessness is a housing-first approach; providing tiny housing to homeless people at an inexpensive rate to help people get back on their feet and back into a healthy, thriving environment. One might say, But we have homeless shelters, or We have housing assistance programs, and they would be right. We do have methods of helping our homeless population get off the streets and even assistance to help prevent people from being there in the first place. However, the question is; which method is the most effective? Shelters are typically temporary homes, and housing assistance programs sometimes can’t provide enough resources for those who are struggling. Studies have shown time and time again that the most effective and realistic way of not only preventing homelessness but also ending homelessness is a housing-first approach.
Homeless shelters are meant to be a safe-haven for our homeless population. Denver has many shelters providing beds, blankets, and meals to homeless people every day. Although shelters are beneficial for those needing temporary accommodations, they are not effective when it comes to longterm benefits. Shelters don’t allow residents to develop a sense of permanency – and it’s permanency that helps people get a job or stay sober, studies show, (Semuels). There are also violent incidents in many shelters that include sexual assault and domestic violence (Semuels). Having a small space to come home to every day that is solely yours is of highest importance when it comes to getting, and staying, off of the streets.
These homes provide legitimate safety, privacy, and also allows people to start collecting personal belongings, as many shelters don’t permit personal items in their shelters. This ensures that a homeless person can begin collecting clothes, wash their clothes on a regular basis, store groceries, and have a dependable and warm place to sleep at night. With the housing-first approach, after one is settled into their new home, they are provided drug and alcohol treatment, an assigned social worker, and job training. All of these services have been optional and studies have shown that most people accept them (Semuels). By reducing the number of homeless people on our streets and providing them the resources they need to succeed, not only are we helping end homelessness but we are providing better lives for thousands of people that will return to society as much more capable and productive citizens. In turn, this will help the Denver population flourish as a whole.
Another method used to fight homelessness is the inclusion of housing assistance programs. In Denver, many people look for rent-subsidized apartments as well as search for housing voucher programs that they qualify for. Housing vouchers pay all or a large portion of monthly rent and utilities for families struggling to make it by. Housing assistance programs are also more cost-effective than shelters. While the national average monthly cost of feeding a family in a shelter is $4,819, the average voucher for housing is only $1,162 (Semuels). This method is more effective than providing shelters, but also has its downfalls.
While helpful in preventing people from becoming homeless and a possible solution to ending homelessness, sometimes these programs can’t provide enough to those struggling. Some families need more help than what they qualify for. Other families miss out on assistance completely because housing programs have tremendously low budgets. Federal funds for affordable housing have stayed at the same levels for the last four years (Semuels). With the enormous rise of housing costs Denver has experienced in the past few years, it is outrageous that the affordable housing budget has remained stagnant. This means that the same funds are being spread thinner and to fewer people than ever before. Although housing assistance is a respectable idea for preventing and ending homelessness, it’s unrealistic if the budget cannot be updated with the ever-rising cost of living.
When it comes to the housing-first approach of ending homelessness, it provides far more than what a shelter or housing assistance program can achieve. Tiny houses are built, providing community for those that live there where the tenants pay around $300 to $400 monthly. People who have had similar experiences are now able to live next to one another, hopeful for a new beginning. Studies have shown nothing but positive results for communities that have tried this approach. In Harlem, New York, building developers chose to make housing for single mothers that integrated ex-convicts into the same housing. The developers worried that nobody would want to live in this community, but were surprised when over 2,000 people applied for a few dozen low-income housing units. Single mothers wanted affordable housing while ex-convicts wanted supportive housing (Semuels). In another example, Utah reduced their chronic-homelessness, defined as people who have been homeless for over a year, by 72% from 2005 to 2014 by utilizing the housing-first method (Semuels). With such few funds for affordable housing, it is illogical to put it towards short-term assistance like shelters and housing vouchers. Denver could put most of the budget towards building housing-first communities that may cost a little bit more up front, but will far repay their cost and benefit society in the future.
The only real concern with a housing-first approach to ending homelessness is where the money will come from. The answer to that is that we need to take a financial loss up front in order to gain our investment back in the future. Our entire country could end homelessness with about 20 billion dollars (Kavoussi). This amount sounds enormous, however when compared to other items included in the country’s annual budget, this amount becomes miniscule. Corporate meals and write-offs have amounted to roughly 60 billion dollars yearly from 2012 to 2016 while capital gains and tax cuts have come to just under 75 billion dollars (Kavoussi). While tax cuts and corporate meals are useful, we are leaving half a million people in the United States homeless, with one-fourth of that population being children (Semuels). Although 20 billion dollars is a large number on the national scale, it’s much smaller city to city.
Solving homelessness can help fix a lot of other problems . . . including truancy from schools, drug and alcohol abuse, and unemployment, (Semuels). By solving issues like truancy, drug abuse, and unemployment through ending homelessness, we will actually save money and create a better community for the future. We should be doing all that we can to help our people, beginning with our home communities. Housing-first communities are the answer to the Denver homeless populations’ desperate calls.
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