Homeless

 

 

I am honored to currently serve as Executive Director of Community Supported Shelters, in Eugene, Oregon. CSS builds Conestoga Huts and intentional communities for the homeless. We shelter a wide variety of the dispossessed–people who have lost everything in their lives. Some are relatively functional, and just need some basic support and a place to sleep for a few days or weeks, until they get back on their feet. Others face extraordinary hardships, including mental illness, addiction, or physical ailments, compounded by joblessness and homelessness. CSS is drawing more and more attention from across the country as other communities hear about our success. At least half of our clientele are able to move on to better circumstances within a year of joining one of our communities.

Here in Lane County, Oregon, over 1600 people self-identified as homeless in 2019, based on the one night Point-in-time count. Over 2,000 were students in our public schools. Over 200 were veterans. In my work facilitating Operation 365 Veterans for the city of Eugene we housed over 400 veterans that year — twice the number counted, and a good indicator that the PIT count is merely the tip of the iceberg. The actual number of homeless is likely at least 2-3 times the number found during the count. In fact, City-sponsored research in 2020 found 9,679 unduplicated homeless in Lane County who showed up at any participating agencies for homeless related services in 2019. (This doesn’t include anyone who did not use services). Service demand shifts with the weather, dropping from April to June. Presumably going back up in the winter. 80% of unhoused in Lane County are unsheltered, compared to 35% nationally. 35% of Lane County’s homeless are chronically so. (Homeless at least 12 months over the past three years,) compared to 25% nationally. Over 300 people were in “alternative shelters” like CSS.

White Bird Clinic has pulled together a comprehensive “Little Help Book” that covers homeless services in Eugene. https://whitebirdclinic.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Little-Help-Book-2020.pdf

Links:

Immediate or Short Term options

Longer Term options

Local innovations

Camping

Building, remodeling, loans and development

Government

Innovations from afar

 

 

Homelessness Overview

 

America’s current model for dealing with homelessness looks reasonably well organized; something like this:

Market rate housing Subsidized housing General and Specialized shelters. A small population of the Unhoused

 

It seems reasonable at a glance, but in fact hasn’t kept up with the times. Challenges include:

Market rate housing Subsidized housing General and Specialized shelters A growing, semi-permanent homeless population, some with alarming antisocial qualities or needs that are difficult to meet.
Not enough to meet the demand
Affordable by some, but not others. A waiting list in the thousands, and restrictions based on qualifications (i.e. sobriety, rental history, income, etc.) compromise this solution, pushing people into doubling up or seeking shelter

 

(For those who don’t fit into this option, see next column)

The existing general shelters meet some needs, but not others, with each community having a variety of special needs categories that don’t fit in at existing shelters. For example:

·        Medically needy

·        Families

·        Mentally challenged

·        Behaviorally challenged

·        Minors

·        Domestic Violence survivors

·        Active alcohol or other substance abusers

·        Non-English speakers

·        Night-shift workers who need day-time sleeping quarters.

 

(For those who don’t fit in at existing shelters, see next column)

In the streets, alleys, parks, along riverbanks, in doorways, etc.

 

In unauthorized encampments

 

Trespassing on public or private property.

 

In alternative locations overlooked, tolerated, condoned or embraced by the local community.

 

 

 

What we can no longer ignore is that the overload from each column feeds into a growing overload in the next. We are obligated to fill the vacuum in all four categories if we want to mitigate the problem. Two big lessons learned so far:

  1. Criminalization doesn’t work.
  2. Uncontrolled camping doesn’t work either.

Where do we go from here?

Homelessness is a big, complex challenge that requires nuanced solutions. Different people are homeless for different reasons, and need different types and levels of support. All communities are impacted by budget limitations. But if we accept the general premises described above, the next step is to identify the supply and demand for each of the four columns, and craft well-defined solutions that meet the needs of specific target populations in each column as needed, as follows:

Market rate and subsidized housing

The first two columns are fairly straight-forward – for conventional housing we are dependent on a combination of market forces and HUD funds, along with support from private non-profits and granting agencies, to build more housing complexes that meet current HUD standards. To go beyond those parameters we’ll need to re-visit those standards to make room for at least pilot programs that add to our housing bank. This could include creative re-designs to meet code (such as the House-to-SRO conversion model piloted in Eugene), waiver of codes for alternative housing models (such as for some micro-housing), special dispensation to allow tenants who wouldn’t otherwise successfully compete for housing to do so, or specialized housing to serve target populations (Housing First is an approach that makes shelter the first priority, followed by support services, or domestic violence survivor housing as another. Housing Our Veterans focuses exclusively on housing Veterans. Polk Street Apartments focus exclusively on housing youth aging out of foster care). (As of 11/15, Portland’s domestic violence women’s shelter reportedly turned away over 90% of applicants, due to lack of space) (Encanto Pointe in Phoenix is a stellar example of “wet” housing, for practicing alcoholics (http://www.nativeconnections.org/housing/homeless/encanto-pointe  )

General and Specialized shelters

On the federal level, HUD has been on the front lines of eliminating permanent homelessness by focusing on the construction of permanent housing throughout its existence – an overwhelming, and clearly underfunded goal. While these efforts have been heroic and commendable, they have not managed to address the underbelly of the problem – not just the unhoused, but the unsheltered.

For excellent reasons, HUD has set standards for housing. An unforeseen consequence has been an all-or—nothing scenario – if you can’t build to those standards, nothing else will do. One consequence is that the unsheltered remain unsheltered. And the number of unsheltered continues to grow across the country, with more and more cities declaring homelessness emergencies.

What needs acknowledgement – and financial support — is that sub-standard shelter can indeed be a great improvement over no shelter at all, and may be a more realistic solution, at least in the short term, due to the much lower construction costs and speed of construction. A spectrum of options and innovative designs and features can fill urgent needs for the following, without requiring the end results to meet conventional standards for conventional housing. These urgent needs include:

  1. Protection from inclement weather, extreme heat or extreme cold.
  2. Safety and security.
  3. Access to food, health care and other support services
  4. Access to mass transit or other transportation options.
  5. Community-building and skill-building support.

In addition to considering these urgent needs of the homeless, cities are committed to serving housed citizens and local businesses, who often would rather not have encampments, shelters, campers, or even conventional large-scale housing descending on their neighborhoods, interfering with their livelihoods or undermining the quality of their lives – and who must be convinced to pay for any government supported services through taxation.

Shelter alternatives

No shelter. If there’s no place better to go, and/or no one wants to take them in, homeless people will sleep wherever they fall – on the streets, sidewalks, loading docks and doorsteps, in alleys, campgrounds, public parks or riverbanks. (See column 4, above)

Cars or RVs. By default, many homeless sleep in their cars. If there are no locations to legally do so, they will camp wherever they can get away with it. To whatever degree cities can designate locations for doing so, the greater the likelihood of the six key amenities being addressed, and neighborhood concerns being taken into account.

Tents. Tent cities are commonly used by survivors of major disasters world-wide, often erected by the National Guard, Red Cross or other NGOs. Done well, these include nearby amenities, such as latrines, kitchens, support services, fencing and security. In other cases these are improvised, with none of the preferred amenities provided. Throughout the U.S., tent sites, clusters or cities more often than not are self-initiated, haphazard, unsafe and lacking in sanitation. If communities fail to develop guidelines, structure, locations or support for functional tent cities, the risk grows that substandard tent clusters or cities will be the result, in less than ideal locations and with a host of associated risks.

Conestoga Huts. This innovation is a step up from tents. At a cost of about $2800 each, these are a big step up from tents – off the ground and lockable. They have the added benefit of a relatively respectable appearance, which helps establish acceptance within a neighborhood or host site. Clustered into micro-sites (6 huts) or macro-sites (15 huts) by Community Supported Shelters (CSS), these form “Safe Spots” in Eugene that are remarkably successful at helping people get back on their feet—at least half of all the campers find their way into improved circumstances within a year. Safe Spots have quickly evolved to include a warming community building, kitchen, gardens, security fencing and a strong sense of pro-social community. (Full disclosure—I work closely with CSS.)

Micro-housing. This approach can include Conestoga Huts, but aims for a slightly more expensive version of shelter, starting at about $5,000. These can range from basic sheds to attractive bare-bones houses (such as are currently used at Opportunity Village) to largely code-compliant, plumbed and powered cottages on a very small scale (such as are envisioned for Emerald Village Eugene (EVE).

Host Sites. These can serve as locations where any of the above shelter alternatives can be placed, or they can take people inside (i.e. in church buildings). (Eugene allows up to 6 campers in an institutional parking lot, and subsidizes the approach by providing supervision, screening and porta-potties arranged through St. Vincent de Paul) (As of 11/15 Portland is reportedly waiving development fees and zoning restrictions for some new emergency shelters.)

Comprehensive Shelters. These can range from repurposed buildings (such as the Phoenix, Arizona comprehensive Welcome Center/Human Services Campus, which provides shelter and support services https://hsc-az.org/ ,) to spare-no-expense new shelters (Calgary, Alberta Canada’s model https://www.calgarydropin.ca/

Special population shelters. These can serve targeted populations such as veterans, domestic violence survivors, medically fragile individuals, minors, immigrants or refugees.

Rallying State resources. Funding, property, materials and supplies that can support any of the above would be helpful. More specifically:

  • An inventory of government lands that might serve as group campsites or villages.
  • An inventory of government properties that might benefit from minimal cost on-site caretakers.
  • A relaxation of government land-use codes while addressing the homelessness crisis.
  • Cooperation and assistance in grant writing to fund projects addressing the homelessness crisis.
  • Assistance in coordinating inter-city efforts at addressing homelessness.
  • Support for a State clearinghouse on who’s doing what to address homelessness.

The bottom line:

We need to come up with a solution, and “none of the above” is no longer an option. The homeless will sleep wherever they can no longer stand – on our streets and sidewalks, in our doorways and parks. By not providing sufficient alternatives, we are choosing, by default, to have homeless people in public spaces and we are choosing to live with all the problems associated with those circumstances. Our choice is not between housing and banishment – our choice is between extreme repression, defeated acceptance or something more humane, effective and sustainable in the long run. I would suggest the latter is what our communities should be aiming for.

 

POINT IN TIME HIGHLIGHTS MAY 2019

https://www.lanecounty.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_3585797/File/HSD/FINAL%202019%20PIT%20COUNT%20report%20ver%201.0.pdf

32% INCREASE IN TOTAL NUMBER OF PEOPLE EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS FROM 2018.

  • The majority of this increase was in unsheltered homelessness.

2,165 TOTAL PEOPLE EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS

  • 426 individuals stayed in Emergency Shelter.
  • 106 individuals were in Transitional Housing (counted as sheltered for the PIT Count).
  • 1,633 individuals, families, and children were without shelter.

841 CHRONICALLY HOMELESS

  • 197 homeless veterans
  • 26 unaccompanied homeless youth
  • 84 families with children
  • 25% of all people counted report substance use

2,070 PEOPLE STAYED AT THE EUGENE MISSION IN 2018

1,537 people served at Egan Warming Center over 22 nights of activation (Winter 2018/2019)

Homeless cost statistics

(Compiled by Tod Schneider, Community Supported Shelters, 071620)

Synopsis:

  • Community Supported Shelters’ residential program costs $7,000/person/year.
  • Annual costs to local communities for the chronically unhoused range from $22,000 in Philadelphia to as much as $100,000 in Nevada. Widely cited research from 2002 put the average costs at roughly $40,000/person/year—a figure not adjusted for inflation over the past two decades.[1] [2]
  • Conventional affordable housing in Eugene recently cost $169,000/unit and took a year to construct. Conestoga Huts run $2,800/unit, including program management, infrastructure and staffing, and can be built in a day or two.
  • Extensive research demonstrates the efficacy of Housing First models in terms of dramatic cost savings for communities as well as in improved outcomes for the previously unhoused. [3]

More details:

Needs vary widely in different parts of the country. People with severe mental, physical or addiction problems, for example, are more likely to require frequent ambulance transportation, ER visits, sobering station visits or law enforcement intervention when they become victims of crime or the subject of complaints. Nevertheless, the evidence is ample that getting people sheltered first proves far more economical than leaving them on the street.

Costs vary widely in different parts of the country, but some annual cost indicators cited in a 2018 overview[4], per homeless (unsheltered) person, include:

Philadelphia–$22,372

The widely cited Culhane study put the costs for homeless people with severe mental illness between $30,000 and $50,000.[5]

One 2009 study found that, after a year of housing chronic, homeless alcoholics, the median treatment costs dropped from $4,066/month to $958 per month.[6]

Malcolm Gladwell’s 2006 essay in the New Yorker, Million-Dollar Murray, traced the costs of managing one extreme case in Nevada that ended up costing the community $1 million over the course of a decade. [7]

One 2014 Seattle study on the Housing First model found “Reductions in estimated costs for participants and comparison group members were $62,504 and $25,925 per person per year—a difference of $36 579, far outweighing program costs of $18,600 per person per year.”[8]

 

 Construction Costs:

Shelter construction costs are another important factor to consider. Costs vary considerably, but one useful example comparing costs is as follows:

  • $169,000+/unit (Bascom village, Eugene, Oregon 2015)
  • 1 year start to finish.
  • 5 year waiting list, closed.
  • $1.69 million / 10 units

Costs for CSS Conestoga Hut construction:

  • $2,800/unit (2020)
  • 2 days start to finish.
  • 5 month wait list.
  • $1.69 million / 603 units

 

Both approaches are critical. There is no question that most cities need more conventional, affordable housing. But when there is an urgent need for immediate shelter for hundreds, or in many cases thousands, of unhoused people, including many who cannot meet requirements for conventional rentals (such as references, clean rental histories, first, last and deposit, and steady paychecks), or who have psychological, medical or behavioral challenges that require support services, and when the public demands immediate solutions, the CSS approach is a far more realistic, affordable and time-responsive option.

 

We offer: a healthy, pro-social, skill-building model, nurturing small communities (up to 20 people residing in each), secured with fencing, utilizing lockable Conestoga huts, and providing one-on-one support for residents in rebuilding their lives. At least half of our residents are able to move on to more conventional housing within one year of arrival.

[1] Ending Chronic Homelessness in 2017, United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. 2017. Accessed 071520 at https://www.usich.gov/resources/uploads/asset_library/Ending_Chronic_Homelessness_in_2017.pdf

[2] Public Service Reductions Associated with Placement of Homeless Persons with Severe Mental Illness in Supportive Housing. Dennis P. Culhane, Stephen Metraux, and Trevor Hadley University of Pennsylvania. Fannie Mae Foundation 2002. Accessed online 071520 https://shnny.org/uploads/The_Culhane_Report.pdf

[3] The Effectiveness of Housing First and Permanent Supportive Housing. Seattle School of Law Homeless Rights Advocacy Project. July 25, 2018. Accessed 071520 at https://law.seattleu.edu/centers-and-institutes/korematsu-center/initiatives/homeless-rights-advocacy-project/additional-resources
[4] Supporting homeless individuals: How much do we spend? by Manola Secaira.  Accessed 071720 at https://crosscut.com/2018/08/supporting-homeless-individuals-how-much-do-we-spend

[5] Public Service Reductions Associated with Placement of Homeless Persons with Severe Mental Illness in Supportive Housing. Dennis P. Culhane, Stephen Metraux, and Trevor Hadley University of Pennsylvania. Fannie Mae Foundation 2002. Accessed online 071520 https://shnny.org/uploads/The_Culhane_Report.pdf

[6] Health Care and Public Service Use and Costs Before and After Provision of Housing for Chronically Homeless Persons With Severe Alcohol Problems, by Mary E. Larimer, PhDDaniel K. Malone, MPHMichelle D. Garner, MSW, PhD; et al. April 1, 2009. Accessed online 071520 at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/183666

[7] Million-Dollar Murray–Why problems like homelessness may be easier to solve than to manage, by Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker magazine, February 13, 2006. Accessed 071720 at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/02/13/million-dollar-

[8] Mackelprang, J.L., Collins, S.E., Clifasefi, S.L. (2014). Housing First is Associated with Reduced Use of Emergency Medical Services. Prehospital Emergency Care, 18(4), 476-482. doi:10.3109/10903127.2014.916020. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5102506/