We deserve more than the slogan of the, “10-year plan to end homelessness.” That’s not a cynical proposal, despite the way it might come across. In actuality, the city has had similar plans in the past, with equally optimistic time limits attached. It was under the previous president’s administration that such altruism was stamped on the increasing obligations placed on local governments to solve a national problem, an epidemic with modern roots dating back to the1980s and the federal hands-off policy toward housing the poor.
But that’s old news, and for some, pretty tired news. As is the devastating recession, the likes of which we haven’t seen for generations; the collapse of the private-market driven tax credit program that funds affordable housing, and the fact that the burden of ending homelessness that cities and counties took on five years ago has become a nationwide behemoth.
Sorry, that sounds a bit flippant. The reality is that the efforts by Portland and Multnomah County to end homelessness for individuals in our community have been effective, in large part because we’ve adopted and embraced the once quaint idea that housing is a stabilizing foundation upon which all other solutions must be based. It is a daily endeavor by contracted organizations in this city to reach people who need a home, to procure appropriate affordable housing, and then envelop residents with the services that will put them on the course of sustaining a better life.
From the point of view of the streets, a daily commitment is the life bread of survival, be it constant calls to keep a spot on years-long housing lists, or the dedication to sobriety, or simply hope. No one on the streets looks to a 10-year plan for a way out. They look to tomorrow to give them an opportunity, a break in the relentless cycle.
The 10-year plan is but a shell of a larger policy needed to tackle the problem of homelessness. We can house thousands of people, yet we can’t stop poverty from flooding our cities and towns. We can’t simply correct faulty markets that have reeked devastating consequences on working people who end up living without the opportunity of shelter.
Street Roots is a proud partner in the efforts of government, social-service providers, advocates, businesses and foundations that work towards the goal of ending homelessness. We also have to be realistic. And that means executing something on a level larger than we are currently striving for.
Living in your car without shelter should be legal, period. Having a good night’s sleep on church property should be deemed a service to the community, and rewarded. Micro-enterprising ventures with local products and goods should be encouraged as a solution instead of panhandling, and drug dealing. Work programs should be created to clean, maintain and fight evasive plants in our parks. The list goes on and on.
These ideas, lofty as they may seem, where the very foundation that during the “Great Depression,” helped put people experiencing homelessness back to work and created a base foundation to climb out of poverty.
The 10-year plan is a great message, a goal, for people to wrap their head around. But it’s not the silver bullet. Our city along with other local communities must demand more of the federal government to match our collective efforts to tackle the problem. And achieving this will require more than a number or slogan.