Connecticut’s emergency shelters serve more than 14,000 people – men, women and children – each year. Hundreds more go unsheltered, staying in cars, in tents in the woods, or in abandoned buildings.
There’s a lot wrong with this picture.
America has always had those who are more and less fortunate. But we have not always had homelessness. We don’t have to. Homelessness is a solvable problem, and a problem that we have to solve. Because it is wrong for the most powerful and prosperous nation in the history of the world to tolerate it, and because it is a wrong-headed and expensive public policy choice to do so.
A Pennsylvania study found that the cost of one child homeless costs the state $40,000 per year (Connecticut’s cost of living is about 20 percent higher than Pennsylvania’s). National studies prove that leaving single adults (often with mental illness or other disabilities) homeless on our streets is much more expensive – especially to our emergency services – than housing them with supports.
So what does it take to end homelessness? Not as much as you might think. There are a few basic elements that have to come together.
Crisis response: We need to coordinate our existing resources more effectively. This means bringing together separate providers of service to the homeless within one community – breaking down silos, reducing duplication of effort and combining resources. That also means providers working together as a team to address the urgent housing crisis of every adult, every family with children and every homeless young person as quickly as possible.
Next step – housing: Our goal is not just to shelter people. Our goal is to help each person who is homeless return to permanent housing. For some, this means the subsidy and support that they need to remain housed and stable, given the mental illness or other disabilities with which they live. For others, this means the helping hand they need simply to get back in the door of housing – assistance with a security deposit and first month’s rent. For all, it means offering help to connect them with the employment, health, education and similar resources that may benefit them.
The affordable housing gap: After we improve our ability to respond to the crisis, let’s end this problem permanently. The key element? More deeply affordable housing across the state of Connecticut. We need to provide an additional 80,000 units of housing affordable for Connecticut’s poorest residents (those who earn less than 30 percent of the area’s median income). For 2012, to afford market-rate housing prices in Connecticut (housing costs equal to about 30 percent of income), household income had to be over $23/hour. Almost half the state’s occupations provide an average wage lower than the housing wage.
These are jobs our economy needs to be filled. And these are residents of Connecticut who have the right to housing they can afford, given the jobs that they do. Providing housing for these Connecticut workers, families and neighbors is the right thing to do. And the smart thing to do – for all of us.
Lisa Tepper Bates is executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness in Hartford.
PA study on cost of child homelessness:
Cost of supportive housing:
Coordinating emergency response resources:
Supportive Housing defined:
Housing cost study: