The Dynamics of Engagement


Building partnerships with communities that have already made progress

There is nothing new under the sun. What works in one community will work in another community, and what has failed in the past will fail in the future, because homelessness is virtually the same in every community in America. In every community, for instance, you will find the poor who are struggling to pay for suitable housing. In every community you will find seniors who are homeless due to disabilities. In every community you will find veterans who served our country with honor and yet are grappling with the mental wounds of war that have left them unable to function in society. In every community you will find people with mental illness who wander the streets as they attempt to stay dry, stay warm, and stay fed.

One of the biggest problems in combatting homelessness is that just about every community believes it is unique in its struggle against homelessness. But nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, all communities are basically the same in this regard and the problem of homelessness is basically the same. So strategies that have worked in one locality will usually work in another. Local leaders, however, must learn to find those partner communities that can encourage and guide them and they must learn to draw from these “sister” communities and collaborate with them to recreate success in their own cities and towns.

There is no need to keep reinventing the wheel. Strategies that have failed in one community will probably fail in others, and strategies that have worked in one place will probably work elsewhere. But communities must make an effort to collaborate with one another in order to isolate those tactics that yield the best results. When it comes to homelessness, all localities face the same challenge.



The careful analysis of ongoing expenditures and future financial needs

Any solution to homelessness will depend heavily on money, because money makes change possible and money is the most effective antidote for many aspects of a social problem. Consequently, before a community can solve the problem of homelessness, it is necessary for that community to fully understand what it is currently spending on homelessness, how it might better appropriate those existing funds, and what resources it may need in the future to solve the problem of homelessness once and for all.

If a society cannot measure a problem, that society has no ability to solve that problem. And money is the only accurate and objective measure of a community’s commitment to a cause and a community’s progress in addressing that cause. So the community that would solve its homeless problem is a community that knows what the problem is costing on a daily and yearly basis and what results are being derived through those expenditures, and the community that would solve its homeless problem is a community that knows what it would take financially to completely finish the task. Deeply entrenched social problems are best solved when business principles guide the process, and the most fundamental business principle is a grasp of the financial aspects of solving a particular problem as opposed to allowing that problem to continue.



The adoption of the “housing first” model as the best strategy for combatting homelessness

No community in the United States has ever significantly reduced homelessness without utilizing the “housing first” model, which has been adopted by the federal government as its official strategy for dealing with homelessness. The “housing first” approach to homelessness is an approach that focuses on housing homeless individuals immediately, then providing those individuals with the social services they need to address the original causes of their homelessness (e.g. physical disabilities, mental illness, drug addiction, employment, health issues). Some individuals who are homeless receive short-term assistance (rapid re-housing) while others with disabilities and no way to ever achieve self-sufficiency receive long-term subsidies.

The traditional model for combatting homelessness has been a model that requires homeless individuals to complete various stages of rehabilitation in a programmatic setting with the belief that the person can move systematically toward self-sufficiency. But this model, used in communities for two decades, has proven to be both ineffective and costly, because it is based on faulty assumptions regarding the ability of the homeless, especially the chronically homeless, to lift themselves out of their plight. Research shows that it is far more effective for communities to direct their resources toward helping individuals get into housing and then working toward various forms of self-sufficiency after those people are housed. From the security and predictability of a stable housing environment, recently housed individuals can work to solve the problems that placed them on the streets in the first place.

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