Local elected officials, nonprofit organizations and the private sector should get behind an updated plan to end homelessness.
The plan aligns with the four federal goals to:
• End chronic homelessness in 2015.
• Prevent and end homelessness among veterans in 2015.
• Prevent and end homelessness for family, youth and children in 2020.
• Set a path to end all types of homelessness.
“Opening Doors: Buffalo and Erie County Community Plan to End Homelessness,” compiled by the Homeless Alliance of Western New York, is an update to an earlier alliance plan released in 2006, Prevention Resources Independence Services and Maintenance (PRISM).
During the administration of former President George W. Bush, communities around the country were encouraged to develop 10-year plans to end homelessness. Erie County and Buffalo, through the alliance, embarked on that ambitious project. Bush also reignited the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness in 2003 as a way to coordinate federal efforts. Then, a couple of years ago, the interagency council released Opening Doors under the Obama administration.
The Homeless Alliance of Western New York has embarked on the task of updating the 10-year plan to end homelessness so that it aligns with Opening Doors and involves full implementation of the 2009 congressionally enacted Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act.
At the forefront of those local communities should be Buffalo, where 46 percent of children live in poverty, according to the 2010 census, and Erie County, with 5,050 homeless individuals, 18 percent of whom are under the age of 18.
Ending homelessness does not mean there will never be another homeless person. Rather, the prime message is creating a smooth system so that people can find themselves quickly out of homelessness. The easy pathway also involves, for most people, rapid rehousing, including first-month rent or security deposit. And for more chronic homeless, a housing-first model makes sense, veering away from the old “housing ready” model in which people had to show that they were working to overcome mental health and substance abuse problems. Some people failed numerous times to the point they didn’t feel they were worthy of housing. When you reverse the model and provide housing, said Dale Zuchlewski, executive director of the Homeless Alliance of Western New York, the other issues tend to get taken care of.
The alliance has targeted several areas from which to begin, including collaboration, affordable rental units in Buffalo and Erie County, 500 single-room occupancies and one-bedroom apartments for low-income individuals, at affordable rates, to name a few.
Much of this is common sense. Those with permanent supportive housing will take better care of their physical and mental health. Providing permanent homes that struggling people can afford also instills pride.
This is not a handout. Poverty as the root cause of homelessness also demands well-paying jobs. What is more, studies have shown that providing permanent housing with supportive services is less expensive than the cost of shelter, a hospital bed or prison.
The alliance has found that placing chronically homeless people into housing could potentially save the community at least a few million dollars per year. The county can save money short term, but after 2015 most of those savings would be realized at the state level under Medicaid redesign.
Federal money is being allocated, but there is also a need for a collaborative effort locally to implement the Homeless Alliance plan.