by Wayne Cooke
Editor’s Note: Wayne Cooke is a long-time community activist in Graham, and is a former Board member of the Graham-Kapowsin Community Council. In addition to being a former elementary school teacher in the Bethel, Franklin Pierce and Chief Leshi School Districts, Wayne has also established several grassroots programs to build Graham awareness, such as the Graham Citizens Project, the Graham Community Garden, and the Graham Historical Society.
His personal handiwork can be be clearly seen at the Bates House on Meridian near the railroad crossing. This structure was the first building erected in Graham, and Wayne has advocated for its preservation and restoration.
But perhaps his boldest and most compelling work has been his effort to help homeless people transform their lives. He has found work for those who seek honest labor, befriended those lost by despair and depression, and even fed a few and given shelter to those who needed something warmer and drier than a tent behind the Graham library.
Wayne has written of many of these journeys at the Mountain News-WA, and in his 86th Avenue News, which he handed out to his neighbors in central Graham while peddling a three-wheeled bike. He is certainly a man who walks his talk, and now one of the foremost Elders of Graham wishes to address us one more time on the topic of homelessness.
From: Wayne Cooke, Graham, WA
To: Those who daily work to help those who are without a home, and also to citizens looking for an effective way to help..
May I share what I have learned?
To Begin: Four Facts you will want to know:
- The majority of homeless people, 85%, are not on the streets at all. They are ordinary people who were shocked to find themselves homeless through misfortune or mistakes. They seek help from social service agencies and friends to get them back to an income and a home, usually succeeding within a week or two. Only 15% avoid real help. They are the chronically homeless.
- In my limited experience, “chronically homeless” people being seen consistently in one area are not trying very hard to escape their situation, and it is usually drugs and/or alcohol that becomes more important than the desire to change. Social services try to help those who ask.
- The belief that “The homeless will always be with us” is simply not true. The Netherlands, for one example of many, has no homeless people. The government of the Netherlands takes the responsibility of requiring, and enabling, every person to have a home. If they lose a job, cannot pay their rent or mortgage and are on the way to being evicted, they apply for help from a government office and quickly get help. Everyone works at something and everyone lives somewhere.
- We CAN end homelessness in the United States. You read that right. The model for ending all homelessness exists. It is generally called the Housing First model and has been successful in large cities such as Charlotte, No. Carolina. This city saved 1.8 million dollars in their first year using “Housing First”, more properly called Permanent Supportive Housing or (PSH).
The Permanent Supportive Housing Program
Several U.S. cities have used the Permanent Supportive Housing model to effectively help their chronically homeless … and save money.
- Salt Lake City was spending about $20,000 per year dealing with each homeless person “hanging around”, but when it initiated the Housing First model, that cost dropped to $7,200 for each homeless person now housed in one place.
- A study by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless found that each homeless person on the streets, when all costs were added up, cost Colorado $43,239. That same study predicted that the cost per person would drop to $11.694 if Colorado switched to the Housing First model. So Colorado found a way to switch and saved $32,00 each year per each homeless person.
- Seattle, Washington, built a large Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) following the Housing First model. It would serve homeless persons with severe mental, drug, and alcohol problems. The number-crunchers following this project t discovered that each person housed in the new DESC saved Seattle $2449 each month, when compared to the cost of housing a comparable person at a regular city shelter. This study was written up in the AMA Journal.
- A few miles south, Tacoma’s Metropolitan Development Council rebuilt an apartment house and, as the new Randy Townsend Apartments, it now houses the chronically homeless victims of drug and alcohol addictions. It is a compassionate and cost-effective solution for these formerly homeless people.
Seven true stories of homeless situations. (Names are changed.)
Losing a home happens for many different reasons
- Terri was born of parents who did odd jobs or panhandled. She married Ray, dropped out of school, and began a life similar to that of her parents. Twenty-one years later, cancer took Ray’s life. Terri returned to a tent in the woods and the familiar life of holding a sign, begging. She continued to beg outside local stores until recently entering a rehab program.
- Gwendolyn dropped out of school and lived with her boyfriend for several years, mostly with a relative. An argument led to losing that safe haven and also to losing a job. Now they were homeless except for an old car. So they put up a tent in woods near some stores and became “panhandlers” Later, they found assistance and are now in an apartment and the young man has a job.
- Another young man couldn’t get along with his alcoholic parents. He left, remaining homeless for a couple years, even selling drugs for a while to make money. Then he took advantage of a program to earn his GED, got excellent scores, and eventually graduated from college. Today, he works with youth, teaching them job skills.
- Pam is a retired teacher. Her husband, Joe, had a good mid-level managerial job. They were careful with their money and even when Joe lost his job in the 2008-9 “crash”, Pam felt she could always go back to teaching, or at least substituting, for a while. But two years later, their savings were used up; Pam found that schools did not want older teachers when young ones were available for less salary; and their daily job searching had been unsuccessful. The mortgage was now unpaid and they felt forced to sell their house and move into their camper. They didn’t know there was an office that might have helped them. Then Joe’s former employer husband’s old employer phoned and offered to give him back his old job!
- A woman with health issues was living with her elderly parents. After both parents died, her disability pension wasn’t enough to keep the house. She became homeless and disillusioned with the “system”, couch-surfing with friends until she finally found an assisted living home in another city that would take her.
- Alicia, a young mother, felt lucky to have an employed husband. They had been saving for that necessary “deposit and first and last month’s rent” because they planned to move when their lease ended. But when that time came, they found that much of the carefully saved money was gone, apparently frittered away. With a shock, they realized that their options for a home were gone with the money and now they had no way to get back into a home. Alicia went to relatives with the kids while the husband stayed with an older brother, The brother set up a strict savings plan that later saw them reunited and planning a better future.
- Young Ryan had no respect his too kindly parents and, at 18, was “told to go” with a tent and blankets. Always having access to the refrigerator had dulled his sense of urgency to be responsible for his own well-being. Now he had to wait in line at food banks and sometimes panhandled or stole things, getting deeper into the chronically homeless lifestyle, including drugs. He is typical of young people who were never required to be responsible.
These seven stories illustrate the variety of causes of homelessness. In our United States about a half million people are homeless on any one day. Over half are individuals. About 200,000 are families. Most become homeless due to a financial crisis, accident or medical emergency. About 9% are veterans. Most of these people return to independence and a home in a reasonable period of time with the help of rent assistance, job placement help, or other services.
The remaining 15% of homeless people are the ones we are most concerned with. They are difficult to deal with, and expensive when all public costs are totaled. It’s too expensive to let continue.
THE ANSWER IS: Permanent Supportive Housing.
Move them into a safe “home,” nothing fancy, just a small apartment in a specially designed building with perhaps a thousand such units. It has in-house communication systems connecting services with residents and each other. The goal is to enable as many residents as possible to move toward a paying job and independent living.
Too expensive? As discussed above, it saves a ton of money. Cities and banks work together to finance it with the goal of making their city a better place to live in and to visit. The architects have already drawn the plans and this kind of building has already been constructed. The guiding principles for this effort are called the Housing First Model, and a local agency called Pathways to Housing, has information at: www.pathwaystohousing.org
Their mission statement reads:
“We believe housing is a basic human right and aspire to change the practice of homeless services by providing immediate access to permanent, independent apartments without preconditions.”
Basically, the Housing First Model says that if someone is homeless, get them in a home, first. Then it is much easier to help him with other impediments to independent living.
“But GIVE these good-for-nothings a home?” some say. Others chant, “Give me a break! Isn’t that an expensive give-away?”
Not at all. In Los Angeles, (where one-tenth of the half-million U.S. homeless population is located), a research trial placed four chronically homeless people into a Permanent Supportive Housing arrangement. After a year, the study estimated that the city saved $80,000 compared to what the city had been spending on these same four people when they were “on the street” for a year.
Again, research sparked by George Bush’s 10 year Initiative discovered that most cities have been paying triple the cost of Permanent Supportive Housing, with all that cost (medical police, food, etc.) doing nothing to get them off the streets. We spend three times more to enable homeless people to remain homeless! That doesn’t make sense to me, either! Put that way, NOT providing small apartments with the supportive services concentrated there appears to be a HUGE waste of taxpayer money!
So, given this information, WHAT CAN YOU DO?
That’s for you to figure out. You will realize that this information needs to get to leaders that you, yourself, can contact. What political and funding actions could get the ball rolling? Perhaps taxpayers need to show up at council meetings demanding to know why their taxes are being wasted responding to problems caused by groups of chronically homeless people when a better solution exists.
A quote from the National Alliance to End Homelessness summarizes:
“Not all homeless people struggle with mental illness and/or substance abuse. That’s a stereotype based on the most visible kind of homelessness, chronic homelessness. Most homeless people have lost their housing due to financial hardship. The answer for them, and for all homeless people is simple: house them. There are a number of different ways of doing that, but one of the most persuasive arguments in favor of housing homeless people is that it is more cost-effective for us to provide housing than it is for us not to. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the financially responsible thing to do.”
For more information:
National Alliance to End Homelessness: (202) 638 1526
Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pathways to Housing: www.pathwaystohousing.org