Harriet Boorhem: Youth Today’s Online Diarist

Note: To provide some context for what follows: Ms. Boorhem is writing about her belief that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and its partners at the state level, are investing too much on the concept of “permanent supportive housing” for the most troubled homeless individuals, and not enough on transitional programs for those with better prospects of making advances out of homelessness.

So, here is why the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s end-all to solving the homelessness problem, Permanent Supportive Housing, will NOT end homelessness.

Reason One: The requirements of eligibility for Permanent Supportive Housing – persons with mental or physical disabilities, and chronically homeless individuals and families – knocks at least 80 percent of the homeless population out of the running for housing. The chronically homeless make up only 10 – 15 percent of the total homeless population, and yet currently receive 90 percent of services. There is something wrong with this equation!

Reason Two: Permanent Supportive Housing does NOTHING to plug the pipeline into chronic homelessness i.e., homeless teens and young adults, teens aging out of foster care and the juvenile justice system (up to 38 percent of whom will be homeless at least once in the two years following emancipation). About 95 percent of teens and young adults are NOT chronically homeless (on the street for at least a year or four homeless episodes in the past 2 years), and we do not want them labeled as such; but they will be if they are not assisted now. Additionally, most teens do not qualify as disabled (thank heavens!), and we don’t want them labeled as such. The teens at Promise House are in school, working, raising kids, and functioning in the world. But they wouldn’t be without our help.

Reason Three: Teens and young adults have very different needs than do chronically homeless adults. They need a phased program that moves from fairly high structure and supervision all the way to independent living, which includes housing and support services. You can’t just stick a teen in an apartment, or give a teen a housing voucher or 3 month’s rent, say “Go be successful”, and expect success.

The only way to truly stop chronic homelessness is to plug the pipeline into it. If you were to ask 20 chronically homeless adults if they were homeless as teens or young adults, at least 15 would say yes.

I don’t know why this is such a difficult concept to get. Maybe when the “end homelessness by” deadlines pass and there is still homelessness, folks that make the funding decisions will scratch their heads and wonder why.

Maybe they should ask us, the service provider community.

Harriet Boorhem is the president of Promise House, which provides a multitude of services to families and homeless youth in the Dallas area, and Youth Today’s first online diarist.

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