In 1987, congress passed the McKinney-Vento Act that sought to address homelessness (Cohen, 2015). Although the primary aim of the Act was the provision of both transitional and permanent shelters, the Act also included the provision of support care to the homeless. Some support services it offered included enabling the homeless access mental and overall primary healthcare that included treatment for substance dependencies (Winkler et al., 2016). As well, the McKinney act also offered the homeless access to job training opportunities, employment placement, education programs and so forth. The need for a holistic approach to address the factors that result in homelessness underpinned the McKinney Act’s comprehensive approach to this major social problem.
Prior to the prioritization of access to shelter for the homeless a right, individuals without homes had to earn their way back to stable shelter. This approach made it difficult for the homeless with preexisting conditions to make any progress with respect to qualifying for and staying in a home of their own. When the department of Housing and Urban Development adopted the shelter as a right approach, the homeless with preexisting medical conditions were able to access housing (Cohen, 2015). The housing as a right approach, social and medical experts observed, established a point that the homeless with chronic conditions such as schizophrenia and diabetes could better manage their conditions. Still, the McKinney Vento Act’s housing first approach is fraught with a shortage of low-cost housing units. Further, trends such as the rising costs of real estate acquisition and development have made it difficult for the Federal government to address homelessness nationwide, a situation that the lack of adequate funds aggravates.
The McKinney Vento Act sought to address not only homelessness, but the factors that result in the loss of a home. Equally, the Act recognized that homelessness does not occur in isolation and that other factors such as educational attainments, state of health and availability of employment opportunities are all crucial in preventing the loss of a home (Busch-Geertsema et al., 2016). Still, limited funding, as well as legislative actions compelled the HUD to revisit its initial mandate under the McKinney act of providing both comprehensive services and shelter to address homelessness (Cohen, 2015).
Equally, the number of affordable housing is decreasing, as are the funds that the government allocates to address homelessness. Clearly, although the policy goals of the HUD and other stakeholders in alleviating housing are sound, limited funding and legislative action continue to hinder further progress in extricating homeless people from the street (Busch-Geertsema et al., 2016). To illustrate, some localities with large homeless populations such as Seattle and San Francisco have labyrinthine regulations that discourage investments into low cost housing, a state of affairs that aggravates homelessness in those areas.
While the goals of policymakers, with the HUD in the lead, are sound, there appears to be a lack of collaboration between government agencies at various levels, private organizations and advocacy groups. The lack of collaboration has resulted in the lack of a nationwide approach to mitigate homelessness. To illustrate, the repealing of legislation that prevents the construction of affordable houses makes it difficult to set up affordable houses requires sustained advocacy, a role that advocacy groups and community organizations can better mobilize around.
According to one report, homelessness is heterogeneous and encompasses all genders, communities, races and families.
A majority of the individuals that end up homelessness usually extricate themselves from the situation without the intervention of state, leaving a small number of those that experience extended homelessness.
While no individual is immune to homelessness, some people are more susceptible to the phenomenon than others. In particular, people with preexisting health conditions, children, addicts, as well as minorities without the skills to enter the job market are examples of groups most at risk (Haskett et al., 2016). HUD’s transitional shelter initiative for example has been indispensable to families struggling to stay off the street.
Over the decades since the enactment of the McKinney Vento Act, Congress has earmarked decreasing funds to address homelessness. Although the funding has remained stable, the number of homelessness continues to grow, albeit incrementally. Also, the shift by the HUD from offering comprehensive social services for the homeless as well as the shelters to only offering shelters has meant that the homeless receive a less services compared to the original objectives of the McKinney Act.
Coordinating the different programs available to address homelessness, such as matching transitioning families with voucher programs, continues to present a challenge (Busch-Geertsema et al., 2016). This is because voucher programs are not necessarily reflective of degree of intervention necessary to ensure the individual becomes self-sustaining after receiving assistance. The identification of at risk families and individuals prior to their transition to homelessness is important in effecting targeted pre-emptive interventions to prevent homelessness. A first step in ensuring that more funding goes into ensuring the supply of affordable housing, as well as subsidizing struggling families.
Policy Objectives and Target Population
The McKinney Vento Act has since its inception undergone several adjustments, such as the shift from offering comprehensive social services alongside shelter to prioritizing the prevention of homelessness and expedited rehousing. In particular, the HUD has focused transitional housing as a way of assisting homeless individuals achieve a measure of stability with respect to nutritional and healthcare outcomes, educational attainment and job placements. A HUD study found that families that improved during their stay in transitional housings were more likely to become self-reliant one year after moving to more permanent housing.
Domestic violence is a major cause of homelessness because it disrupts entire family unites, with the victim and children’s lives adversely affected (Haskett et al., 2016). The provision of secure shelters for to victims of abuse in their localities can not only create space for victims of violence to recover, but also ensure minimal disruptions of the lives of minors, especially with regard to access to education and guardianship. Arguably, homelessness is expensive as it generates considerable public costs. The costs arise not in the provision of shelters per se, but in providing access to health, educational, rehabilitative and job placement support services to the homeless.
Policy and At-risk groups
Homelessness disrupts the individuals that go without shelter because it separates families from vital social support networks such as other family members, community-based organizations and available local and state programs to alleviate homelessness. Characteristically, homeless people drift and this results in their not being able to access crucial services, particularly healthcare and educational opportunities. There are few studies that evaluate the long-term efficacy of housing policies and their actual implications, with the HUD being a major source of reports on trends in housing (Evans et al., 2016; Furrugia & Gerrard, 2016). In communities were collaboration between various stakeholders and actors in addressing homelessness is strong, structural barriers such as the complexities of the application processes, eligibility rules and physical access have been diminished.
The prevention of homelessness appears to be a more effective approach to managing the increasing number of people that lose their homes and wind up on the streets. A major step in preempting homelessness is the reduction in the onerous regulations that make it difficult for individuals, organizations and local governments to encourage the construction of low-cost housing (Cohen, 2015). Presently, numerous regulations and ordinances make it difficult to construct homes, with the situation being especially severe in some states such as California and Washington. Congressional inactivity respecting increasing the funds available to mitigate homelessness makes it difficult to contain this nationwide problem. The exception in funding has been the HUD and Veteran Affairs interagency program that has successfully received funding from Congress. However, the success of the program to address homelessness among veterans is not reflective of success for other categories of the homeless.
In order to increase the gains of the HUD’s transitional housing, it is vital that the department expands its partner networks beyond other government agencies such as the Veteran Affairs and include community and faith based organizations. By collaborating with other actors in addressing homelessness, HUD will be in a position to amplify the gains of individuals that successfully go through transitional housing. For the reason that HUD now prioritizes on providing shelter, community and faith based organizations can provide the social support services that the HUD now receive less emphasis in the department’s allocation of funds. By increasing its partner networks to include other agencies and organizations, HUD can fulfill the original mandate of the McKinney Vento Act of availing both shelters and support services to the homeless as its successes in collaborating with the VA demonstrate.
Busch-Geertsema, V., Culhane, D., & Fitzpatrick, S. (2016). Developing a global framework for conceptualising and measuring homelessness. Habitat International, 55, 124-132.
Cohen, R. M. (2015). ‘Housing first’ policy for addressing homelessness hamstrung by funding issues. The American Prospect https://prospect.org/article/housing-first-policy-addressing-homelessness-hamstrung-funding-issues
Evans, W. N., Sullivan, J. X., & Wallskog, M. (2016). The impact of homelessness prevention programs on homelessness. Science, 353(6300), 694-699.
Farrugia, D., & Gerrard, J. (2016). Academic knowledge and contemporary poverty: The politics of homelessness research. Sociology, 50(2), 267-284.
Haskett, M. E., Armstrong, J. M., & Tisdale, J. (2016). Developmental status and social–emotional functioning of young children experiencing homelessness. Early Childhood Education Journal, 44(2), 119-125.
Padgett, D., Henwood, B. F., & Tsemberis, S. J. (2016). Housing First: Ending homelessness, transforming systems, and changing lives. Oxford University Press, USA.Winkler, P., Barrett, B., McCrone, P., Csémy, L., Janouskova, M., & Höschl, C. (2016). Deinstitutionalised patients, homelessness and imprisonment: systematic review. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 208(5), 421-428.
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