Learning to fish
Buffalo homeless shelters should take precedence over permanent housing
Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 19:11
There’s that old saying that goes, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
On Friday, the Homeless Alliance of Western New York released “Opening Doors: Buffalo and Erie County Community Plan to End Homelessness,” a planto eliminate chronic homelessness by 2017.
The report claims the community could save as much as $8,893 per client providing immediate and permanent housing for chronically homeless persons (defined by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development as being without a home for one year or longer or four or more times in a three-year period).
Money is the universal language, though. While homelessness in Buffalo is definitely not an issue that should be ignored, the city should focus on providing more shelter care rather than immediate permanent housing.
Homeless Alliance determined that 436 people in Erie County fell into the “chronically homeless” category. The organization stated that it “just makes too much sense not to [provide more permanent housing for the chronically homeless],” but there are many questions left unanswered. Will that $4 million be a consistent savings for taxpayers or will they have to continuously deal with whatever costs come up?
If lawmakers decided to address the issue, the immediate question of where the city will house them is raised. Will new housing need to be built – housing that will inevitably increase tax dollars – or will they be thrown into some of the city’s more dangerous neighborhoods?
An older report from the National Housing Institute notes that some public housing communities have a high rate of violent or drug-related crime. Isolation of the public housing neighborhoods can create a hostile environment and segregation can result in a concentration of negative influences on the residents.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2006 showed the outcomes of permanent housing programs for the homeless, mentioning the participants that left HUD-funded programs. Fifty-three percent of the leavers went on to rentals or homeownership. The other half ended up living with family, in emergency shelters, back on the street or in a jail, psychiatric hospital or inpatient substance treatment. Permanent housing would require the city to gamble on a 50-50 chance of success.
According to the Homeless Alliance, the homeless are more likely to treat their addictions and other health problems once put into permanent housing over a shelter. It would require the housing include extensive supportive services for counseling and treatment, as well as the costs of living food, and utilities that will inevitably be paid for by working taxpayers.
As one of the nation’s poorest cities, Buffalo cannot afford to take the risk, but the city should not push aside the problem entirely as it has been doing. There is a need for more options for shelter care, addiction counseling and volunteer services (which Crisis Services provides 24/7). Permanently housing the homeless will remain the ideal, but there’s only so many fish you can provide when the sea is empty.