Chronic homelessness is defined as people who have been homeless for over a year or homeless four different times over three years. Bravo for the federal government to take such a definitive stand to end this problem. This website will track the progress of USICH on a new webpage on homelessness. The webpage includes data, history and issues related to homelessness in America included the facts and stories mentioned here.
Opening Doors is unique to the welfare system in that it seeks to coordinate disparate agencies, has measurable goals, works with private charities and seeks to find best practices to employ. That’s a pretty strong plan. So it will work right?
Well, probably not. Homelessness could be the toughest poverty problem of all; especially chronic homelessness. It is often at the interchange of extreme poverty, mental illness and substance abuse. This is difficult stuff.
The mentally ill often don’t know they are sick and don’t seek help. Even if they are put on effective medication in a hospital or mental health facility they often quit taking it over time and end up back on the street. In one case in Los Angeles a man came back to the psychiatric hospital 84 times for treatment over four years before he eventually died on the streets. What’s so unfortunate is that many of the mentally ill can be dramatically improved and even cured by treatment but only if they stick to a program and help themselves. Many of those addicted to alcohol or drugs also don’t want help or are incapable of getting past their addiction. Loved ones and authorities are incapable of convincing them to seek help or stay the course in rehabilitation. It is ultimately the addicts call and too often living on the streets is the result.
Most of the time the chronic homeless are only destructive to themselves and our laws are such that as long as that is the case they are free to stop taking their medicine or to continue substance abuse. This act plays out on American streets or in shelters every night. How do we fix it without active intervention? How do we as a society weigh the freedom of the individual versus the plight of the chronic homeless?
This is the tough issue and much of chronic homelessness revolves around it. Opening Doors believes it can end homelessness with a big heart, coordination and hard work – unfortunately that probably isn’t enough.