No more barriers to shelter & housing programs

The Wall Street Journal published an article on 8/27/2019 titled New York City Proposes Requiring Homeless Shelter Residents to Save 30% of Income. I apologize for the paywall and add the caveat to the following blog article: I did not purchase full access to the WSJ article before sharing my opinions here. Based on the article title and the few lines of preview material I made a few assumptions and went on with the following. If my assumptions are wrong about the program in the article, the opinions below still stand insofar as they are judged based on the information I was responding to.

Building a savings plan into a shelter program is an interesting, well-intentioned idea that is a perfect example of what we should not be doing with our efforts to get people off the street. Putting up roadblocks, adding hurdles to the journey, increasing the barriers to secure housing just doesn’t make sense. Housing first. Period.

The problem here is the “mandate.” It would be a great idea to support a savings program for people entering a shelter program but why make it mandatory? All that accomplishes is shutting people out instead of welcoming them in. They have enough to deal with already simply trying to survive.

Create a managed savings program for people to use. Staff it, along with counselors, encourage people to participate, even provide incentives to get people into the program with contribution matches or other creative tools to engage people in taking more action toward their eventual progression back into permanent housing.

Mandates and other barriers put a filter on who will apply for certain programs so you end up missing the most vulnerable of the people who need help. These barriers add steps and daunting challenges to an already almost impossible task. When your mind is consumed by thoughts of food and shelter day in and day out, while likely suffering from depression and other anxieties if not all the complications substance abuse carries with it, then it’s not hard to imagine someone just turning away the minute they see “30% of your income must go toward a savings account toward future housing” or any other barrier for that matter.

Of course, having not read the complete article, it seems fairly likely that this is being intentionally used as a tool to filter people who will be successful candidates in a shelter-to-permanent-housing program. If that is New York’s goal then it is a fine one so long as it is only a part of the response. It cannot be seen as the whole solution without turning an intentionally blind eye to the large number of people who will not or cannot comply with such a mandate.

As a society, we could choose to provide the resources to get people sheltered. It’s our choice to treat a lifetime of mistakes, or just one big one, as a life sentence to misery and isolation. We should not be placing additional burdens between people and a safe place to call home while they work out their issues.