I love my job
Place someone with PTSD from their schizophrenic hallucinations and someone with severe PTSD from trauma who attacks people during nightmares in the same room due to no other options. leave for the day hoping no one chokes each other accidentally
(this is why i have qualms about housing first approaches applied in transitional housing settings)
Canadian statistics show that women are the fastest growing sub-population who experience homelessness (Fotheringham S., Walsh C., Burrowes A., McDonald A., 2011). Often, these women end up homeless to protect themselves from their abusers or due to financial instability. However, there has been an initiative called “Housing First” that has been recently implemented to combat women’s homelessness. This initiative focuses on transitioning women from the streets into housing. While this may have been a good idea at the time, the demand for housing is growing out of control. There aren’t enough beds and space for these women to comfortably live and not enough service providers of health care.
The Housing First model started using Photovoice which is a research methodology that allows women to freely express themselves. Researchers wanted to understand why women’s shelters are increasing out of proportion and what they can do to control and minimize the number of clients. Photovoice allowed women to reflect on their experiences coping with homelessness and the usefulness of services provided to them.
I believe this
is an extremely useful method to analyze homelessness amongst women. First,
this provides researchers with qualitative data which will help in
re-evaluating how women’s shelters can improve and expand to provide more
beneficial services. Second, it gives these women a sense of autonomy. When
they have fled from possibly the worst experience of their lives, they are
vulnerable and afraid. I believe that we need to help these women bounce back
from their abuse and one way to do that are to give them a voice. It is
important to provide these women with a way to vent and express themselves because
it helps give them a peace of mind.
An issue that faces anyone in poverty, especially people living with addiction or mental illness is homelessness. I am a huge believer in the housing first model and have seen it work first hand for years. The first job I had that was an example of this model was a long term shelter for chronically homeless addicts living with mental illnesses at a program called Safe Haven. The agency ran group homes and long term housing programs and a well known fact at this agency was that no one wanted to work at Safe Haven. When I began working there I soon found out why. Our entire way of thinking about social problems in this society is based on the idea of determining who is worthy of assistance. From treatment programs to drug testing for SNAP benefits we are always assessing “worthiness”. If you work you are worthy, if you dont you are not worthy. If you can stop using drugs you are worthy, if you can not you are not worthy. These are the messages we receive in the media, from our families, and from politicians. The ability to achieve the American Dream is based on our ability to conform to the status quo, pull ourselves up by our boot straps, and learn to be completely self sufficient regardless of how isolated, empty or unhappy that might leave us.
Housing First models are based on the idea that all people have a right to get their basic needs met regardless of what they do and who they are. These basic needs include being housed. In Western culture this idea is counterintuitive. But I believe in it firmly. The reason that House First Programs are so successful is that they do not put conditions on peoples right to have a safe living environment. You don’t have to be clean, you don’t have to take medication, you don’t have to work, you don’t have to go to therapy, you don’t have to be deemed worthy by social standards. In other words you are not forced to change in order to have this right. It has been proven over and over that internal motivation makes someone more likely to sustain change than some external motivator that is often absent after a time.
Returning to my experience at Safe Haven, I like the rest of the employees I met, struggled immensely to make an internal shift in my thoughts about our program, our clients, and our purpose. There were times where I was horrified that a client had drank all night, defecated in there pants, called me worse names that I had ever heard and there were no consequences! I thought, to myself “this man should be punished!” Or a client would refuse to take there medication, refuse all therapeutic services, smoke crack cocaine all weekend, spent there social security on prostitutes and then yell about how we were not doing enough for them. What I saw over time is my own immense need for people to get healthier, my own victim-blaming beliefs about addiction, and ultimately how powerless we really are over other human beings. Another thing I began to notice was that if a client got clean in that shelter they stayed clean. Unlike a programs where everyone is forced to abstain from drugs and 99% use the day they leave. Many of our clients went on to permanent supportive housing and have not been on the street since. So whether they chose to engage in any further types of treatment is secondary to the fact that they were successful. They were finally in a stable house, with a stove and a shower, many of them for the first time in over 20 years.
These programs save tax payer money, reduce crime, and restore dignity in peoples lives. I believe that all humans have a right to a place to sleep, food and clean water, and also to a community that does not shame and condemn them. Communities that have heavily endorsed housing first programs have almost no homelessness. I don’t know how anyone could perceive that as anything other than great success.
Ok, now that it’s illegal to punish homeless people for sleeping outside, let’s make that ruling obsolete by GIVING HOMELESS PEOPLE HOMES.
Housing First, y'all. It works.