A Kansas City Prescription For Rough Sleeper Disease

An arched stone roof over rows of bedframes looks more like a medieval dungeon than a place to sleep
Dormitory in Fort Douaumont photo by Eric Huybrechts is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
For the chronically homeless, an emergency shelter is a hellhole rather than a haven.

A useful article in the Kansas City Star explains with insight and compassion why the simple act of putting a chronic rough sleeper into their own home may well do little or nothing to eliminate a particular kind of homelessness.

The article is written by Eric Burger, a guest writer who is executive director of Shelter KC, a Kansas City rescue mission. He is well placed to understand the problem that a city’s population of visible homeless faces when confronted with what amounts to a double-whammy.

Visible homelessness victims are often trapped between the perceived “dangers” of temporary/emergency shelter crowds on one hand, as well as intolerable isolation of individual housing units which might “ideally” be assigned to them, on the other.

The following article, both sympathetic and pragmatic, can be well augmented by the detailed statistics and more personal stories about rough sleepers in New York City.

The Kansas city article can be read in The Kansas City Star: Yes, Kansas City has a housing problem, but roofs over heads won’t fix homelessness

And that article is further enhanced by this one in THE CITY: Sleeping Behind The Bronx Zoo: Why Some New Yorkers Choose Streets Over Shelters

An important further thought, however, is essential for understanding the current national homelessness crises in many countries. Most people who are homeless are not visible as chronic rough sleepers encountered on city streets.

The largest proportion of people experiencing homelessness simply cannot afford accommodation. They include individuals and families who do not particularly live with physical or mental illness or substance use. They may well work for a living but earn wages so low their home becomes a bed in an emergency shelter system.

Or they couch surf with friends and families for as long as they are welcome, working to stave off the horror, indignity and uncertain future of life in an emergency shelter or on the streets. For most of the people who are homeless and not visible, whether individual or family, specially-designed physical and mental support services are unnecessary.

Eric Burger, who wrote the article about homelessness in Kansas City says, “Providing safe housing is only part of the solution to homelessness, because no individual can thrive in constant crisis.” Right now, what most folks who experience homelessness need is stable housing that they can afford.

Burger also says, “Putting a roof over the homeless problem does not answer the basic question: what comes next.” Not every person who leaves homelessness will have a “what comes next” chapter to their story. But when planners and practitioners are prepared to support that chapter, there’s a much better chance that that person will not return to the streets.

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