The Problem-Solution Cycle of Homelessness

It’s common knowledge that homelessness has been a long-running issue, one that’s not been given as much attention as it should be given. It’s only given as much consideration as seen fit by government personnel or individuals who believe they are helping, which is usually only to some extent. However, even the proven current solutions to homelessness have drawbacks that the public should be aware of.

The concept of congregate shelters appears to be the end-all-be-all answer to homelessness in multiple cities across the United States. According to the Florida Association of Counties’ Non-Congregate Sheltering Checklist, a congregate shelter is “any private or public facility that provides contingency congregate (i.e. communal) refuge to evacuees.” When not used as a refuge center, the shelters take the form of a non-refuge center such as a convention center, civic center, or stadium.

The compactness of congregate shelters offers a sense of community to those who are homeless. But,  congregate shelters are also often underfunded, experience a shortage of staff and function within limited spaces. Such a crucial system cannot work optimally with a constant lack of resources.

In the age of COVID-19, congregate shelters also pose a health concern. The limited spaces provided allow for diseases to spread more quickly. People without housing are at greater risk of getting sick from viruses like COVID-19 because of overpopulated shelter conditions. In June 2020, the potential peak infection rate among those with no housing was at 40%, with an estimated 4.3% of that population likely to require admission to the hospital.

Aside from internal issues within, congregate shelters aren’t  for every person without a home. There has to be consideration of the unique situation each person faces and how such cases prevent them from fully participating in community-centered shelters, like potential or worsening individual physical or mental health conditions. Some restrictions (i.e. alcohol restrictions) placed on inhabitants also deter people without a home from seeking out congregate shelters.

More broadly, people without homes have an unspoken fear of what awaits at congregate shelters. Not every congregate protection is the same as the next, and the inconsistency surrounding the quality of care between covers allows for that fear to be created. 

Those without homes that are members of minority communities (racial, sexual, gender, religious, mental, physical, etc.) are susceptible to mistreatment at congregate shelters, depending on who is running said shelter. For example, with 20-40% of youth without homes identifying as members of the transgender community, shelters that work with them fail to appropriately serve the community. This is done by often housing them in gender specific  spaces they do not identify with. The tensions present between people from varying backgrounds also pave the way for increased stress and negative altercations in an otherwise accepting environment.

Aside from congregate shelters, homelessness is often addressed through scattered projects that tend to make an initial impact on helping those who are homeless. However, despite having started off strong with lots of potential, such projects are short-term and eventually fizzle out, allowing the issue to resurface.

The United States government also relies on initial impacts to compensate for the lack of attention towards the issue of homelessness as a whole. A project that exemplifies this is the well-known, Housing First policy. Generally, Housing First could be seen as an effective strategy given that it prioritizes providing those suffering from homelessness with permanent housing. 

However, the struggles of homelessness are multi-layered, and permanent housing only removes a single layer of the problem. After being given a permanent home, the future of the person still remains uncertain for homelessness. Not only does it  leave a person with no housing, but it also leaves them with decreased prospects of being able to do better for themself, like finding a stable job and potentially being  shunned by society. Merely giving a person housing does not grant them the skills they need to make a living for themself, nor give them the tools needed to build new relationships or reconstruct old ones. 

Overall, all factors must be considered when addressing the issue of homelessness, especially a program’s ability to maintain itself, a person’s personal  background, as well as the power of consistency and building relationships, which goes a long way in supporting those without homes to create better lives for themselves.


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