LGBTQ-Identifying Homeless Youth

homelessness, Homlessness, housing discrimination, Inequality, LGBTQI

June is Pride month so I thought that it would be appropriate to spend some time discussing the growing number of LGBTQ youth who are experiencing homelessness in the U.S.A. Roughly 40% of youth who are homeless in the U.S. are LGBTQ-identifying (HRC 2017). Many cities in the U.S. have seen drastic increases in the number of LGBTQ youth who are experiencing homelessness in the past decade. LGBTQ youth who are homeless are more likely than their heterosexual and cisgendered counterparts to experience high rates of mental health issues, STDs and STIs, physical and sexual abuse, and substance use (Page 2017, Keuroghlian et. al. 2014).

While LGBTQ youth homelessness has been a significant issue for quite some time, research on LGBTQ youth who are homeless has just started to catch up with reality. In this post, I would like to highlight some of the insightful and useful research that has recently been published on this issue. These articles span disciplines, methodologies, and theoretical frameworks. But, since homelessness is a complex issue that demands an understanding of how complex the world is, I believe that it is necessary for policymakers, policy administrators, and policy analysts to examine research from all disciplines when trying to figure out how to best serve homeless LGBTQ youth.

First, Michelle Page’s 2017 article titled “Forgotten Youth: Homeless LGBT Youth of Color and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act” is critical work that is worth reading. Page examines the understudied experiences of LGBTQ youth of color. She makes research and policy recommendations for how to better serve LGBT homeless youth of color who often face additional injustices and challenges than their white LGBT homeless youth counterparts. Page draws attention to an area that needs more investigation in this concise piece, writing: “Legislative invisibility is the phenomenon that when certain classifications of people, like LGBT, are not specifically addressed in a statute, they reap no benefit from it even though it is meant to benefit everyone. This type of invisibility is a consequence of implementing overly generalized policies, which lack nuance, to extend to homeless youth on a national scale. Laws based solely on the experiences of one identity group, when members within the group are also members of varying subgroups, can only provide a limited amount of support.” (p. 20).

Second, the 2016 article by Elaine M. Maccio and Kristin M. Ferguson titled “Services to LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth: Gaps and recommendations” reveals the results from studying 19 non-profit and government organizations that are serving LGBTQ homeless youth. These agencies receive money from the federal Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) to design and implement programs that range in objectives from housing to education. Maccio and Ferguson’s research identifies and explains gaps in the current service environment and suggests alternative methods to better serve LGBTQ youth who are homeless. One of the interesting observations made by the authors is that LGBTQ youth who are housed in both emergency and transitionary housing programs with youth who are not LGBTQ-identifying are less likely to stay in the housing programs largely due to harassment by their non-LGBTQ peers. The authors recommend that more programs try to use supportive housing models for LGBTQ youth. They recommend and highlight models that have been successfully implemented and can be designed in other programs.

Third, in the 2014 article “Out on the Street: A Public Health and Policy Agenda for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth Who Are Homeless,” authors Alex S. Keuroghlian, Derri Shtasel, and Ellen L. Bassuk examine prevalent and dangerous health trends within the LGBTQ homeless youth community. The goal of this article is to develop “responsible practices and policies” (p. 66) for addressing issues facing LGBTQ youth who are homeless such as mental health and substance use problems, suicidal acts, violent victimization, and a range of HIV risk behaviors. The authors break down the research by subpopulations, identifying the most serious risks and health issues for transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth populations individually. They also show that race and ethnicity can influence a homeless LGBTQ youth’s health outcomes. Keuroghlian, Shtasel, and Bassuk draw attention to the need for increased HIV education amongst homeless LGBTQ youth and they identify some promising methods for designing and implementing health education programs. For example, they discuss new internet-based initiatives that are designed to reduce HIV transmission amongst LGBTQ youth who are homeless (p. 68).

Fourth, in the 2014 edition of Young Adult Library Services, Jama Shelton and Julie Winkelstein published an article titled “Librarians and Social Workers: Working Together for Homeless LGBTQ Youth.” Not only is this article a useful guide for librarians and library staff, it is also a fantastic example of interdisciplinary work. This article shows that when people work together across fields, industries, and disciplines, LGBTQ youth who are homeless have the best chance at receiving the highest quality services.

There are other excellent research articles and policy resources on this topic that are emerging. Even as I write this blog post and even as you read it, there is probably someone who is working diligently to try to find creative methods for serving LGBTQ youth who are homeless. However, there is always more work to be done to assist LGBTQ youth who are homeless. Whether you are a scholar, an activist, a government official, a business leader, or a non-profit representative, you too can try to find ways to support LGBTQ youth who are homeless. I have provided some resources below that may be helpful to those who would like to support LGBTQ youth who are homeless and to those LGBTQ-identifying young people who are experiencing homelessness and looking for resources.

Note: All of the hyperlinks in this article were accessible to the public on 6/26/17 but the links may have expired since then. I do my best to maintain and update expired links, but please let me know (by leaving a comment in the comments section below) if a certain link has expired. Thank you!

Resources:

If you would like more information on LGBTQ youth homelessness in general or if you need city-specific or county-specific resources, check out the National Coalition for the Homeless’ LGBT Homelessness project: http://nationalhomeless.org/issues/lgbt 

Lambda Legal: https://www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/article/youth-homeless

True Colors Fund: https://truecolorsfund.org/our-issue/

If you are a young LGBTQ person experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles, check out the Los Angeles LGBT Center: https://lalgbtcenter.org/social-service-and-housing/youth/homelessness

References:

Human Rights Campaign. “LGBTQ Youth Homelessness” (2017): http://www.hrc.org/resources/lgbt-youth-homelessness

Keuroghlian, Alex S., Derri Shtasel, and Ellen L. Bassuk. “Out on the street: a public health and policy agenda for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who are homeless.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 84.1 (2014): 66.

Maccio, Elaine M., and Kristin M. Ferguson. “Services to LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth: Gaps and recommendations.” Children and Youth Services Review 63 (2016): 47-57.

Page, Michelle. “Forgotten Youth: Homeless LGBT Youth of Color and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.” Nw. JL & Soc. Pol’y 12 (2017): 17-92.

Shelton, Jama, and Julie Winkelstein. “Librarians and social workers: Working together for homeless LGBTQ youth.” Young Adult Library Services 13.1 (2014): 20.

Advertisements

This Week in Homelessness and Housing Policy

affordable housing, homelessness, Housing Policy

In the past week, there have been a lot of innovative ideas about how to ameliorate homelessness and improve housing policy that have been discussed in mainstream and not-so-mainstream media sources. Here’s a brief re-cap. Thank you to Dorothy Holt for finding and sharing much of this information!

First, Amazon announced that it will permanently operate a homeless shelter in Seattle. CLICK HERE to read the coverage of this new Amazon initiative in the New York Times. Last year, Amazon was allowing homeless people to live in a motel owned by the company. The motel began to be known as a safe shelter with the moniker “Mary’s Place”, however the future of the shelter was unknown. Now, Mary’s Place will operate out of a new Amazon-owned-and-operated office building that will be constructed in fall 2017. According to the report published in the New York Times, there are many early supporters of this plan. “Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington, D.C., said she was unaware of any other private corporation integrating a homeless shelter into its building. ‘Too often, homelessness gets pushed to the other side of the tracks,’ Ms. Roman said. ‘Keeping them as neighbors is nice.'” Reporter Nick Wingfield who wrote the news story also noted that this move may make Amazon look more appealing to consumers who are concerned with issues of social justice. Amazon has been criticized for promoting gentrification and a toxic and abusive work environment. Seattle has been experiencing a “homelessness crisis” and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared a “state of emergency” last year to note the magnitude of the problem. From 2015-2016, the number of people living on the streets in Seattle (unsheltered homeless) increased 19% (Woodard 2016). This figure excludes people who are homeless but sheltered (couch surfing, shelter hopping, etc.) or who were missed by volunteers who conducted the Point in Time (PIT) counts of the homeless in Seattle. (For more on how PIT counts are conducted, see a previous blog post on Point in Time Counts).

Second, this week, advocates for the homeless have installed portable toilets along the Santa Ana River which is located in Orange County, CA. This area is home to many people who are without housing in Orange County. County officials immediately criticized the actions as “unauthorized” and are taking actions to remove the portable toilets. The toilets were purchased using donations from the community. For more information, CLICK HERE to access the news coverage of these actions published in the local newspaper, the Orange County Register.  One homeless man who was interviewed in this article expressed that “it is a relief not having to rely on five-gallon paint buckets that many of the homeless people resort to using, dumping their waste in the river bed or disposing of it in the orange trash bags that public works supplies…[other people experiencing homelessness] trek to the Burger King and Jack-in-the-Box restaurants on Chapman Avenue…people living in the tents will police the toilets themselves.” (Walker 2017)

Third, as the affordable housing crisis continues to become more exacerbated in California, policymakers in CA cities around the state are pursuing a potential solution to this problem. The proposed solution involves making it easier for homeowners to build and operate “granny flats” or accessory dwellings (“back houses”, small cottages, garage studios, etc.) on their properties. Currently, it is very difficult for homeowners to build these dwellings on their properties due to zoning rules, parking fees, and utility-access restrictions. McPhate, the reporter writing the NYT article writes: “the idea was simple: Make it easier to build the units, then watch the housing stock soar and the rents fall…Those opposed to easing regulations on the units have cited concerns about increased traffic and changes to neighborhood character.” CLICK HERE to read the coverage of this policy idea in the New York Times.

Fourth and finally, if you were interested in last week’s blog post on how some of the federal policies that encourage homeownership in the USA have promoted inequality over time, then you may want to check out this week’s article on the mortgage interest deduction (MID) rate in The Atlantic. Check it out here! This article, written by Derek Thompson, examines the MID in more detail with a touch of Op-Ed flair! One quick poignant quote: “Since tax benefits are most useful for people with taxable income, U.S. wealth-creation policy is predominantly for people who already have wealth. These high-income households don’t consider their tax benefits to be a form of government policy at all. For example, 60 percent of people who claim the MID say they have never used any government program, ever. As a result, rich households can be skeptical of public-housing policies while benefiting from a $71 billion annual tax benefit which is, functionally, a public-housing policy for the rich.” (Thompson 2017).

References:

McPhate, M. (May 16, 2017). “California Today: A Housing Fix That’s Close to Home.” New York Times. Accessible at: https://nyti.ms/2qnm38E

Thompson, D. (May 14, 2017). “The Shame of the Mortgage-Interest Deduction.” The Atlantic. Accessible here: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/05/shame-mortgage-interest-deduction/526635/

Walker, T. (May 15, 2017). “Activists install portable toilets for homeless at Santa Ana River bed; county says they’re unauthorized.” Orange County Register. Accessible at: http://www.ocregister.com/2017/05/15/activists-install-portable-toilets-for-homeless-at-santa-ana-river-bed-county-says-theyre-unauthorized/

Wingfield, N. (May 10, 2017). “Amazon to Share New Building With Homeless Shelter in Seattle.” New York Times. Accessible at: https://nyti.ms/2puvNd7

Woodard, B. (June 29, 2016). “#SeaHomeless: What you need to know about Seattle’s homeless crisis.” The Seattle Times. Accessible at: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/seahomeless-what-you-need-to-know-about-seattles-homeless-crisis/

 

This Week in Housing Policy

affordable housing, homelessness, Homlessness, housing, housing discrimination

We’re only on Tuesday and so far, this week has produced a lot of strong media coverage of issues pertaining to the relationship between housing policy and inequality (social, economic, and racial inequalities in particular). Most of the year, it seems that issues of homelessness and housing policy receive meager media attention, so to have multiple news outlets covering these important issues in a span of a few days is very exciting! Whether or not you agree with the framing of these news stories or the policy suggestions implicit in these articles, it is still worth it to read the coverage of these issues, as they often get overlooked.

First on the agenda, the New York Times Magazine published a poignant piece on how the public policies that incentivize homeownership in the U.S.A. have contributed to inequality over time. This article, titled “How Homeownership Became the Engine of American Inequality,” was written by the acclaimed author Matthew Desmond who wrote last year’s hit book titled Evicted. (If you’re a housing policy nerd like me, then this is a must read!) In the article, Desmond does a great job demystifying some of the more complex and opaque features of the U.S. tax code as it is applied to issues of housing and homeownership. For example, he describes how the mortgage interest deduction (MID) favors middle and high income earners who own homes, but he notes that there is no comparable tax incentive for renters, who tend to have lower incomes. The MID was designed to encourage Americans to purchase residential properties at inflated prices, forcing them to borrow funds in the form of mortgages. This significantly contributes to the widening of the gap between affluent Americans and Americans who are struggling to get by financially. In addition, Desmond explains how racially discriminatory housing policies from the past, such as the G.I. Bill, are still affecting unequal housing outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities in today’s America. He also provides readers with profiles of individuals and families who own homes and rent properties to show the drastic differences in their experiences with housing in America.

To access Desmond’s article (published May 9, 2017), click here: https://nyti.ms/2pZp92k

To access info about Desmond’s book Evicted, click here: http://www.evictedbook.com

Second, the news outlet National Public Radio (NPR) has also paid more attention than usual to issues of housing, homelessness, and inequality in the past week. On May 3, 2017, Terry Gross produced a piece on the “forgotten history” of housing segregation in the U.S.A. This story profiles historian Richard Rothstein’s latest book The Color of the Law (more info on his book is accessible here: The Color of the Law). Gross’s article and Rothstein’s book both describe how redlining created a “state-sponsored system of segregation” in U.S. housing policy.  Rothstein notes that “the term ‘redlining’ … comes from the development by the New Deal, by the federal government of maps of every metropolitan area in the country. And those maps were color-coded by first the Home Owners Loan Corp. and then the Federal Housing Administration and then adopted by the Veterans Administration, and these color codes were designed to indicate where it was safe to insure mortgages. And anywhere where African-Americans lived, anywhere where African-Americans lived nearby were colored red to indicate to appraisers that these neighborhoods were too risky to insure mortgages.” This blog has examined redlining in previous posts, check the archives for more in-depth information on this abhorrent practice. Gross’s article, and the book that it profiles, show how these segregationist policies that began in the 1930’s are still negatively affecting African Americans today.

You can access this story (both audio and written commentary) here: “A ‘Forgotten History’ Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America”

In addition, NPR, in concert with PBS’s Frontline, produced an interesting piece on the abuse of the affordable housing system in the U.S.A. Published on May 9, 2017, this piece, titled “Affordable Housing Program Costs More, Shelters Fewer”, describes how the federal low-income housing tax credit program (LIHTC) has failed the American people, both affordable housing program beneficiaries and American tax-payers alike. The LIHTC was established to incentivize private companies to build housing for low income Americans. However, the investigation into the program by NPR and Frontline “found that with little federal oversight, LIHTC has produced fewer units than it did 20 years ago, even though it’s costing taxpayers 66 percent more in tax credits.” This means that more tax-payer money is being spent on a program that is producing fewer housing units for low income Americans. In other words, the program is ineffective at assisting poor Americans gain quality affordable housing. This report provides a critical look into the murky world of affordable housing policy and sheds some light on who is “winning” and who is “losing” in the twenty-first century. Spoiler alert: low income Americans who are seeking affordable housing are definitely losing while investors from private equity firms and companies that cater to the housing market are definitely winning.

You can access this fascinating and timely article here: http://www.npr.org/2017/05/09/527046451/affordable-housing-program-costs-more-shelters-less

 

Homelessness in Developing Countries

homeless children, homeless families, Homeless Women, homelessness, Homlessness, housing, personal experience

Homelessness is an international issue. In every nation in the world, there are people experiencing homelessness. However, the determinants, conditions, and experiences of homelessness vary considerably amongst citizens of developed, industrialized nations and citizens of developing, less industrialized nations.

While the issue of homelessness in developing countries has been understudied compared to homelessness in developed countries in academic research, there are some very informative papers in existence that pose salient questions about homelessness in developing nations. One of the main themes that runs through these papers is that global definitions and understandings of homelessness (often based on how homelessness is conceptualized in developed nations) are failing to accurately depict homelessness in developing nations. Scholars who make this argument also believe that skewed perceptions and incorrect definitions of “homelessness” affect the policy interventions directed at people who are experiencing homelessness in developing countries. These interventions usually fail because they are based on a false premise and misunderstanding of homelessness in developing countries (Speak and Tipple 2009, Speak and Tipple 2006, Tipple and Speak 2005, Speak 2004).

It is also worth mentioning that the bulk of this research on homelessness in developing nations seems to be conducted by the same research team–you may have noticed the frequency of their names in the citation above–Suzanne Speak and Graham Tipple. This is an important area of inquiry for researchers. Perhaps more people will join Speak and Tipple in investigating homelessness in developing nations.

Below is a bibliography of resources on homelessness in developing nations. When available, I have included direct links to the articles. (These links are valid on April 2. 2017 but may expire over time.) However, some of these resources must be accessed through research databases such as JSTOR or EBSCOHost.

References:

Tipple, G., & Speak, S. (2009). The hidden millions: homelessness in developing countries. Routledge.

Speak, S., & Tipple, G. (2006). Perceptions, persecution and pity: the limitations of interventions for homelessness in developing countries. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 30(1), 172-188. (click here to access article)

Tipple, G., & Speak, S. (2005). Definitions of homelessness in developing countries. Habitat International, 29(2), 337-352. (Click here to access the article)

Speak, S. (2005). Relationship between children’s homelessness in developing countries and the failure of women’s rights legislation. Housing, Theory and Society, 22(3), 129-146.

Speak, S. (2004). Degrees of destitution: a typology of homelessness in developing countries. Housing studies, 19(3), 465-482. (click here to access the article)

 

Studying Women’s Homelessness Internationally

domestic violence, Homeless Women, homelessness, Homlessness, Women and Poverty

Among developed (or industrialized) nations, the United States of America has the highest number of women experiencing homelessness (FYSB 2016; Green Doors report). While the specific determinants and the details of the experiences of homelessness are unique for each individual woman, there are some themes that emerge when examining the issue of women’s homelessness at a “macro” level.

For example, for women in the United States, domestic violence is often eerily linked to homelessness. A report from the Family and Youth Services Bureau notes: “According to multiple studies examining the causes of homelessness, among mothers with children experiencing homelessness, more than 80% had previously experienced domestic violence. Between 22 and 57% of all homeless women report that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness. Thirty-eight percent of all domestic violence victims become homeless at some point in their lives.” (FYSB 2016).

For researchers who study homelessness at academic institutions and in government agencies, one of the major research-related frustrations is a lack of research–quantitative or qualitative–on women’s homelessness. Specifically, there is little attention given to the issue of how to ameliorate homelessness for women. Which policy interventions are working and which policy interventions are failing homeless women in the U.S.? Just as there is often a lack of “political will” in local, state, and national government environments when addressing the issue of women’s homelessness, there seems to be  a lack of “research will” dedicated to investigating the best and worst ideas for reducing women’s homelessness.

Therefore, I was excited to see the publication of the March 2017 report titled “Women’s Homelessness: International Evidence on Causes, Consequences, Coping and Policies”. This report is available online and accessible to everyone: click here to access the report. One of the best strategies for finding successful policy interventions to ameliorate women’s homelessness in the U.S. is to look abroad. Go international with your investigative scope and try to find places where certain policy interventions have already succeeded in reducing women’s homelessness. Then ask, can we apply this policy intervention to the U.S. context? Will this idea work here? This report is the exemplification of an excellent resource for policy practitioners and researchers to examine in their quests to find the best methods for addressing women’s homelessness in the U.S. and abroad.

(Note: the report that I am referencing in this post addresses women’s homelessness in mainly developed, industrialized nations. Therefore, its scope is not as broad as it could be, and it omits a lot of information about, and analysis of, housing and women’s homelessness in developing nations. However, the report was published very recently so the information included in it is very up-to-date, and this report presents a good example of how to examine an issue using an international lens.)

Housing First or Treatment First?

homelessness, housing, Housing Policy

Perhaps the most prominent debate about service delivery models for people who are experiencing homelessness revolves around the question: should housing come before treatment, or should treatment for people who are homeless and experiencing mental illness and/or addiction issues come before housing?

Housing First is a service model that advocates for the provision of permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness before engaging homeless individuals in treatment for mental illness, addiction recovery, or concurrent disorders.

In contrast, the Treatment First service model prioritizes the treatment of mental illness before the housing of homeless individuals (Padgett et. al. 2011). The Treatment First model has informed many service delivery models and public policy designs that require homeless people to provide evidence that they are prepared to live in permanent housing (e.g. the staircase model and continua of care programs operate under the philosophy of Treatment First). The assumption underlying this policy and programming philosophy is that homeless people are not able to sustain tenancy and self-sufficiency without first receiving treatment for mental illness. In other words, sobriety and the active, consistent treatment of mental health disorders act as the necessary pre-conditions for attaining housing.

This philosophy still dominates many of the policy debates over Housing First and Treatment First models, however numerous studies with strong research designs have provided support for the contention that homeless people with mental illness and concurrent disorders are able to sustain tenancy when they are provided with appropriate support for their respective conditions (see Busch-Geertsema 2013, Tsemberis 2011, Tsemberis et. al. 2008, Padgett et. al. 2006).

What do you think should come first–housing or treatment?

 

References:

Busch-Geertsema, Volker (2013). “Housing First Europe Final Report.”: http://www.habitat.hu/files/FinalReportHousingFirstEurope.pdf

 

Padgett, D. K., Stanhope, V., Henwood, B. F., & Stefancic, A. (2011). Substance use outcomes among homeless clients with serious mental illness: comparing housing first with treatment first programs. Community mental health journal, 47(2), 227-232.

Padgett, D. K., Gulcur, L., & Tsemberis, S. (2006). Housing first services for people who are homeless with co-occurring serious mental illness and substance abuse. Research on Social Work Practice, 16(1), 74-83.

Tsemberis, S., Gulcur, L., & Nakae, M. (2004). Housing first, consumer choice, and harm reduction for homeless individuals with a dual diagnosis. American journal of public health, 94(4), 651-656.

Tsemberis, S. (2011). Housing First: The pathways model to end homelessness for people with mental illness and addiction manual. European Journal of Homelessness _ Volume, 5(2).

*For more information on the Treatment First model (written by advocates of this model), see King, R. and Martin, F. (2016). “Treatment first for mentally ill individuals, not housing” San Francisco Chroniclehttp://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Treatment-first-for-mentally-ill-individuals-not-8319570.php

Groton, D. (2013). “Are Housing First Programs Effective? A Research Note”: https://www.wmich.edu/hhs/newsletters_journals/jssw_institutional/individual_subscribers/40.1.Groton.pdf

Three Quarter Homes in NYC

affordable housing, homelessness, NYC

Three quarter homes, or three quarter houses, are are unregulated dwellings for people who are experiencing homelessness, people with substance abuse challenges, people receiving public assistance, and people with mental health needs or disability services needs.

In NYC, three quarter homes have operated without inspection or regulation for decades, leaving residents in homes no avenue for filing  tenant grievances.  Increasingly unsafe and unhealthy conditions in three quarter homes across New York City prompted the New York Times to run an investigative series on the dilapidated dwellings in May and June 2015.  CLICK HERE to read the original NYT investigation that prompted city officials to take action.

The City of New York responded by removing residents living in unsafe structures from the three quarter homes.  The City has offered them temporary living situations, such as hotels and motels until city housing officials can find a more permanent solution.  The City of New York also created a new task force in June 2015 to ameliorate conditions in three quarter homes.  While the task force has evaluated its performance highly, many residents of three quarter homes feel that they have been left behind while others are joyful to be living in clean, safe spaces.

The New York Times continued its coverage of this issue in the article “New York City Starts Moving Tenants From ‘Three-Quarter’ Homes, but Others Are Left Behind”, written by Kim Barker and published on August 2, 2015.  The article explains that some residents of the three quarter homes have been moved into locations like the Sleep Inn that are clean and affordable.  However, other residents have not been given access to new housing yet.  Barker cites reasons such as disability and substance use as factors preventing the flight of three quarter home residents from the unsafe and unsanitary homes.

For example, Barker tells the story of one man in his mid-50’s whose recent knee surgery prevented him from packing quickly.  His “spot” at the Sleep Inn was filled by the time he was able to pack and get there.  As a result, he has been left behind, as the City does not have enough housing spaces to accommodate everyone who needs to relocate from the three quarter homes.

Experts trace the modern history of three quarter homes in NYC to the public policies of former mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Bloomberg advocated for reducing the city’s homeless shelter rolls, without providing any additional housing for the people expelled from the shelters.  Three quarter homes were developed out of necessity to fill the housing gap for low income residents of NYC.  Three quarter homes are not sanctioned by the City–they are not up to code and they are of shoddy quality–but they provided an alternative to sleeping on the streets for many people experiencing homelessness in the past few decades.

The City of New York has pledged $5 million to repair three quarter homes and bring them up to the building code and move people into higher quality housing.  Let’s hope the pledge doesn’t dissipate before the next election cycle!

Children’s Books About Homelessness

homeless children, homelessness

The United States is the industrialized nation with the largest number of homeless children and women. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, there are over 1.6 million children in the United States who are experiencing homelessness. (In other words, 1 out of every 45 children in America are homeless.)  This statistic does not account for children at risk of becoming homeless, hungry children, and children experiencing poverty.  (CLICK HERE for more statistics and information about homeless children and families.)

It is reprehensible that children are experiencing homelessness.  It is an experience that is difficult for children to explain and discuss with teachers, friends, and family members.  It is also an experience that is impossible to understand for children who have never experienced homelessness and will never have to worry about the security of their housing or food.  The Institute for Humane Education has compiled a suggested reading list of children’s books about homelessness.  Books provide an avenue for discussing experiences.  These books are good for both children experiencing homelessness and children who have never experienced homelessness.

Below is the Institute for Humane Education’s list of recommended books for children about homelessness.  CLICK HERE to read more on the website of The Institute for Humane Education.

“Shoebox Sam” by Mary Brigid Barrett
2011. Grades 1–4. Delia and Jessie spend Saturdays with Shoebox Sam, who teaches them about making old shoes new again and helping those in need.
“The Lunch Thief” by Anne C. Bromley
2010. Grades 1-4.
Rafael notices the new kid stealing lunches (including his), and uses his mom’s advice to use his voice & not his fists to resolve the problem.
“December” by Eve Bunting
1997. Grades 1–4.
Simon and his mom live in the tiny cardboard house they’ve built for themselves. On Christmas Eve they don’t have much, but it’s more than the woman who comes knocking on their door has. Does their generosity bring them a miracle?
“Fly Away Home” by Eve Bunting
1991. Grades PreK–3. A young boy talks about his and his father’s lives living in an airport and has hope for himself when he sees a trapped bird find freedom.
“A Shelter in Our Care” by Monica Gunning
2004. Grades K–3.
Since moving to America from Jamaica after her father died, Zettie and her mom live in their car while they both go to school and plan for a real home.
“Sélavi: That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope” by Youme Landowne
2005. Grades 1–4.
Haitian street children band together and work to create a life for themselves.
“The Lady in the Box” by Ann McGovern
1997. Grades K–4.
When two siblings discover a homeless woman living in their neighborhood, they discover how easy it can be to make a difference in someone’s life.
“I Can Hear the Sun” by Patricia Polacco
1999. Grades 2–5.
A boy without a real home, Fondo feels lonely and unwanted. Then he meets Stephanie Michele, who takes care of the waterfowl at the pond and shares his sensitivity for nature. She teaches him how to help take care of the geese, especially one with special needs. When Fondo finds out he’s to be taken away, he looks to the geese for a miracle.
“The Can Man” by Laura E. Williams
2010. Grades 2–5.
Tim’s family doesn’t have a lot of money, but he really wants a skateboard for his birthday. When he sees Mr. Peters, “The Can Man,” who is homeless, collecting cans, Tim gets the idea to collect enough cans to pay for his skateboard, even though that means Mr. Peters gets less … it’s only until Tim’s birthday, after all. Tim really wants that skateboard, but a couple of encounters with Mr. Peters give him pause about what to do with the money he’s earned.

Please Treat People Who are Homeless with Dignity and Respect

dignity, homelessness

People who are experiencing homelessness are often treated with disrespect and disregard for their humanity.  It is vital to the preservation of basic human kindness and decency that we all treat each other with respect and compassion.  A recent incident in Sarasota, Florida serves as a good reminder that society still has a long way to go before perfecting the art of human interaction.  On July 18, 2015, Sarasota police officer Andrew Halpin booked Randy Miller, a man experiencing homelessness, into the Sarasota County jail on charges of trespassing.  Trespassing and vagrancy ordinances are unjust measures for punishing and criminalizing homelessness in the United States.  They are a poor excuse for justice (and very expensive for taxpayers), but this incident’s cruelty went beyond the type of charges filed against Miller.  Officer Halpin threw peanuts at Miller as if he was an animal, creating a dehumanizing and probably a very humiliating experience for Miller.

In an article published on July 28, 2015, reporter Lee Williams of the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported on the incident:

“…the video — which is being seen around the world — of a Sarasota Police officer tossing peanuts at homeless prisoner like an animal in a zoo…

As the homeless man was being booked into the Sarasota County jail, Halpin tossed peanuts into Randy Miller’s mouth, whom he had arrested for trespass.

Miller, intoxicated and handcuffed, was unable to catch them with his mouth. Several fell to the ground.

Minutes later, Miller slumped out of his seat and began eating the peanuts off the booking room floor. Halpin kicked them with his boot toward Miller so he could better reach them on the floor.

A source familiar with Miller’s July 18 arrest says Halpin was giving the homeless man “dog commands” during the incident.

Halpin was suspended after news of the story broke. The incident is being investigated by the department’s internal affairs unit.

Miller, meanwhile, was released from custody Tuesday morning, after spending 10 days in jail.”

CLICK HERE to read the Herald-Tribune’s full report.

This is an example of an unacceptable but not uncommon practice.  People who are experiencing homelessness are frequently treated as less than human and everyone in society is responsible for that fact.  We all need to do better.  People who are experiencing homelessness are PEOPLE first and foremost, their lack of housing, their appearance and hygiene, and their class cannot define them and should not affect how society treats them.

Homelessness and Incarceration

homelessness, mass incarceration

In the United States, ex-prisoners are more vulnerable to homelessness than those who have not been incarcerated.  According to a report published by the Vera Institute of Justice, 30-50% of all people under parole supervision in the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco are homeless.  The authors of the report, Nino Rodriguez and Brenner Brown, note that there are “…three main factors [that] contribute to and complicate homelessness among people leaving prison. First, ex-offenders face the same social and economic conditions that lead to homelessness among the general population. Ex- offenders returning to the community also confront barriers to housing associated with their criminal justice system involvement. Finally, there is a lack of ownership of the problem among government agencies and community organizations.” (The report can be found at: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/vera/209_407.pdf).

Ex-offenders, especially those with felony charges on their records, face barriers when trying to secure housing and employment.  BAN THE BOX is an organization campaigning to end employment discrimination against those who have been convicted or imprisoned by abolishing the box on employment applications that asks job seekers to disclose any past convictions.

In addition, according  to a report by the Wall Street Journal, most ex-convicts are STILL unable to live in public housing after their release from prison due to archaic rules established in the 1990s.  The War on Drugs gave birth to federal rules that do not allow former criminals with specific drug charges (for example producing methamphetamines) to reside in public housing.  Many local housing authorities and states impose additional restrictions on public housing applicants.  These rules lead to the exclusion of ex-prisoners from public housing.  For more on the relationship between mass incarceration and homelessness, check out Dr. Michelle Alexander’s exceptional book, The New Jim Crow (2012).

People who are experiencing homeless are more likely to be arrested or re-arrested.  In a 2002 ethnographic study of incarceration rates of homeless men in San Francisco and St. Louis, researcher Teresa Gowan found that: “…crimes of desperation, aggressive policing of status offenses, and the close proximity of many ex-cons created a strong likelihood of incarceration and re-incarceration. Conversely, for jail and prison inmates, time inside consistently eroded employability, family ties,and other defences against homelessness: several of the men had become homeless for the first time directly following release from a carceral establishment…each trajectory reinforced the other, creating a homelessness/incarceration cycle more powerful than the sum of its parts, a racialized exclusion/punishment nexus which germinates, isolates, and perpetuates lower-class male marginality.”

The link between incarceration and homelessness is troubling.  There are many government and non-government agencies and organizations working to assist ex-prisoners in securing housing, employment, and supportive services.  Project Greenlight in New York, COMPASS in Rhode Island, and Tennessee Bridges in Tennessee are three of the many organizations across the country trying to implement innovative approaches to decreasing homelessness for ex-prisoners.