Who gets stuck in shelter? How many are chronically homeless? Are all the same people using all the same shelter beds? Is shelter becoming housing? These are just some of the questions that come up in discussions of refinishing our homelessness and shelter services. The current goal in London is to move emergency shelters back to being just emergency shelters, not a replacement for affordable housing. However, to manage this, we need to know something about those who are using these shelters.
This article by Aubry, Farrell, Hwang and Calhoun starts to unpack those numbers, particularly in finding three clusters of shelter use: 1) Temporary (few, short stays); 2) Episodic (many, short stays); 3) Long-stay (few, long stays). At first blush, the numbers demonstrate what we have long known, that homelessness for most is a temporary situation – with those in the temporary shelter stay cluster accounting for 88-94%. However, this is a representation of total shelter users over time. A snapshot of a shelter at a moment in time shows that between 25-40% of current residents are in the Long-stay cluster.
So, although the temporary group represents that most individuals who will have any shelter use, the episodic and long-stay groups will occupy far more of the beds on any given night. This leads us to consider how best to free up shelter beds?
I would predict that those in the long-stay group are the same individuals identified as needing more support in our work on medical respite: those with the most complex health and social challenges, namely concurrent addictions and mental health challenges. These individuals require the most supports to be successfully housed, and therefore are more likely to be ‘stuck’ in shelters. Putting the pressure solely on shelters to move these people out negates that wrap-around supports that are required.
I would predict that those in the long stay group would not be “stuck” in shelters if living in the community was more attractive then in emergency shelters. I feel those with the most complex health and social challenges would be living on the street and staying in places that offer crash beds and not spending much time in the emergency shelter system. The solution in London appears to be to give people who need supports to maintain housing top priority and the nicest apartments. This type of approach justifies the existence of housing stability workers but does little to house long-stay emergency shelter residents who do not require any support to maintain housing. In my opinion people who require supports to maintain housing would have the most trouble maintaining their housing. The fact is a small percentage of people actually require support to maintain housing and for people who do require support it is very minimal. I look forward to the day when all homeless are treated equal and given the opportunity for housing regardless of whether or not they have put strain on the health and justice systems or require supports.
Great points Len. So for those who are not facing sufficient difficulties to qualify for housing stability with London CAReS, but who are staying frequently in shelter, what do you see as the support they need to have their own place?
For those not facing sufficient difficulties to qualify for housing stability with London CAReS, but are staying frequently in shelter, the supports I see that is needed to have their own place would be rent al assistance primarily. If the homeless were offered the opportunity to rent market rent apartments there is no doubt in my mind the shelters would empty out. Secondly, I think would be food security. When low income people are renting accommodation in the community they would not be eating nearly as well as those in shelter. If shelters were able to offer more community meals then people could still get adequate food while living in the community. Third, would be drop in centres. Often times especially on the weekend nights there is nowhere for people to go and socialize. I think the majority of people staying frequently in shelter have the ability to live on their own but realize that they are not better off renting in the community because the value is just not there on a social assistance income..
The points Len Stirling made are vary valid.One of the problems is the also the supports of other systems around people that are abandoning their responsibiity due to cost pressure.One such system is WSIB that for long term injuries isn’t giving adequate compensation for people and subsequently downloads these people to any other gov. program out there. In doing this they are violating their duty and creating a crisis. This then has the effect of shifting this cost to taxpayers-remember WSIB is not taxpayer supported at all.The effect is injured workers who fall often suffer financially way beyond what they were compensated for and may end up in this shelter system denied the support they rightly deserve and then they in fact may become long-term users of the systems with the byproduct of them losing thier family, friends dignity,health etc.How many become subtance abusers as pressure becomes abusive to the well being as these people are treated almost as criminals for work place injuries they have attained?This victimization must end!Often the injury is first, then abandonement by WSIB and at some point losing their job as the company finds this cost effective to do.This itself is a vioalation of the law as injured workers aren’t to be fired for the injury but the stats. show they are . Once fired a dreadfull picture is painted.Workers who are disabled then must compete in a very tight job market with the huge weight of the injury attached to them.This can make finding work almost impossible.When and if they do it’s often more of a dead end position with little pay.The desease of poverty does impact the shelters and is often ignored as the Canadian and world economies shift more and more to a slave economy based on disposaoble factores of production, namely the worker. This eternalization of costs is must become unacceptable.This long term trend speaks to the very survival of the economic system and democracy, as revolution becomes more of a reality and acceptable alternative to look for a solution from as history often shows.The reality of income inequality must be addressed for any meaningful reduction in shelter use.Those providing supports form the shelter system often benefit as these cases become a permanent income stream to them.The services are a distotion of a economy we must build to benefit all.Do the workers themselves become a barrier to the changes needed in the society as a whole as they are diconnected from the economy others operate under?To this i would say yes.