Utah has come up with a reasonable way to solve homelessness. They give away homes. While other states continue to criminalize homelessness, Utah has taken a novel approach and has seen its homeless numbers go down while economic savings to the state have risen.
Tom Bower, a Hawaii State representative, made a name for himself walking around the streets of Waikiki armed with a sledgehammer. Using it to destroy the shopping carts used by homeless people, he says he was “disgusted” by the city’s homeless problem. Bower did not stop there. If he came across a homeless person sleeping at a bus stop, he would wake them up.
While Bower’s strategy is over the top, his frustration with the homeless issue is just one example of the frustration that has led cities throughout America to deal with the homeless problem. Most cities are turning to the idea of criminalizing homelessness. Columbia, South Carolina has passed an ordinance that gives homeless people the choice between getting arrested or getting a bus ticket to, well, anywhere.
While Utah is solving its homeless problem by giving homes to the homeless, other cities are passing laws restricting what can and cannot be done to help the homeless.
Tampa, Florida, which led the country in homeless rates for mid-sized cities, passed a city ordinance calling for the police to arrest anyone they saw sleeping in public or storing personal property in public. Tampa followed that up with an ordinance forbidding panhandling downtown and other locations throughout the city.
Philadelphia instituted a law banning the feeding of homeless people on city property such as parks. Social justice groups, which objected to the ban, have continued the practice anyway.
Raleigh, North Carolina also took the steps of outlawing the feeding of homeless people in city parks and on city property. Religious leaders of the city have announced that they will risk arrest rather than stop the regular feedings.
Utah is going against the tide. In eight years, Utah has reduced homelessness by 78 percent and is on an arc to eliminating homelessness within the state by 2015. Utah has accomplished this by doing the obvious, giving homeless people homes.
In 2005, Utah did the math and determined that the yearly costs of emergency room visits and jail for homeless people was $16,670 per person. The cost of providing each homeless person with an apartment and social work came to $11,000. So, with no strings attached, the state started giving away apartments.
The program, Housing First, also provides a caseworker to each homeless person to aid them in becoming self sufficient. The program has become so successful that other states are looking for similar results by starting programs modeled after Utah’s.
An estimated 100 million people are homeless worldwide. In Western countries, the majority are men. Modern homelessness in America began as a result of economic struggles in society and the reduction of affordable housing. In the 1970s, in the United States, the deinstitutionalisaztion of patients from state mental health facilities was a large factor in increasing the homeless population. In the mid 1980s, an increase in family homelessness began, which continues to grow.
Homes Not Handcuffs, a 2009 report from The National Law Center on Homelessness, used a 2004 survey to conclude that permanent housing for the homeless is less expensive than criminalization. The approach, endorsed by The National Coalition for the Homeless, feels that providing housing is not only more humane it is economical.
With more states finding themselves in a budget crunch, Utah’s approach may become a trendsetter as other jurisdictions work to solve homelessness by giving away homes.
By Jerry Nelson