Last month, [Utah] officials announced that they had reduced by 91% the ranks of the chronically homeless — defined as someone who has spent at least one year full-time on the streets — and are now approaching ‘functional zero.’
“In 2005, when state officials began placing people in permanent housing, they counted 1,932 chronically homeless. Today, with 1,764 people housed, that number has plummeted to just 178 statewide. And officials have their sights set on those remaining.”
— from a Los Angeles Times report by John Glionni
Utah officials have done something imaginative, innovative and, above all compassionate, in dealing with the poor.
By contrast, leaders in Kansas have done something harsh, if not cruel — and ultimately counter-productive — in dealing with the state’s welfare recipients.
Utah officials evaluated the problem of chronic homelessness and solved the problem in a way that is [please take note, fellow fiscal conservatives!] not only fiscally responsible in that it’s saving taxpayers significant money, but also in a way that brings healing relief to those that Jesus described as “the least among us.”
[Identifying a problem and coming up with bold, imaginative, cost-effective solutions seems to be a concept now lost on most leaders in government, business, religion and every other field, but that’s a whole other enchilada of a commentary.]
What follows is an excerpt from a Los Angeles Times article about Utah’s radical but effective “Housing First” policy:
Terry Birch recalls walking cautiously into the tiny one-bedroom apartment seven months ago, like a cat exploring a box, or something wild fearful of a trap.
After two decades on the streets, he finally had a real roof over his head, a home to call his own. It was clean, private and safe, but also scary and confusing.
“I couldn’t get used to the four walls. It felt like they were closing in on me,” he said, sitting in the living room of unit No. 2 at the Metro Apartments. “On the streets, I had no responsibility, other than keeping myself clean.”
He paused, surveying his surroundings: “And then this.”
This is “Housing First,” a novel effort by Utah to attack an intractable social ill. The state provides apartments to the chronically homeless and worries about addressing the underlying causes, such as drug abuse, later. By allowing bodies to rest and heal, housing officials say, emotional health will probably follow.
Last month, officials announced that they had reduced by 91% the ranks of the chronically homeless — defined as someone who has spent at least one year full-time on the streets — and are now approaching “functional zero.”
In 2005, when state officials began placing people in permanent housing, they counted 1,932 chronically homeless. Today, with 1,764 people housed, that number has plummeted to just 178 statewide. And officials have their sights set on those remaining.
“We know these individuals by name, know their situation,” said Gordon Walker, director of the state Housing and Community Development Division. “And we can help them move out of chronic homelessness, if they choose.”
The program contrasts with approaches elsewhere. Police in Tampa, Fla., for example, arrest those caught sleeping or storing property in public. Philadelphia bans the feeding of homeless in city parks. A study by UC Berkeley Law students found that California has more anti-homeless laws on average than other states, punitive local ordinances targeting the homeless for standing, sitting or resting in public.
But not Utah.
“People once had to change their lives to become housed,” Walker said. “Now we give them housing first so they can make changes if they want to.”
Studies showed that Utah’s chronically homeless — while a fraction of an overall homeless population of 14,000 — used 60% of the services for those living on the streets.
The cost of providing an apartment and social work for clients in the Housing First program is $11,000 annually, while the average price of hospital visits and jail for street denizens is nearly $17,000 a year.
In Housing First, clients pay $50 a month or 30% of their income, whichever is more. Said Walker: “It’s not just more compassionate — it’s cheaper.”
Click here to read the whole enchilada and learn why it’s attracting so much attention in and being tried in other parts of the country, including — happy to say — Dallas, Texas.
And meanwhile, back in the confusing state of Kansas . . .
State lawmakers recently voted to limit how much cash that welfare beneficiaries can receive in ATM withdrawals, which has the effect of reducing their overall benefits.
Why they bothered to take such a back-door approach to slashing benefits is beyond reason, but nobody has accused Kansas’ infamous Gov. Brownback and the state’s majority of lawmakers of being reasonable or imaginative in solving problems, much less anything like compassionate.
Specifically, the Kansas legislature placed a daily cap of $25 on cash withdrawals beginning July 1, which will force beneficiaries to make more frequent trips to the ATM to withdraw money from the debit cards used to pay public assistance benefits.
Every withdrawal comes with a fee, of course, so it’s a sure thing the banks signed off on it (or maybe they came up with the idea, since Big Banks and Big Business now lord over most leaders in public offices). Since there’s a fee for every withdrawal, the welfare recipients end up with significantly less cash in a month, while the banks — especially some the Big American Banks recently indicted for literally acting in criminal collusion with each one another like drug cartels — make out like the bandits that they are.
The Washington Post notes that “since most banking machines are stocked only with $20 bills, the $25 limit is effectively a $20 limit. A family seeking to withdraw even $200 in cash would have to visit an ATM 10 times a month, a real burden for a parent who might not have a car and might not live in a neighborhood where ATMs are easy to find.”
All this reduction in benefits can cut into something like, you know — rent payments for the poor and the working poor who already are on the brink of being homeless or one check away from the proverbial poorhouse.
Oh well, maybe the reasoning is to push them over to Utah where they have at least a chance of being treated with some measure of healing compassion.
Whatever the reasoning, it’s going to end up costing Kansas taxpayers more money eventually by increasing homelessness and punishing the least among us.
Give the king thy justice, O God,
and thy righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge thy people with righteousness,
and thy poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor! . . .
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth!