Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Least Of These: Redux

Back in February, I posted on a pilot project which dealt with the chronic homeless, the people who are not only unemployed and destitute, but also suffering with physical and mental illnesses which are not being consistently treated. The post was based on a column written for the Los Angeles Times by Steve Lopez.

Mr. Lopez has written another column on this issue, only this time he is part of the story. He had been invited to speak before a Congressional Committee about the chronic homeless and the programs which have developed to take care of them. He led off the testimony and then deferred to those who run such programs which include "permanent supportive housing". All of the speakers came to the hearing to push for increased federal funding.

The homeless population is growing across the country because of the recession and returning veterans who are physically and mentally wounded. It's not that we don't know how to help them rebuild their lives, I tell my audience, but that we haven't provided nearly enough support for alternative courts and for programs like Lamp.

And so vets sleep in Santa Monica parks, not far from abandoned VA barracks; L.A. County Jail serves as a mental institution; and there's a waiting list at Lamp and other agencies with good track records but limited funds. ...

Deborah DeSantis, chief executive of the Corp. for Supportive Housing, lists a number of cities that have reduced homeless populations and asks congressional staffers to go back to their bosses and tell them how it was done.

"Study after study shows we're going to save money by putting people into permanent supportive housing," she says.

DeSantis and other speakers have a specific request: They want a budget allocation of $2.2 billion this year in the Housing and Urban Development Department's McKinney-Vento grants. That would be an increase of about $500 million over this year's funding, and it would pay for 15,000 new supportive housing units.

They also are arguing for $120 million to support programs that help keep formerly homeless people from ending up back on the pavement.

Those studies have indeed shown that the programs actually save local governments money. Spending for emergency rooms and county hospitals clogged with patients whose diabetes has spiralled out of control, or jails filled with a staggering number of inmates whose only crimes are a combination of homelessness and a psychotic break or drug induced rage is much, much higher than it would be if the chronic homeless had permanent supportive housing in which their conditions could be monitored and treated.

Yes, these groups are asking for a lot of money, but in the general scheme of things (i.e. very recent history), it really isn't that much.

Sister Mary Scullion of Philadelphia is convinced beyond a doubt that with a combination of public investment and private support, investing in permanent supportive housing is humane and cost-effective. ...

If Congress can find $80 billion to bail out the inept insurance giant AIG, she says, surely it can come up with $2.2 billion for supportive housing. As for the request for $120 million in support services, Scullion adds, that was roughly what AIG paid in executive bonuses.

It's all a matter of priorities. That, and doing the right thing, the just thing.

Oh, and Mr. Lopez: you needn't be embarrassed by being part of the story you were covering. You did the right thing.

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Blogger PurpleGirl said...

Yes, the heart of the matter isn't the money, it's the will (social and political) to aid our fellow people and to make that aid long-term if necessary.

10:28 PM  

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