Campaign Targets Thousands of Homeless
New York, New Orleans part of program to house 100,000
Brownsville, Brooklyn occupies a dark, if not ruthless place in the imaginations of many thanks to a number of hardcore rappers and athletes who hail from there. Mike Tyson, Zab Judah, Riddick Bowe, most of the Boot Camp Clik and the Mash Out Posse all call the public-housing-inundated neighborhood home.
There are also thousands of Brownsville locals who have no place to call home. According to recent Census data, it’s one of the largest communities in the nation for not just individuals but whole families who are homeless. Due to it's disproportionate rates, the majority African-American neighborhood has been the target of Community Solutions, a homeless prevention organization. The revitalization of Brownsville is largely due to the pioneering of Brownsville community groups, who enlisted the help of Community Solutions making the tiny square mile hood a bright spot in the ongoing fight against homelessness.
A little over a year ago, Community Solutions launched the 100,000 Homes Campaign, which as its name implies, seeks to place 100,000 people in housing by July 2013. Their method is to not just randomly house any person deemed homeless -- a lot of people are only recently out on the streets due to the recession and the foreclosure crisis. Instead, 100,000 Homes’ strategy is aimed at the most vulnerable -- people who’ve been homeless for years; people on the verge of dying.
To help determine who exactly are the most vulnerable -- the people with the least financial, social and health security in the streets -- local groups across the nation were recruited to conduct surveys with homeless people. In the surveys, individuals were asked questions like how long have they been living on the streets, what health problems have they had, how many times had they been to the emergency room, and had they been imprisoned.
The answers from these surveys, including demographic data, were gathered not only for aggregation, but also to create composites of what homelessness looks like not only nationally, but in dozens of major cities and neighborhoods.
In their one-year report, released in July, the statistics showed grim conditions among the homeless.
A quick glimpse of what was learned from 18,778 homeless people interviewed:
• Of those surveyed, the average number of years homeless is 4.75; for vulnerable individuals, 5.71 years;
• 2,760, or 14.7% of the homeless surveyed are veterans;
• 45% of those surveyed suffer a mental illness and 57.4% suffer from substance abuse; meanwhile, 32.1% suffer from both;
• Two-thirds had been in jail before;
• Almost 30% had been the victim of a violent attack; though almost 40% had no health insurance.
A large number of those surveyed were African Americans. Though, only 13% of the general population, people identifying themselves as black in the interviews made up roughly 43% of the homeless, and over 41% of the vulnerable homeless. Comparatively, white people made up about 31% of the homeless and 37% of the vulnerable.
The number of people who face homelessness annually fluctuates but according to the National Coalition for the Homeless it is 3.5 million. In a 2006 survey of 25 cities, black people were found the racial majority among the homeless, with a total of 42%, compared with 38% for whites and 20% for Hispanics.
Despite those poor statistics, though, there is ample evidence that community mobilization is making a difference in helping people not only get out of street-living status, but stay out. Through the efforts of thousands of community groups, and the assistance of Community Solutions, 10,658 people have been moved into housing in 91 communities over the last year.
One city leading the way is New Orleans, which was devastated six years ago by a faulty levee system breached by the storm surges from Hurricane Katrina. In January 2007, five months after Katrina swept through, over 11,200 people were counted as homeless.
As of this February, 9,125 were counted homeless -- a remarkable improvement, but still showing that there is a long way to go. However, among the cities involved in the 100,000 Homes network, New Orleans was the leading city in terms of the rate of people housed. Through the work of the non-profit UNITY of Greater New Orleans they were able to house 62.4 people monthly.
They are followed by Washington D.C., which housed 38.8 people monthly, and San Francisco at 29 people.
“We treat homelessness as the emergency it is," says UNITY’s executive director Martha Kegel. "The fact that most of our homeless residents here were stably housed before the levee failures destroyed the social safety net six years ago makes us determined to work together as a community to restore everyone to safe and decent housing as quickly as possible. But that principle should be adopted everywhere. Homelessness needs to be understood as an emergency everywhere. Research shows homelessness leads to high rates of mortality so it is important everywhere to act quickly and boldly and to prioritize those with the greatest need for housing.”
Above is a screenshot of a map where you can see where the 100,000 Homes campaign is making impact. Go here to see what community organizations are driving efforts to end homeless nearest you.