Facts About Sheltered Homelessness in America
Last week, the National Alliance to End Homelessness (endhomelessness.org) released a brief titled Here are 10 New Facts About Sheltered Homelessness in America written by Liza Doran. The information is pulled from the latest AHAR (Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress). There’s a lot of good news in the report, including an overall decline (6.3% since 2007) in people using shelters across our country. However, we certainly still have much work to do and a long road ahead. To me, one of the most disturbing facts in the report is that “adults with disabilities were four times more likely to be homeless in shelter than adults without disabilities.” Let’s take a closer look.
At first glance, this fact sounds reassuring, right? People with disabilities are safer in shelters than on the streets. If you peel back the onion, though, your eyes will water. The disabilities people experiencing homelessness are dealing with are varied and complex, including significant mental illness (e.g. schizophrenia), major medical challenges (stroke, disabilities, terminal cancer), Alzheimer’s, and developmental delays, just to name a few. The sad reality is that our healthcare system, mainstream social services safety net, and personal support systems have failed these folks. They should have never ended up in an emergency shelter in the first place. Shelters aren’t assisted living facilities, rehabilitative club houses, or hospice providers. Shelters are short-term crisis interventions designed to get people back into their communities quickly and successfully. We have to insist that the appropriate help needed by all people with disabilities, in every community, is available to them whenever needed by providers most capable of helping them thrive. Safety nets, by their very design, aren’t meant to solve complex problems; therefore, we need to stop allowing the homeless services system to function as the safety valve for poor people with disabilities.
The vision of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte (MSC) is to be a catalyst for systemic change to end homelessness in our community. One way we carry out this vision is to advocate for those people experiencing homelessness who will be better served by providers, family, or other support systems more capable of meeting their needs, including needs associated with their disabilities. Our staff work to reunite families, build support systems, and divert people, including those with disabilities, from having to stay in our shelters. MSC firmly believes that shelter is more appropriate than the streets, and that most other forms of housing are more appropriate than being in shelter. We’ll continue to push for better outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens.