A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed article by Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., former chairman and CEO of IBM, provided some statistics about the cost of homelessness. An annual cost of $1.2 billion in New York City to run its shelter system. A staggering cost.
A significant problem, however, is that governments assume that providing housing alone will solve the problem of homelessness, and that it can be done fairly quickly: the more quickly a homeless family can be placed into housing, the better. But housing alone does not solve homelessness. Providing support so that the family will no longer need services is the only real long-term solution.
So, Gerstner focuses on the prevention of homelessness . . . which is exactly what we do at Family Promise. Prevention is our principal focus. Some families live in apartments in our New Leaf Program, but we also invest in families who are housed and we work to keep them housed. It is far less costly to support a housed family and keep them from becoming homeless than it is to find housing for a family who has slipped into homelessness.
We also know that, in order to keep a family housed, there is more to it than simply paying the rent and utility bills. There is no short-term option in most cases—we have to look long-term. And, to do that, we need to work with the family to understand why they are on the brink of homelessness.
With any family, there are myriad reasons that must be addressed. Every family is unique, but there are some similar situations that are often at the root of becoming homeless: loss of a job; lack of job skills; generational poverty; trauma; mental health. Unless these are identified and addressed, a family may be destined to a life of struggling to maintain stable housing.
Providing short-term financial resources to address the issues leading to homelessness is far more effective. So, Family Promise will subsidize a family who suffered a loss of their job for a few months and help pay the rent so they can stay in their current apartment. But we also provide support while the parent gets job training so that their next job will pay a living wage. Targeted, proactive support can lead to the necessary long-term changes for a family.
This calls for a creative, individualized approach, with deep involvement of professional case managers and active commitment of the family. Many government and other programs are time-limited, but we have found that each case is unique and, accordingly, we work closely with the family to identify their specific goals, and then develop a program to provide the appropriate assistance. In some cases, this could take months—in others, up to a couple years. We also provide ongoing case management assistance after they have completed their involvement in our programs. Our programs evolve and expand as needed, as we saw most recently as we experienced COVID.
Now that the eviction moratorium has ended and much of the financial assistance from the government has been expended, many families are finding themselves struggling yet again. Why? Because the focus was simply to keep people housed, and not to address the underlying issues that could ultimately lead to evictions and foreclosures.
This is why our programs are designed to help families achieve predetermined goals, and not to simply find a place for families to stay. We are outcome-focused, and that focus is self-sufficiency for each family. As a result of this long-term, holistic vision, we have helped thousands over the years. We will continue to do so.
Paul R. Shackford
Board of Trustees