Homeless Prevention

New York City has long had a homeless prevention program, enabling people who are about to be homeless to reach out and receive assistance, perhaps legal advice, cash assistance or housing referrals. It is not perfect, but it exists. The program has even shown that helping people before they become homeless is more effective and costs less. Several cities and states have homelessness prevention programs too. According to Google so does Los Angeles, but that’s not quite so. In one of the largest homeless population in the US, homeless prevention is scant, and an op-ed by Adam Murray, executive director of Inner City Law Center, calls for shifting our focus from helping the homeless to preventing homelessness. Preventing homelessness is not a small problem, since affordable housing is in great demand in many cities, and is it not an issue that can be solved by a mere legislative vote or a mere stroke of a governor’s pen. Taking Los Angeles as an example, the need for affordable housing just to meet current need is said to be 549,197 units. To have an idea how big that number is and how large the problem is, Murray tells us we can think of the number of seats in several large arenas such as Madison square Garden, and the total would still be only a fraction of the needed units. When one factors in the other cities which need affordable housing, the idea of prevention acquires even more importance. In Los Angeles County, as elsewhere, there are certain groups which feed those who are or will be homeless: foster youths no longer eligible for the foster care program, (statistics show that 50% of those leaving the program will be homeless within 6 months); nationally, former foster youths are 30% of the homeless; and those discharged from prisons. Each group speaks for how a little effort and a little planning could prevent much homelessness. There are also, says Murray, people who need help fighting illegal evictions, assistance in paying rents, in finding jobs accessing healthcare, finding child care, groups where prevention can also make a big difference. What I find particularly relevant with the notion of including prevention is that with homelessness as with most other problems, prevention is a way to lessen how big a given problem will be. We are learning this about several health care issues, and we need to particularly apply it to homelessness.