Homelessness is reaching records highs throughout the country. The reason for the drastic rise of homelessness in New York City in recent years is because the Advantage Program was cut in 2011, without any additional government programming to replace it.
According to the Coalition for the Homeless, 12,000 additional people have became homeless each year as a result of the loss of that program.
As an advocate for the homeless, I have encountered many well-meaning people who are perpetuating the “myths of homelessness.”
They include that people choose to be homeless, the homeless are criminals and a danger to society, the presence of homeless shelters in neighborhoods will drive down property values, the homeless just need to get a job, and the homeless are all mentally ill or addicts.
The facts prove otherwise.
Domestic violence and poverty are the leading causes of homelessness in New York City. The faces of the homeless have changed dramatically from the predominately single-white males of the 1970's.
Currently, the homeless shelter system is comprised of 70 percent families, 40 percent of which are children.
According to a report by the Urban Institute, 45 percent of the homeless in America have a job, but too many jobs in this country no longer provide livable wages.
“No one chooses to be homeless,” says Geri Gromwaldt, an elderly friend who was homeless in Middle Village for three years.
I credit the Community Board 5 of Queens for giving me the idea for the YouCaring Fundraiser I started for Geri to help her get back on her feet. Thousands of dollars were raised for Geri in just one month.
This is a testimony to the great acts we can accomplish when we rally together as a community. The community made a difference in Geri Gromwaldt's life.
A proven method to end homelessness is “Housing First,” a model that has been used to greatly reduce homelessness in Canada and Finland. Over 50 communities in the United States have ended veteran homelessness using this method.
Housing First provides the homeless with homes, then gives them the supportive services they need, such as medication, therapy, and job training.
This month, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi's Home Stability Support (HSS) bill will be voted on by the Senate. This is the first comprehensive plan developed to prevent homelessness by keeping people on the brink of homelessness in their homes.
It saves the government 30 percent of what it already spends on services for the homeless, savings that can be used to reduce the existing crisis. Letting your elected officials know that you support this bill is critical to reducing the rise of homelessness.
Every problem has a solution, and homelessness is a solvable problem. Ignoring problems does not make them go away. Solutions are found by learning the facts and altering our thinking.
Even more importantly, solving homelessness begins from the heart by caring for “our invisible neighbors.”
Crystal Wolfe is founder of Catering for the Homeless and author of Our Invisible Neighbors: Accounts, Causes, and Solutions to Homelessness in the 21st Century.