Ted Yoho: On homelessness, Washington doesn’t know best
The Sun’s June 29 editorial mischaracterized a letter sent to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. The letter does not call for an end to the Housing First approach. Instead, it urges the secretary to consider the impacts of this approach on very vulnerable populations— families and children — and how other approaches can work to help individuals and families overcome poverty and homelessness.
It is asking Secretary Carson to acknowledge that families in particular need services to include treatment, education, employment and child care if they are to permanently escape homelessness. This is a holistic approach for homelessness. One size does not fit all.
Despite the claims, no evidence exists that demonstrates Housing First is responsible for the declines in homelessness counts in Gainesville or the nation. Correlation is not causation. Homelessness-count changes are more likely attributable to the considerable influx of money and attention to veteran and chronic homelessness initiatives.
Moreover, count changes can also be likely attributed to the narrow federal definition of chronic homelessness that fails to include families and youth staying temporarily in motels, or with other people — on couches, on floors, in garages.
To address how “declines” are determined, understand that the annual point in time count is a weak and famously inaccurate means of documenting the homeless population. It fails to include the vast majority of families, women, youth, and children.
Other agencies do a much better job of tracking those experiencing homelessness. In fact, according to data from Alachua and Duval county schools, homeless children and youth have increased since 2014 by about 20 percent.
These data can be used as a proxy for homeless families. Therefore, any decreases in chronic and veteran homelessness counts simply show the preference that Housing First has for adults at the expense of female-headed households and children.
The editorial weighs current progress for chronic homeless adults against losses for children and families. This kind of “either or” thinking is absurd, and demonstrates why the letter is supported by 23 members of the House of Representatives. Maintaining the exclusivity of the Housing First approach keeps the focus “downstream” — on adults that will continue to be dependent on the taxpayers for potentially the rest of their lives.
Our goal is urge Secretary Carson to focus not only on chronically homeless adults, many who have spent years on the street, but on still intact families with children who, without housing and interventions, are most likely to become the next generation of homeless adults.
Proponents of Housing First often present homelessness approaches as this type of false choice between children and adults. But we know that this issue is about more than housing: It is about what it takes to end poverty and dependency for everyone. This cannot be achieved with a top-down Washington-knows-best approach that coldly pushes families and children into homelessness while providing permanent “no-strings attached” housing to adults.
The editors understand that the current changes in the number of people living on the streets are temporary. They applaud that many ”...didn’t return to homelessness for at least a year.” We can and must do better. A one-year reprieve from homelessness is not a solution.
One tried and true method directly attacks homelessness — and the poverty to which it is inextricably connected — through education and workforce training. The large majority of homeless people are able to develop job skills, obtain work and pay for their own housing. But many often need an array of services to be able to do so, including substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and child care.
No barriers should exist that prevent homeless kids from the No. 1 means of increasing incomes: access to education. Both education and workforce training, however, are dependent on healthy and stable places to live. Let’s get Washington, D.C., out of the way, and make room for programs that do just that.
— U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho is a Republican representing Gainesville and other parts of Florida’s Third Congressional District.