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What matters to me is, As humans, our innate ability and I think birth-right is to feel peace and contentment, and whatever that may mean for us in different personalities we may have, the different paths we may take – I want to be able to help others find that place and in my experience, that stability and safety of housing is just really a key component in helping someone to be able to find that place in their own lives. As difficult as it may be even with housing, but without it it’s just so difficult I think. That’s kind of what makes me tick, is I really want to support other peoples growth but also just that ability to be content with life and being peaceful. So housing really grabbed me, homeless services really grabbed me because it was a way to really connect with people and be able to support that evolution in others and in myself. That’s kind of what brought me to this work. -Anthony Haro
THE ABSOLUTE POTENTIAL OF ERADICATING HOMELESSNESS
I really feel, in Charlottesville, we have the right pieces in place, the right resources to actually get ahead of this issue of homelessness, in a meaningful way. It’s difficult when you say, “ending homelessness”, because i think it’s hard for people to relate to what that means, but when we qualify it i think it’s actually very very realistic. I know it’s possible. Moving here about two years ago to work in homeless services, i was really excited about the prospect because it’s really possible for places like Charlottesville. Bigger cities are having a huge issue with homelessness as you’ve probably seen with the news, but i think it’s really possible in places like charlottesville, to really get ahead of the issue. And so that’s exciting, we can totally do it.
THE FIRST STEPS
Anthony Haro: Housing is a human right, I believe.
Jerry Miller: Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. right – safety and security. Having a roof over your head is paramount to you having success in quality of life.
Anthony Haro: The funny thing is that, unfortunately, there still is a pervading idea around homelessness, it’s a stigma, that it’s someone’s fault because of the choices that they’ve made in their lives, and you know, outside of that issue it’s just so hard to get other things going if you don’t have a safe place to sleep at night, if you don’t have a way to take a shower. And you know, we expect people to really make these sweeping changes in their lives when it’s difficult to do that when you already have a place to stay, but if you don’t, it’s just stacked against you in a way that’s just not tenable, i think, for most people. So that idea of people really needing to change or make changes to get out of homelessness, and then earn or deserve housing, is just a flawed way of thinking. Everyone deserves housing, regardless. And the research shows that actually when you do that, it’s called “housing first” – treatment, recover, employment, all those things work so much better if someone has a place to stay at night. And they work a lot less well if you don’t have a place to sleep at night. So. . . The research shows it’s the right way to go too.
THE STIGMAS FACING HOMELESSNESS
I think some of the stigmas are: “homeless people are lazy”; “[they] don’t want to get a job”; “they could just get a job and end their own homelessness”. There’s a huge stigma about substance use, about mental illness. Those are probably the biggest ones, right. Lack of interest in maybe finding work. Just, you know, “people just need to get clean”. “Stop using drugs”. Or “start taking medication”. Those are probably the biggest ones that we see, and so the reality is something obviously more complicated, and i think the best way to explain it is: something that’s really interesting I’ve found, doing this work, is that most people who experience homelessness, you’d never really even know. The data shows around 70% of people who fall into homelessness experience homelessness for less than about 2 weeks. They might stay in a shelter for a few nights but then with their own resources, with their own social networks they get out of it. They get back into housing. And that’s great. We want to empower people to be able to do that as much as we can. So the interesting thing is that homelessness is a lot larger than anybody probably ever thinks about. And what people usually do think about when it comes to homelessness is what they see on the downtown mall, maybe on the corner near UVA – and that’s largely what we consider to be chronic homelessness. These are folks who have disabling conditions and have been homeless for a long time. Long periods of homelessness. Sometimes ten or more years on the streets, and so because folks who are chronically homeless have these complicated health issues, and have such a long history of homelessness, a lot of times they don’t use shelters. and so they’re out in the public, they don’t have a place to go during the day because they don’t have a home, and so it’s visible, and that’s what people associate with homelessness as a whole, but really that’s only a relatively small portion of the homeless population. And so that’s why sometimes the stigmas get attached to the whole community, because it’s the most visible part of the community. For people who are chronically homeless – mental illness and substance abuse are prevalent. They are. But again, that’s just a subset of the homeless population. The chronically homeless folks do represent some of the most vulnerable people in our community though. And at TJACH, one of our focuses is on ending chronic homelessness because those folks are at the highest risk of dying on the streets. But those are some of the stigmas and that’s kind of, i think, why those stigmas exist, is because it’s the most visible part of homelessness. but most people, you’d never even know.
THE MEANS OF RESOLVING HOMELESSNESS
A lot of times, communities get caught up with wanting to address homelessness but they try to address those kind of stigmas. So, for instance, we see a community might say: “oh there’s a lot for people homeless, panhandling on the downtown mall or wherever it may be, “let’s get some job programs for them”, right. Or “let’s do more outreach and try to get mental health services for them”. Those are all really important steps, I’m not saying they’re not important, they are absolutely vital to the pictures, BUT they are an indirect way of getting to the issue. If someone’s experiencing homelessness, that’s a housing issue, and that’s where we should as a community address the issue first. Not some of the symptoms of homelessness. So that’s a common fallacy that we see a lot, and i think it perpetuates the stigma as well. Where if we were just to provide supportive housing upfront for folks on the streets, and then those wrap around services in housing – that’s the most successful way it’s been proven through data time and time again. It’s not a mystery how to end homelessness. It’s just sometimes a mystery of how to get the resources together 💰 to actually provide those resources 🏘️ to the scale that we need. But it is not a mystery how to end homelessness, and it’s through housing first programs. Sometimes the stigmas make their way into what people think is the best way to address the problem, and it’s not the full picture if you don’t think about housing. The other side of it too is that there are far more people in housing who have substance use issues than who are not in housing. There are far more people in housing who have mental health issues than who are not in housing. And there are far more people in housing who are living in poverty, than who are not. So homelessness is not these things – these are not symptoms. Homelessness is a lack of housing.
FIRST TIME HOMELESSNESS. AND THE PANHANDLING PHENOMENA
About 70% of people who fall into homelessness over a year, spend less than about 2 weeks homeless. The other interesting thing too, is that almost the same percentage of folks (approximately 66%) of people who fall into homelessness use a homeless service resource, a shelter or something like that – that is their first time experiencing homelessness in our community. Now we can’t verify if maybe they’ve fallen into homelessness elsewhere, but that’s the first time that they’ve used one of our resources, and we know that because we keep data; data is super important to the work that we do. Which I think also goes against sometimes the perception of homelessness. “The same people (end up homeless), time and time again” – that’s not true for the majority of folks who are homeless. And so, not to look at the visible part and think that that’s homelessness overall – yes it’s not. I think the other important hing to just realize is that everyone just needs a safe place to call home and so people panhandling – that’s a tricky issue, it’s complicated. We’ve done some research on it. We need to do more honestly. But the research that we’ve done so far kind of shows that about half of the people who are panhandling in our community are truly literally homeless, meaning like living outside in a tent or living in a shelter, but let me make it clear: no one who’s panhandling in our community is doing well. They’re panhandling because they’re trying to meet basic needs. Many people who panhandle use the money to sleep in a hotel that night, and if they didn’t have that money from panhandling they’d probably be outside. But about half of the people are literally homeless what we’ve found, in going out and talking to folks. So panhandling’s a tricky issue, but again, let me be clear, there’s no one doing well with panhandling. And i see that idea come up time and time again – that there’s an organized ring of panhandlers that are pooling their money and making money somehow, a lot of money – and that’s just not what we found true.
UPLIFTING THE FACE OF HOMELESSNESS THROUGH DATA AND STATISTICS
One thing we’ve not done a great job with at TJACH is being more public about our data about homeless services. Great students are working with us to actually start pushing to our website more and more statistics about homelessness, how we are doing as a community, number of folks that were able to move into housing that month, for instance. We want to be more public with this information. So that’s coming – full transparency. Our plan is to be much more transparent.