The city has $30 million to spend on homeless services and it’s having the service agencies compete for shares of the money based on a list of criteria. The criteria are called outcomes-based.
Various outcomes they say they are looking for social services agencies to bring about: getting homeless people into housing, getting them housing sooner rather than later, arranging that they stay in housing for long times rather than short times, or don’t ever become homeless again.
The language has me confused. I’m sure it’s just me. I don’t understand plain governmentese.
Let’s say I’m a social service agency. For the record, I’m not, just so we’re all clear on that. But suppose I were one. I would be Bob and Andy’s Shelter Emporium. I like that because the acronym is BASE, which is how I’m described sometimes. Let’s say I’ve been running BASE for a few years. Bob and Andy don’t exist, I just use their names to sound folksy.
Anyway, why does my shelter exist? It exists because there are homeless people all around, and they need places indoors to sleep. Now the city says I’m doing a good job of providing these homeless people places indoors if I’m getting them into permanent housing.
When did I become a real estate agency? I specifically said my hypothetical was that of a shelter emporium.
I’m supposed to guide the people out of my shelter into housing? And just what housing is that, and how am I supposed to make that housing appear, and where are people supposed to sleep while I’m applying all my resources to find housing that isn’t being built, that doesn’t exist?
Here’s how to get nothing, ever, done. Say you want to sharpen a pencil or make a quesadilla. First find a unicorn. Simple. Any impossible task will do.
The housing we are expecting people to find and guide people into does not exist. In order for it to exist it needs to be either newly created (by being built and subsidized as needed) or created from stock (by taking properties that are currently vacant and turning them into dwellings).
Why is the city expecting shelter providers to either find nonexistent housing or make housing appear that the city and county have long claimed they were hard at work creating?
Remember the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness? They were going to create how many thousands of new units, into which we could guide homeless people?
That didn’t work. They created at least as many new units of housing as they said they would, but they neglected to ensure that many more than that would not be destroyed. Many more were destroyed, plus rents skyrocketed, plus subsidies stagnated, for a huge net loss of housing affordable to people trying to get out of homelessness.
We had a blatant failure of the city, the county, the state and the federal government, all of them, in slow motion, to find methods to increase supply at the low end of housing, over the course of more than a decade.
So now, shelters are expected to find housing that isn’t there. Housing that isn’t there because the city, the county, the state and the federal government spent the past 13 or so years hard at work pretending to make it be there while actually letting what there was of it slip away.
I’m sure that I’m completely wrong about all of this. There is something I’m missing because I never learned to understand how governments communicate with the public. For example when city officials said “10-Year Plan to End Homelessness,” I thought for several years they were implying they had a plan to end homelessness. I didn’t find out until about 2010 that what they meant was “a plan would be nice.”
In other news, the city made us happy this week when in a review of city-sponsored homeless camps they praised them for their successes and said that one of the reason their sponsored camps have been so successful is that they haven’t been required to move every 90 days. Unlike all the other camps before them. That were required to move every 90 days. By the city.
The report said, “The disruptive nature of the 90-day limit placed a burden on the encampment community.”
Yes. Constantly having to move is not conducive to good outcomes. Good to keep in mind.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time a math professor and three times homeless. He has been involved with Real Change since he supplied the art for the first cover in November of 1994. This is his regular humor column, Adventures in Irony.
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