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Treat the cause, not the symptom

Here’s a challenge: think of a pressing social problem that is being solved rather than having its symptoms treated by groups both public and private. A person would be hard pressed to think of any social problem whose origins are addressed and attacked frontally.

In America we collectively pat ourselves on the back for doing ‘something’ about domestic violence, about homlessness, about opiod use. But that ‘something’ is generally treating only the symptoms. Both the public and the private sectors should identify people with vision and leadership who will lead campaigns to address the underlying causes of our social ills. It is fine to set up a non-profit organization and establish shelters and programs, but the cycle will continue ad infinitum until the root causes of opiod abuse, homeless, domestic violence and others are addressed.

The challenge with the homeless issue is that there are as many reasons for homelessness as there are homeless persons. We must be clear about the difference between a person who is homeless and a person who is shelterless. Everyone should have a permanent home, the critical issue is those who sleep in vehicles, parks and doorways—the extremely vulnerable homeless population.

Among the many things that fuel our homeless population, mental health issues and financial insecurity are major. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20 to 25 percent of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness. In comparison, only 6 percent  of Americans are severely mentally ill.

When combined with inadequate hygiene due to homelessness, this may lead to physical problems. Half of the mentally ill homeless population in the United States also suffer from substance abuse and dependence.

This combination of mental illness, substance abuse, and poor physical health makes it difficult for people to obtain employment and residential stability.

Better coordination with mental health service providers is one of the top three items needed to combat homelessness. Many homeless people with severe mental illnesses are willing to accept treatment and services. Outreach programs are more successful when workers establish a trusting relationship through continued contact with the people they are trying to help.

Homeless people with mental illnesses are more likely to recover and achieve residential stability if they have access to supported housing programs.

We don’t want to make people more comfortable in their homelessness, we want these people to find sustainable, permanent housing.

Though experts say the American economy is humming along nicely there is still a large number of citizens who are underemployed or earning less than what is needed to properly house and feed themselves Many times, through no fault of their own, people may find themselves without a roof over their head. Today’s tight housing market makes it difficult for those wanting to enter the world of renting. A tight market means that rents are soaring ever higher.

New apartments are being built in the region but few of those are truly low-income (there is little incentive for a developer to build apartments in that category). There needs to be ‘can’t pass up’ financial incentives offered by the city, the county and the state, for developers to create low-income housing. For every 10,000 square feet of market value housing built, there should be a huge tax and permit discount offered if a developer also built 2,500 square feet of low-income housing  (think tiny houses) in the metropolitan area.

Oregon’s annual budget is almost $38 billion. The kicker is expected to return more than half a billion to taxpayers. That $500 million would go a long way to alleviate homeless in Oregon’s cities. A leader would stand up and say that money is needed to help solve a problem people complain about.

Do something, do anything, damn the consequences. Appropriate enough state and local monies to fund 24 hour health services where the homeless gather. The homeless issue needs something much different than an 8 to 5, Monday to Friday solution. Let’s get serious and solve this issue.