Editorial: To confront homelessness, we need new thinking, not entrenched politics

As a community, we have all been impacted financially, physically, emotionally, and/or socially by the pandemic. Without question, vulnerable populations experiencing homelessness in our community have been disproportionately impacted. According to the last point-in-time count conducted in early 2020—even before the impacts of COVID—Long Beach saw a 7% rise in the number of individuals experiencing homelessness.

Solutions have been proposed. Government programs exist. Stimulus checks, rent relief, food drives, and eviction moratoriums provide households with the temporary means to be able to feed their families, pay bills, and keep a roof over their heads. The recent Long Beach Recovery Plan also included federal funding to homeless services. This will not be enough.

The reason for homelessness is that people don’t have homes. The city needs more permanent housing programs.

The Housing First model has been widely supported as an effective approach to ending homelessness by focusing on providing permanent housing as the top priority. Housing First programs operate in various cities across the United States and internationally, and the policy has been endorsed by organizations such as the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Two common examples of the Housing First model are Permanent Supportive Housing and Rapid Rehousing. Instead of shelters, Permanent Supportive Housing provides long term housing and services to support individuals or families experiencing chronic homelessness, as well as disability, mental health, or substance abuse issues. The Villages at Cabrillo provides this type of Permanent Supportive Housing. Rapid Rehousing provides short-term assistance centered on three principles: identifying housing (often through coordination with landlords), rental and relocation assistance, and case management.

The new Atlantic Farms Bridge Housing Community in North Long Beach falls in between the emergency shelter and Housing First model through a bridge housing model. The program will fill in the city’s current gaps by providing transitional housing and supportive services such as Rapid Rehousing.

To address this crisis we need to advocate for more housing: permanent, affordable, and supportive housing.

The Housing Choice Section 8 program, for example, provides housing assistance for low-income households through monthly vouchers. The city of Long Beach has its own Housing Authority, which receives just over $10 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, dedicated to these housing vouchers. However, currently the program is largely inaccessible, difficult to navigate, and is even hard to use after vouchers are issued due to rising housing costs and discrimination from landlords. Additionally, due to demand, the waitlist may be up to several years.

Emergency shelters such as Long Beach Rescue Mission, Lydia House/Samaritan House, and the Long Beach Winter Shelter are critical for being able to provide temporary assistance/relief on a limited basis but are not long-term solutions. The scope of services and duration of stay are limited and often don’t address the needs of chronically unhoused individuals.

We need new thinking surrounding advocacy to disrupt entrenched politics. Permanent Supportive Housing is the best model that we have for individuals experiencing homelessness to be able to establish long-term independence.

Individuals and families experiencing homelessness are human beings in need of housing, hope, compassion, and empathy. By advocating for and funding permanent supportive housing in our community, we can provide an opportunity for another chance at a better life.

For resources and more information, click here.

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The Community Editorial Board is made up of seven members of the Long Beach community and are drawn from different life journeys, different parts of the city and different socioeconomic experiences. The board writes on issues and subjects in which it has a personal interest, experience or expertise. The board operates wholly separate from the newsroom and members serve a one-year term. The Community Editorial Board can be reached at [email protected]
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