• Homeless Union of GSO

A Strategic Plan to End Homelessness? The Homeless Union offers our Perspective

A Strategic Plan to End Homelessness?

The Homeless Union of GSO offers our perspective.

Guilford County's Continuum of Care asked us for input on their "Strategic Plan to End Homelessness" So, members of the Homeless Union of Greensboro came up with the following response......

-----But first, you might be wondering "What is a Continuum of Care"? Continuums of Care are HUD-mandated organizations that are meant to coordinate homeless services in a community. They are federally regulated and they act as gatekeepers for federal funds and grant foundation funds which are meant to be used to fight homelessness. Learn more here

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- They gave us two questions, and below are our responses. We thought you'd enjoy reading them.

Unlike most nonprofits, we come up with our priorities for advocacy by asking people directly affected by homelessness and poverty what they need and what they want. We then partner with researchers and legal teams to learn about what research already exists and what best practices are, and then come together to determine, as a group, what our priorities are. Our advocacy reflects this process.

We organize this way because we know that if poor people don't raise their own priorities - nobody else is going to. 

When we let others speak for us, we always lose.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Question # 1:

We are in the planning stage of our needs assessment, and need your help in identifying stakeholders we should include in the process. Please list those we should reach out to:

Our Response:

People with direct experience of homelessness and poverty.

Under federal law (24 CFR § 576.405) Continuums of Care and federal homeless assistant grant recipients have an obligation to involve poor and homeless people in the designing and implementation of programs “to the greatest extent practical.”

Beyond federal mandates, it should be uncontroversial that people cannot know what a community needs if that community isn’t able to articulate and make their needs known by participating in decision making processes.

The Homeless Union of Greensboro exists for a very simple reason; we believe that poor and homeless people deserve to have a say in decisions that affect their lives.

We encourage the Guilford County CoC to involve people with direct experiences of homelessness and poverty in all decision-making processes, especially “strategic planning”. Without the knowledge that comes from people with direct experience of homelessness, priorities for advocacy and work will inevitably be skewed. Furthermore, we encourage you to include other housing advocates such as the Greensboro Housing Coalition, the Center for Housing and Community Studies at UNCG, and the Homeless Union of Greensboro.

Question # 2:

We also would like you to list the top 3 to 5 gaps in services you feel need to be identified and addressed in our next strategic plan:

Our Response:

Since the onset of modern Mass homelessness (in the 1980’s) governments and nonprofits have engaged in a vicious cycle of homeless policy: 

We’ve had ‘5-year’, ‘10-year’, ‘coordinated’ and ‘strategic’ plans to “end homelessness” that ignore the fundamental nature of mass homelessness and its root causes – namely, the lack of affordable housing and systemic povertythat causes mass homelessness.

While modern mass homelessness is the direct result of governmental policies, most homeless policy plans ignore these systemic issues, include minimal funding for housing programs or living wage jobs, and over-emphasize the role of professional case workers and police. If we are ever going to “end homelessness”, we must stop with the band-aid fixes and get to the root causes:

Homelessness ends with a home, nothing else. As such, we implore the Guilford County CoC to prioritize the following:

Permanent Low-income housing (0-30% AMI)

  • Housing is healthcare, and a much smarter, more cost effective and humane option than continually investing in expensive band-aid solutions like emergency shelter (while shelter is necessary, it is not a long term solution or a permanent tier of housing) or policing-first strategies to address homelessness.

  • ‘Housing First’ programs are insufficient as they only help a small portion of the population.

  • ‘Tiny Homes’ and other small housing programs are fine for people who desire minimalist living. However, the trend of small-scale nonprofit-run housing programs is a huge distraction from the overwhelming housing crisis facing our community. We need broad scale affordable housing initiatives.

  • People are not homeless due to a lack of tiny homes, or a lack of transitional housing, or emergency shelter. Mass homelessness exists because of housing policies and systemic poverty. Under our current administration, there is little hope that the federal government will actually work to provide more safe and affordable housing. Thus, local governments must step up and prioritize the development of low- and moderate-income housing. 

  • While Greensboro residents voted to fund a $25 Million dollar housing bond to fund affordable housing in 2016, the City of Greensboro has no known plans to build 0-30%  (low-income) AMI housing. Instead the city is prioritizing middle-income housing - such as 2 bedroom apartments that will cost over $800/month. We will never end homelessness if we don't build housing people can afford.   

  • Beyond the building and maintaining of low-income housing, plans to help people stay in housing ought to be developed – i.e. Legal defense for low-income people facing eviction. Greensboro has the highest eviction rate in the state of North Carolina and is #7 in the country. Eviction defense (legal representation) could go a long way to prevent homelessness for families in Greensboro.

Low-barrier and living-wage employment opportunities

  • There are many examples of low-barrier job programs that pay a living wage across the country – Greensboro could study and implement best practices from these communities.  

  • Transportation for low income people in order to obtain employment is an obvious consideration that goes with this.

Access to safe and legal places for people experiencing homelessness to sleep and carry out life sustaining activities:

  • There are currently more people experiencing homelessness in Guilford County than shelter beds available, especially during non-winter emergency times. Furthermore, some populations are especially underserved. Couples without children, for instance, have no shelter options that allow them to stay together.

  • Likewise, women fleeing domestic violence situations have incredibly limited options. For individuals who cannot access shelters - for whatever reason - there are no legal places for them to sleep outside. There ought to be a legal option for people who cannot utilize shelters.

Access to hygiene facilities:

  • There is an extreme dearth of public hygiene facilities and bathrooms available to people experiencing homelessness in Greensboro. People should not be arrested because they relieved themselves when there are not bathrooms available to them.

Public education and advocacy around homelessness, systemic poverty and systemic racism issues:

  • HUD’s funding requirements stipulate that Continuums of Care ought to be engaged in public advocacy.

  • Sadly, ‘homelessness’ is discussed in public as some sort of unsolvable enigma that exists in a vacuum. Unfortunately, the majority of the public are unaware of what solutions work to address homelessness (i.e. permanent low-income housing).

  • Homelessness is fundamentally an economic justice issue that is inextricably linked with our country’s racist past. Communities of color have been systematically denied equal access to resources, opportunities, and power. And thus, any meaningful work to “end homelessness” will specifically name and strive to work against systemic racism.

  • Since 2015, HUD’s NOFA requirements have stipulated that CoC’s advocate to stop the criminalization of homelessness in their communities - https://nationalhomeless.org/hud-puts-teeth-into-effort-to-stop-criminalizing-homeless-people/In

  • 2018, when the city of Greensboro was considering a law which would have criminalized panhandling (despite this being unconstitutional) the Guilford County CoC was ambivalent about its position on this matter.

Working with local government to find alternatives to criminalization and reduce the city’s dependency on “policing-first” strategies towards homelessness and poverty:

  • The Greensboro Police Department has a long and well documented history of racialized violence and a tremendous lack of accountability and transparency. 

  • In a glaring example of police violence, GPD officers hogtied and killed Marcus Deon Smith on September 8th, 2019, despite policy directives banning them from hogtying him as they did. Despite a homicide declaration from the State Medical Examiner’s office, no officer was held accountable, and neither was the Police Chief, Wayne Scott, who was caught misleading the public about the case.

  • It is crucial that Greensboro Police be trained in de-escalation, anti-racism, and mental health training. Service providers can play an invaluable role in training police in these areas.More importantly, though, alternatives to relying on police must be invested in.

  • Mental Health crises and drug overdoses, for instance, should not be handled by police officers.

Homelessness is not a crime and should never be treated as a crime.  

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