Homelessness remains a persistent problem in most cities of the world, even though some cities have found ways to provide homes and surrounding support for all at acceptable cost. It is also often viewed in isolation, rather than in the greater context of health, career, family, and community culture. NECSI dedicated both of our July salons to the topic of homelessness. The response to homelessness remains a space of necessary and potential change.
We started by charting a basic mapping of the space -- what are the costs and peripheral spaces associated with homelessness? The crew on <a href="">the complexity discussion list</a> contributed to an ever-growing list of initiatives, research, and reflections on the topic.
The same eddies we can see in the misplaced complexity in the medical system seem in the homelessness problem to be centered around our prison-industrial complex and lack of mental health care. People who fall off of accepted paths (due to medical emergencies, family issues, mental health complications, being born into a poor family, etc.) often get caught in these eddies, cycling out and then back into jail, halfway houses, or other short-term "solutions" while never really getting traction. The gap between falling back into these cycles, and hitting escape velocity is ever growing, with the limited support programs available only for already extreme cases. In short, by stripping away social support and padding, we've made the gaps through which some might fall all the more wider and deeper.
Many locations and organizations have started looking at how to solve the issue of homelessness. While it is difficult to know where to "jump in" to any unexamined complex system, these plurality of approaches has helped to form an ecosystem of many useful interventions and lessons. However, instead of these efforts coordinating and acting together for greater impact, they are instead disjointed. These initiatives address (by no means a complete list): housing placement and support, job training and placement, mental health treatment, addiction mitigation, and safe spaces for LGBT youth. As an example of a lack of cross-system coordination, while some housing groups may be focused on preventing an individual from relapsing into addiction or becoming a repeat offender, few (if any) are focused on reforming the legal or prison systems.
The benefits of resolving these issues are massive -- ethically, as well as pragmatically. Ethically, having any human not provided with basic human rights is untenable. I hope I don't have to go into why. Pragmatically, the cost is far lower to maintain safety nets and care in society, than to house (let alone rehabilitate) those who have fallen through the cracks. These costs have to do with law enforcement, beds in prison and shelters, uninsured health care costs,what else?