New Federal Homeless Plan

Turns Ice-Cold Heart to Families, Individuals

Hearts Photo Diane Nilan

Now is the worst time to be homeless in America.

Millions of families and individuals experiencing or facing homelessness will encounter an avalanche of problems while discovering that “help is on the horizon” is as fake as a political campaign ad.

Bad enough: CoVid-19, surge in evictions, lack of financial help from Congress, restricted shelter admissions because of the pandemic, and ongoing “faux compassion.”

Add another new feckless Federal plan to address homelessness and Old Man Winter (and seemingly endless natural disasters) lurking make this the suckiest time to not have a place to live.

Two harbingers are among my reasons for dismazement:

  1. The latest federal “toolbox” to address homelessness, while surprising in some admissions and suggestions, offers no hope. Congress, no matter the party in charge, is unlikely to embark upon a whole new, expensive, approach to house millions of struggling Americans.
  2. Media shows uninformed concern. CNN’s well-intentioned post describing help available for our nation’s millions of beleaguered housing-challenged population illustrates what has been true all along — what little help is available doesn’t begin to address the desperate need.

In the pre-election fervor by the current “administration,” department officials fanned out to promote the (non)accomplishments of these past four years. Nothing attracts a flurry of news coverage like a DC bigwig coming to town to give out coats, like Robert Marbut the other day.

Mr. Marbut, head of the toothless U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, brought his agency’s new report to chilly Billings, MT. In between handing out coats, the nation’s housing czar met with shelter directors and local officials.

Truth be told, I’ve had no use for Mr. Marbut, a consultant promoting tough love for those down on their luck before being snatched to run USICH.

I did find it interesting to read his agency’s new report, “Expanding the Toolbox: The Whole-of-Government Response to Homelessness.” In it, stunning statements were made, observations I unexpectedly agreed with:

“The federal government’s policy shift in 2013 to prioritizing housing first as a one-size-fits-all approach has not worked to reduce homelessness for all populations and communities. Policies that do not address the real root causes of homelessness combined with high housing costs in over-regulated markets have exacerbated the homelessness condition in America…status quo is simply not working.”

Well, I could have told them that. But I’m glad it’s now official.

A few of his ideas have merit: homelessness prevention, trauma-informed care, increase affordable housing, eliminate one-size-fits-all approach, focus on families/youth and unaccompanied women, eliminate racial barriers, better crisis management.

One concept — increasing involvement of faith-based programs — sets off alarm bells for me because of religious (read conservative Christian) efforts to capitalize on the down-and-out population. Another story for another blog.

Not surprising, a coalition of national housing agencies blasted the Toolbox, in a statement decrying the shortcomings. No worry — lack of political will = d-e-a-d.

On another front, CNN posted a well-intentioned “help” article, but from what I can determine by checking their recommendations, much of it is faux help.

Imagine having a house fire and someone hands you a fire extinguisher (good) and you aim it at the fire and the extinguisher is empty (bad).

Examples of the flawed suggestions:

  • Housing Choice/Section 8 Vouchers — huge waiting lists, sparse availability, application barriers (credit history, criminal record, immigration status and more).
  • Continuum of Care — community organizing plan, not for individuals.
  • Pro bono Legal Assistance — the IL offerings are incredibly scant and limited, similar to what I’ve heard in other areas.
  • HUD Find Shelter link — this KS community I am familar with has one shelter, at capacity. The rest of the “shelters” aren’t shelters, including Walmart.

What’s worse than no hope is faux hope, which is plentiful.

Stringent qualifications, billowing red tape, eye-of-the-needle admissions and unbridled deceptions will destroy the desperate seeker. All the technological advances — apps for every purpose, websites with catchy, helpful names — mean nothing if you can’t find a safe place for your family to sleep.

Many of the “help” listings are the equivalent of a 10’ ladder for someone stuck in a 20’ hole.

Myths Abound

Homelessness myths that prevail in my 3+ decades of work include:

  • Things aren’t really so bad for homeless people;
  • The problem of homelessness is exaggerated;
  • Plenty of help exists (ala the CNN posting); and/or
  • They’re all bums and don’t deserve help.
Info about my new book


My colleagues Professors Yvonne Vissing and Christopher Hudson and I wrote Changing the Paradigm of Homelessness to guide efforts to address homelessness.

My friend and travel partner, Pat LaMarche, compiled a grueling collection of stories of homelessness to illustrate the, um, challenges people encounter, Still Left Out in America.

And my new memoir/social narrative, Dismazed and Driven, will be released soon to share what I saw and heard during my past 15 years chronicling family homelessness.

What might be troubling for those still maintaining a true sense of compassion — a significant number of homeless adults first experienced homelessness as a child. Think about it.

Factor in the traumatic impact of homelessness on a child, knowing that it could become a lifelong sentence — oh, that’s cold. Is that where we are as a country?

Eyes — © Pat Van Doren

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.

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