It's Not Cancer - We Can DO Something About It

It's Not Cancer - We Can DO Something About It
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<p>It’s Not Cancer. We Can Actually Do Something About it. </p>

It’s Not Cancer. We Can Actually Do Something About it.

Tim Hashko

This past weekend, In a midwestern city, a mid-fifties woman - Helen for the sake of this article - waited patiently to eat the donated stuffed peppers a church group brought to the camp near the woods where she lives. Grateful for the donation, Helen explained that since she resumed her seasonal job in the spring, her food stamps had been cut from $189 each month to just $16. Helen directs traffic at a tourist attraction, as she has every May thru October, since 1999.

Over the course of the 18 years Helen has stood in the hot summer sun, her health has begun to fail. Helen now has diabetes, and urinary problems. She has trouble keeping her insulin cold and the supplies she needs for her bladder issues eat up most of her part time, minimum wage paycheck.

Helen has twice applied for disability and twice been turned down. She has a lawyer now, but he’s warned her that the fact that she keeps working could harm her case. Helen feels trapped, “What am I supposed to do? If I don’t work, I can’t get my supplies. They’re expensive and I can’t just sit here and wet myself.”

“And I need an EPIpen. I'm allergic to bees. There are a lot of bees in the field where I work. I ride my bike to work. But I’m having trouble with my balance. Maybe I should stop work, I’d get my food stamps back. But I wouldn’t get my supplies.”

Helen goes on to explain that since her husband died she’s had no family support.

Across from Helen another homeless woman washes her hair in the spigot on the outside of a building.

Helen needs a home. The other woman does too.

At present, however, a single adult, without mental illness, working and struggling to maintain her independence, doesn’t qualify for much.

If she was a U.S. veteran, had minor children, or collected disability, she’d have a better chance - at least to get on a waiting list, where she’d sit for nine months or more. But she’d have a chance.

A couple of filmmakers have studied the problem of homelessness and they’ve stumbled upon what seems to be the solution to the problem. It’s a program called, “Housing First.”

The housing first model would put Helen into an apartment even before an outreach team started to evaluate the factors contributing to her homelessness. In the first few minutes of having a home, Helen’s life would improve. She’d have a fridge for her insulin. She’d have toilet facilities for her urinary problems. She could redirect some of her limited resources to bus tickets and set her bicycle aside until her balance issues could be addressed.

In Helen’s case, housing first would be an inexpensive solution to her country’s unethical practice of leaving millions of individuals and families to struggle and suffer on the street. But the housing first model isn’t just about doing the right thing for the poor or about being a better nation, it’s also about improving the economy.

And a better economy isn’t just good for the homeless, it’s good for the housed as well.

Building and/or maintaining low income housing creates jobs. An additional 32 jobs for every 100 units.

If creating new, better employment isn’t enough incentive, then how about cutting costs?

That’s right. Housing stability saves money. The National Alliance to End Homelessness cites, “In Denver, PSH [Permanent Supportive Housing] saved $15,733 per year, per person in public costs for shelter, criminal justice, healthcare, emergency room, and behavioral health costs, The savings were enough to completely offset the cost of housing ($13,400) and still save the taxpayers $2,373.”

Based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) extremely conservative statistics, Colorado had 10,550 homeless folks in 2016. Even using this artificially low number, extrapolated out to use Denver’s figures, the taxpayers of the Centennial State could save more than $25 million while creating 3376 jobs.

And the next time you drove to an amusement park you wouldn’t have to wonder if the parking attendant was homeless, or incontinent, suffering from diabetic neuropathy, or all three.

So with a solution in hand that saves money and creates jobs, why is there still a problem?

Remember that film crew? They’ve got it in their heads to take the streets and find out why.

The staff at A Bigger Vision - documentarians with experience detailing the plight of the homeless and the government officials who help or hinder this disaffected population - are poised to produce a new film, one that answers questions posed by the housing first model.

If there’s a solution to homelessness that creates jobs and saves money, why isn’t it being publicly and privately funded? Why aren’t states and municipalities on board? And in the few locations where they have embraced the model, how’s it working?

Is the problem with implementation merely the fact that the public at large has no idea who is homeless and why? If there were a film that answers these questions, would it be - as the documentarians hope - the last film ever made on the subject?

Sam Tsemberis, the community psychologist credited with creating the housing first model decades ago, thinks it’s possible. Tsemberis says homelessness persists, “Because we don’t have the political will.” And there’s no political will because, “There’s no public outcry. No public outcry, no public policy. People are trained to look away. Parents teach their children not to stare at the homeless person. When you look away you shut down a part of yourself. You learn to shut down your humanity.”

Tsemberis thinks the film might let people stare at homeless realities without the discomfort of doing it in person. After watching a film detailing the problem they’ll, “See that we can actually do something about it. It’s not cancer, it’s not alzheimer's, we can actually do something that’s humane and that saves taxpayer dollars.”

If you’d like to help get the film off the ground, A Bigger Vision invites you to get involved with their effort to create a film that Tsemberis believes will reward you and your community, not only fiscally, but “on a psychological, even spiritual plane.”

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