The federal government’s response to this crisis is a rapid rehousing program. However, two of the three factors creating chronic homelessness cannot be solved with housing. Those factors are severe mental illness and substance use disorders, which tend to be intertwined. After receiving housing these unresolved issues lead many back to living on the street.
For people experiencing mental illness, our laws require them to navigate their own care. If their illness causes them to fail that responsibility they are relabeled as homeless. Many choose to self-medicate making them appear as addicts that are often blamed for their circumstances. As the mental healthcare system lost funding the criminal justice system gained it placing psychiatric care primarily behind bars.
The series began in Miami in 1993 when the city was being sued for violating the civil rights of homeless people by arresting them prior to public events. The judge wrote a consent decree called the Pottinger Agreement that protected the homeless until a conservative judge abolished it in 2019. Cities are now free to monitor themselves as to whether their laws criminalize unhoused people. There are laws against panhandling, camping, loitering, blocking sidewalks, urinating in public, food sharing, and even limits on how much can be carried.
We partner with homeless outreach organizations such as Grace at the Green Light in New Orleans. As a team, we visit abandoned buildings and structures that unhoused people call home. The social workers offer their services as this project offers a platform for these marginalized and disenfranchised people. The intent is to push through public stereotypes to explore a fresh narrative because social issues that are ignored will never be resolved.
This series doesn’t focus on people’s personal tragedy but on the barriers to ending this epidemic. Common issues are lost identification, sweeps causing people to move constantly, destroying their property, felony trespassing, food insecurity, issues with needles used for drugs, issues with hydration, and being criminalized for just being.
A website has been set up with the domain name www.unhoused.us. The site is in the process of being updated to explain ways to take action to help end American homelessness. The content is meant to be a window into their reality. Future posts will offer different perspectives by interviewing caseworkers and family members that have lost their loved ones to the streets.
If we keep ignoring unhoused people, then this epidemic will continue unabated. A massive shift in consciousness is required to prevent and end American Homeless and this work strives towards that goal by being a platform for people without one.