A mash-up idea about homelessness

Homeless Voucher Program

Homelessness in Hawaii is not a “crisis.” A natural disaster is a crisis; it is a sudden, unexpected, singular event that has specific responses – we can send aid, help the wounded, and rebuild. By calling homelessness a “crisis,” we expect the one solution (or set of solutions) to “fix” the problem, and we expect it to go away.

Homelessness is a part of everyday life. It is an on-going struggle, like care for the elderly, affordable health care, and aging infrastructure. It needs prompt and constant attention, not a one-time, expensive relief program. There will always be people who are homeless, sometimes temporarily, sometimes because of bad decisions, sometimes by choice. Our cities, our state, churches, and nonprofits are doing what they can, with programs to bus people to shelters, to find them housing, to provide “wrap-around” services, to support landlords. There is no one program that will end homelessness.

That said, I want to suggest a strange, quirky, two-part mash-up idea to help with homelessness, inspired by existing programs: senior homes and school vouchers. It’s not based on any surveys, studies, or research; I don’t know whether this could even work.

Here is my two-part mash-up suggestion:

Part I: Care homes for the homeless. Inspired by care homes and hospice… we could set up a business model for people to open part of their home as a care home for the homeless. Each care home would provide 4 basic services: three meals a day (breakfast, a sack lunch, and dinner); a bed, bunk, or room at night (or during the day if someone works a night shift); daily access to a shower; and a storage locker for belongings. This could incentivize the creation of homes for the homeless, using a familiar business model that people already understand. Instead of a few large homeless shelters, we could have many smaller, close-knit homeless care homes.

Larger providers, like shelters, churches, and YMCA-like organizations, could also provide 1 additional service: an enclosed room or fenced lawn for pets; and office space for 4 additional services, to be provided by government and nonprofit agencies: day care for toddler children and children who are on school breaks; medical and pharmacy services; job training and counseling; and English language tutoring, interpretation, and translation services.

Part II: Homeless care vouchers.  Inspired by school vouchers that give parents school choice … we could create homeless care vouchers that could be redeemed at a care home that has space for them. Instead of applying for multiple social services (food stamps, supplemental aid, welfare, and housing vouchers), homeless individuals and families would be issued a single voucher each month. They would be able to choose the best provider, location, and range of services that fit their needs. They would be part of a small group who could support and trust each other. They would have access to more nutritious meals.

Providers would benefit from a voucher program. There would be guaranteed payment from the state for their services. They would also have an incentive to provide good care and compete with other providers for vouchers. Effective and courteous providers would receive more vouchers; less effective providers would improve or go out of business.

There could be benefits for local government and taxpayers as well. State and city aid programs could be consolidated. There could be more accountability with a voucher program, since EBT cards can be abused or re-sold.

Vouchers could also be adjusted with higher amounts for care providers who accept alcoholics, drug users, and the mentally ill (like Housing First, there would be no requirement to seek counseling before being admitted to a care home).

How else can we change the way we think about homelessness? Are there other existing programs that we could adapt to help the homeless?

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