I am in the process of evicting yet another homeless person (this time a homeless woman) from housing that we offer specifically for homeless people.
I wanted to talk about this because I'm continually hearing about how housing is the answer to ending homelessness. That's what the advocates say. Get more housing and we'll end homelessness.
It's not that easy.
I'm about as open-minded and progressive as it comes.
I am absolutely against the war on drugs. I believe all drugs should be legal. So, I don't care if you use drugs.
I believe sex work is an honorable profession. Men just love to control women. Nothing brings a man greater joy than telling a woman what she can and can't do with her body. I don't care if you are a sex worker.
I believe sex offenders deserve to be allowed to live in their own country. If they aren't locked up then they have a right to live somewhere. If you aren't hurting anyone else, I don't care if you are a sex offender.
I don't even really care if you pay your rent. As long as I can figure out how to pay the utilities I'll probably just let you live in our house rent-free.
Yet here I am evicting yet another homeless person... sending them back on the street. It's the exact opposite of what I'm trying to accomplish.
Here are the situations with each person.
That's 5 people and 2 dogs.
That doesn't count all the people that just walked away from the housing. Some of them I didn't want to leave at all. But staying indoors was too much for them. One woman walked out in the middle of the night in the middle of the winter and moved back into the woods. She's there to this day. She feels more comfortable outside than inside.
It's probably another half a dozen people that have just walked away from housing.
"Well then stop housing drug addicts and sex workers, Sage."
My haters oftentimes accuse me of enabling "losers" that need to quit doing drugs and get a job. That's their answer to everything.
If you think you can just "quit" doing drugs or quit drinking you don't know the first thing about addiction.
I've had grown men cry in front of me because they want to quit doing fentanyl so bad. But it's too hard. They can't do it. They especially can't do it while they are living shelterless in the middle of winter. Between the freezing cold, the starvation and the severe withdrawal symptoms of quitting a super powerful opiate, that is not going to happen.
And are you telling me you want me to tell a woman to stop selling sex? That I'll house her once she stops selling sex? Then how the hell do you think she's going to pay her rent? She barely makes enough to cover rent as it is. I thought you told me that these people should "get a job." But now you're going to tell me which jobs they are allowed to get?
If we are only housing the easiest cases then we aren't not solving homelessness. We are pretending these people don't exist.
Akron's housing authority, AMHA, has 20,000 people on its waiting list for housing.
Over 10.9 million of the nation’s 43.7 million renter households have extremely low incomes. Only 7.3 million rental homes are affordable to extremely low-income renters, assuming households should spend no more than 30% of their incomes on housing. This supply leaves an absolute shortage of 3.6 million affordable rental homes.
And this doesn't even include homeless people. You needed an address to be included in this study.
So we can't house people that are currently housed but can't afford their housing. These people are extremely over-burdened by their housing costs. HOW THE HELL DO YOU THINK WE'RE GOING TO HOUSE PEOPLE THAT DON'T HAVE HOUSING?
Housing First is a fantasy that is impossible to implement in a structure where the free market determines housing prices. We rely on landlords to be surrogate social workers to solve our housing crisis. It's madness.
Even if every single homeless person was a perfect tenant: drug free, traditional job or social security payments, mentally stable: We are million and millions of houses short of housing them.
So that's never going to happen.
And then there are my people. The hardest cases.
A homeless woman who lives with us said to me, "I call this place Sage's Outdoor Psych Ward."
I wish it actually was that. But the number of seriously mentally ill people I've had to throw out is uncountable. I can't even guess how many people I've had to throw out because of mental illness. I have to throw them out for 2 reasons: Either I think they are going to kill someone in the camp. Or, more often, I'm afraid someone in the camp is going to kill them.
A person with a serious psychosis is often racist and down-right spooky. They say freaky stuff that just unnerves people. I often have to get them out of the community before someone does something bad to them.
I had a woman who lived with us at our first village. She got housing in a really nice facility specifically for homeless people. They had to kick her out because she was telling everyone that she was being repeatedly raped in the building. (I'm quite sure that was not happening.)
I could end this article right now and just be yet another whiner that offers no solutions. But I'm going to offer a solution. THAT SAID, keep in mind that I honestly don't think this is the be-all, end-all solution. Parts of it are going to totally fail. They will need to be continually innovated and modified. Governments and bureaucracies are TERRIBLE at innovation and experimentation. They create reams and reams of paperwork over years of endless meetings for one idea. Once that one idea is finally enacted, that's all there will be for decades. That's why Housing First is the only thing they ever talk about. They have one idea that will never actually be implemented and so they'll just chant that for the next 50 years.
First of all, different cities have different strengths and weaknesses. Some places have plenty of land. Some places have no land. Some places have semi-affordable housing (although that is currently eroding almost everywhere now). Some places have extremely expensive housing.
I believe we need to experiment with houseless villages in the dessert.
There would be a daily bus that goes back and forth from LA. So you could always go back to the city if you wanted.
These dessert villages would be completely voluntary. You would not be forced to live there. But you would be extremely free out there. You would be encouraged to build your life any way you wanted to as long as it didn't infringe on someone else's way of living. Kind of like Burning Man for homeless people.
We would need financial help with water and electricity and Internet. But then I believe between supporters and the ingenuity of homeless people, we could take it from there. We'd create our own rules and our own security. We'd also have to be able to evict people from the village. We'd need to be able to send people back to the city and they would not be able to return to our dessert village.
I have a lot more details of this plan sketched out. I'd LOVE to try to set one of these up in the next several years.
Everyone knows that the shelters in New York are hell on earth. They are violent, insane places. So, while we should still keep the shelters, they need serious reform and restructure.
A very cool thing about New York is that is not illegal to sleep on the street. That's all we need in my opinion.
I would like to see storage lockers that line alley streets and other places. Anyone that needs a storage locker would be given one. Each storage locker should be the size of a deck box, like this:
They would need to be metal and very secure. Homeless people lose keys all the time so they would have to be able to go to someone and get a spare key any time they needed a replacement. You might try experimenting with combination locks.
And then each homeless person would get a zero degree rated sleeping bag and a bivy sack:
So, each night the person would go to their storage box, pull out their sleeping gear, set it up and go to bed. Then in the morning they'd pack up and go on their way.
There is not enough room in New York for full sized tents on the street. Plus, tents are terrible security issues. People have their items stolen all the time from tents.
I believe the California Plan and the New York Plan could work in combination in places like Austin and Seattle.
But where it gets really interesting is in the middle states of America. Like where I'm from: Ohio.
I can still buy land in Akron Ohio for about $3000-$5000. In fact, we have a "side-lot" program where the city will GIVE you the land next door if you mow it. (I'm not allowed to participate in this program. They've denied my application. Because, you know. I shelter homeless people.)
I believe because we have such affordable land within cities we could be a huge resource for the entire country.
There are many cities that are suffering in the Midwest. Akron is one of them.
Why aren't we offering to shelter and house low income people and homeless people from places like LA, San Diego, Seattle, Austin? Why don't they send us their homeless people with a check? We'll shelter homeless people using our resources and our land. Then the national government and the cities from where these people came would send us money to do this work.
This is my area of experience. If I were actually allowed to do this work I could move so much faster and get so much more done. But instead I have to endlessly fight the city to shelter people on my own land.
I have so many ideas I'd like to try and experiment with. But instead I'm enemy number one in my city. You watch: pretty soon the city will come forward with violations of smoke and smells and trash. They'll say neighbors are complaining to have to live next door to a homeless person. And then I'll have to have another legal battle. They'll tear down my village on my PRIVATE LAND and I'll have to rebuild over and over again. Imagine what we could have done if instead of rebuilding from nothing we had been able to evolve from our initial village and day center that the city destroyed.
My plan is for multiple villages serving different people with different needs. And then we'd have micro-villages on the outskirts that sheltered people that couldn't live in the community but still wanted to be near us. I like a village no larger than 75 people. 5 of these in Akron would make a huge difference in serving our homeless community. But instead of experimenting with these ideas they just put up yellow signs telling people they need to leave and then they sweep the camps. That's their solution. It's so tedious.
I'm telling you: if all we ever talk about is getting every homeless person a free house then we will never solve homelessness. It won't happen because it's impossibly expensive. And it won't happen because not everyone can be housed.