HA! Calendar

Monday, August 13, 2018

Fighting Toxic Homelessness Statistics and Reporting

The article tone illustrates the inanity of leaning enthusiastically into the one homelessness statistic that is looked at by far the most by government. We have no clue from that number, or from anything the article says or shows in its cool graphs, whether these Seattle shelter and village programs are saintly or destructive.

1. Our homelessness programs aren't primarily rated on customer satisfaction, or stability provided (however we define giving shelter, safety, consistency, physical health, or access to services.) No service outcomes hit the top evaluative indicators. Not even key metrics on housing preparedness, or job or drug or credit or child reunion success, or mental health.

Set aside the difficulty of gathering good metrics a moment, an understandable and constant problem in human services. Stats of people "exiting" to "permanent housing" are gamed. The games are rarely discussed, because they are revealing, and most parties involved are motivated subtly by self-interest and inertia and politics to overlook various bits of bad or embarrassing throughput. So, instead of struggling with the family of statistics that we need to measure usefully the complex processes of qualifying for, finding, winning, and then keeping permanent housing, we gloss and dumb down and game it. 

One number, exits to permanent housing, rules all. Our friends are shoved in motels for three days, and then thrown out– but not before they can be counted as a success. People are thrown in shelters and then thrown out for statistical purposes. They visit their mom or their tribe for a week- cured permanently of homelessness!- and return to the street. People go into one-month programs, 6 month programs, 2 year programs, and are permanent successes, as they make marks on the wall, counting the days that remain. People hit the max time at their only option for shelter and get kicked out; they get kicked out of other programs, or they walk;; they get kicked out of supposedly "permanent" housing, out of villages, out of shelters. They fall off the statistical ends-of-the-earth, the Artist Formerly Known as a Success, sometimes because the system needs to foist a new someone as a success in their place. People "refuse" to accept housing, victims of tricks of procedure, or language, or labyrinthine skits that avoid reasonable accommodation of disabilities.

Think about those leaks in the system. We don't know what "exit to permanent housing" means. We know that permanent housing usually doesn't last long, but we don't know much about the averages, or the reasons for variation, or what to do about it. The sin isn't that we don't know those things– they are hard things to know. It's that we pretend we don't have to know, that we just need one number to judge success.
Let's move on to the arcane kingdom of "transition". The doublespeak conventions of Housing First force us to talk about transitional housing that can't transition to much more than the system leaks denoted above, because there's little to transition to. We stand around like we're in a gulag in Soviet Russia, practiced at mouthing lies, turning these simple statistical dumbdowns over and over in our hands, pretending together, cluck-clucking about how some transitional programs aren't getting people into permanent housing well. We do this because we literally have nothing else to talk about. All that matters is that one number. The pertinent information, about the pipelines and bottlenecks to housing, are hidden, obfuscated, or downplayed for political purposes.
Transitional small homes and communities are the only housing that can be rapidly developed, the only realistic hope for most of getting out of the cold and abuse until many years from now. Such homes can be as permanent and safe as any renter's lease, as well-built and long-lasting as our sense of charity allows. They can save lives and minds while we wait for an uncaring world to right itself. Yet villages are a foster child we keep manacled in a back room. We get funding, murmur about emergencies, then shun and dismiss villages as unworthy. The pogroms continue on the street, in twos and threes and tens.

As a team, let's please take the time to refute in our minds the points in the article, and get used to doing so, so we can clearly and cleanly name the distorted  mindset we are enduring. 

Here are the only 4 sentences of the article I could find that are of any use: 

"...[nonprofits are] protesting how “exits” are being calculated after a recent change in methodology. Their concern is that they are being penalized for people who spend nights in shelter whom they cannot immediately move into stable housing, or who decline offers of help [typically for good, albeit unintuitive, reasons] ...Even when shelter clients are mentally, physically and financially ready to move into housing, there often isn’t a place for them to go, Giovengo said. More than 8,300 households are on the county’s centralized intake list for homeless housing."

We can't let the kind of critical, gossipy, and simplistic dialogue of most of this article go on locally. So much propaganda and obfuscation is tolerated by everyone, feeding our officials' and the public's abuses. Pretending that the mission of the Continuum of Care is solely 1) build permanent housing, 2) 6 month human warehousing, and then 3) managing the emergency room expense fallout, is what has created this cynical merry-go-round of ours.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your clarity... and your willingness to take the time to write out this response.