Homelessness is a huge issue in major cities, and government programs to help those suffering simply do not work very well. We as a society still don’t seem to know how best to help this forgotten population, but it seems pretty obvious that one-size-fits-all approaches do not work.
In Washington, D.C., city housing officials “increased the value of rental subsidies” in order to “give tenants who had previously clustered in impoverished, high-crime areas east of the Anacostia River a shot at living in more desirable neighborhoods,” The Washington Post reported.
While government officials no doubt spent the next two years after this change was made bragging about the number of low-income individuals now living in a better neighborhood, the policy had predictably adverse effects.
At Sedgwick Gardens, an upscale apartment complex in Cleveland Park, “Many of the new tenants are previously homeless men and women who came directly from shelters or the streets, some still struggling with severe behavioral problems,” the Post reported.
This caused issues. The Post reported that police visits to Sedgwick “have nearly quadrupled since 2016,” causing some tenants to move out. After resident complaints, social workers were dispatched to the building to handle issues at night.
There are three basic complaints from residents at Sedgwick: Those who received city vouchers to live in the complex that say they feel unwelcome by their more affluent neighbors, the affluent neighbors who support the program but insist the building’s use of the vouchers was mismanaged, and those who think the program was implemented too hastily.
“It’s not about the voucher program. It’s not about racism. It’s about people’s conduct and behavior,” Lorraine Starkes, a former homeless woman who was able to move into Sedgwick, told the Post.
Starkes told the outlet that many of her fellow voucher residents weren’t properly screened and “are trying to turn [Sedgwick] into a ghetto.”
And there is the problem with policies like this. Giving someone a better place to live doesn’t automatically improve their lives. For some, like Starkes, it can make a difference, but other people need specialized help for mental illness or other disabilities that a nice apartment can’t fix. As the Post reported:
That approach calls for placing the homeless in long-term housing without first requiring treatment for mental illness or addiction. Many experts say it is the best way to help people who have trouble helping themselves amid the chaos of homelessness.
But as housing first has emerged as a national policy consensus, some have begun to warn that it is being applied too broadly and at times with inadequate support for people who aren’t ready for the independence and responsibilities of living by themselves.
City officials, naturally, told the Post that Sedgwick was not the result of mismanagement.