In 2007, Springfield, Massachusetts, set out a plan to end long-term homelessness within 10 years. The following year, officials and advocates from Hamden, Hampshire and Franklin counties came together to craft a similar plan.
But 11 years later, homelessness in the region still persists.
Diane Lederman, a reporter with The Springfield Republican, examined what's happened to this plan.
Kari Njiiri, NEPR: First of all, how was the plan going to achieve the goal of ending homelessness within a decade?
Diane Lederman, Springfield Republican: I think they were assuming that if they got more housing, they would be able to move people into housing. But I don't think they understood the housing population that they were dealing with. I think it was a very optimistic goal, and I'm not sure there were the fine-tuned points along the way to actually achieve that goal.
Homelessness is not easy. I mean, obviously, there are lots of issues. There's alcohol and drug abuse, expensive housing, and just habits that people get into.
And I think what has happened since then is they realize how complicated the issue is, and have approached it in a different way, by looking at providing housing first, and then helping people get stabilized.
Before, it was: you had to be ready for housing. You couldn't be drinking or taking drugs. And that, I think, complicated things a lot.
So now the approach is to put people into housing, and then address the issues that led to the homelessness in the first place?
Correct. The idea is to get people stabilized first in housing, and then treat the addictions and the alcoholism and the drug abuse once they have a place to live. Because otherwise, you're constantly worrying about where are you going to sleep that night, where are you going to get a meal. And it's hard to think about the other things contributing to the problem, and the causes of homelessness.
Have there been improvements?
There have been improvements. Springfield gathers together with — there's about 15 different agencies, and they meet, and they have a "by name" kind of approach, where they know the chronic homeless. They're able to look at where they stand, like the ones that are most acutely in need will get housing first. And they kind of work down the list.
So this way, they can kind of keep track of people in a very humane way. That's been one improvement.
The other is there have been more beds for homeless people, and more housing. But there's still a dire need for more affordable housing. Rents are going up, up, up. So that makes it really hard.
When talking to officials and advocates, do they foresee any time where homelessness will end in the region?
Well, there is a western Mass. coalition to end homelessness that is incredibly committed and active. There was just a meeting in Greenfield in November, where they brought everyone together — like legislators, and educators and human service people. The idea is to kind of approach it from a — I guess you could call it holistic, but they really need to address it on all levels. I think that there really is that sense of commitment to work together on this, that it's not so much in pockets. I think that's the thing.
Before, it was, you know, we got to get people into housing, but now they're looking at it in a way that's more comprehensive. And it's not going to end anytime soon. Hopefully there will be fewer homeless in 2019.