Social Policy: The Homelessness Problem

Introduction

The structural, individual, and systemic factors which contribute to homelessness are highly complex. With the unprecedented socioeconomic changes, effective policies that can harness the homelessness pandemic have become imperative. It has been argued that government policies against homelessness are useful, which could be right for specific states. However, the current state of homelessness in California is reflective of the ineffectiveness of government policies, or lack thereof. A public-private partnership could help to minimize homelessness in California. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the efficacy of the state’s involvement and social systems in addressing homelessness. The writing also explores comparative social work practice, social security privatization, and private and public programs that address homelessness.

Government Involvement and Policy on Homelessness

The government can influence homelessness by developing initiatives that address its systemic drivers, such as affordable housing, unemployment, and domestic violence. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) strategic action plan against the issue mentioned above outlines four goals for addressing it. They include ending chronic homelessness among individuals and families, providing social services help to the vagrants, empowering state and community partners to better their capacity to respond to this population’s needs. One more goal is developing a derelict surveillance program that monitors the government’s progress in preventing and ending the problem (“Homelessness Legislation,” 2020). Congress legislation focuses on enabling the funding of distinguished homeless and housing programs (“Homelessness Legislation,” 2020). For example, the U.S Senate bill and the U.S Housing bill mandate the government to appropriate funding to the Housing First Approach, Continuums of Care (CoCs), and Housing Choice Vouchers who support social services to the homeless (“Homelessness Legislation,” 2020). The Basic Assistance for College Students Act, on the other hand, established a federal government’s grant program which provides subsidies, food, and housing arrangement for all college students in the United States.

These government policies are ineffective because they do not confront the systematic or structural causes of homelessness. The condition mentioned above is mainly caused by high housing costs, low income, and unemployment, none of which have been addressed in its strategy. Policies such as rental caps would have fixed the problem by making housing affordable for poor and low-income workers. At the national and community level, these policies have not done much to better the situation. At large, the state and country will continue to battle homelessness unless the structural and systemic causes are tackled adequately.

Private and Public Programs Against Homelessness

In collaboration with key stakeholders, the government has invested in several national initiatives to prevent and end homelessness. These significant stakeholders currently working with the federal government in ending homelessness include the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Department of Education (“Homelessness Legislation,” 2020). The HUD administers a program called Continuum of Care, which provides funding for emergency shelters and permanent supportive housing. Out of the 917 Continuum of Care (CoC) projects in California, 908 (99%) have implemented the “Housing First” approach (Colletti, 2018). This is a rights-based strategy embedded in the notion that all individuals deserve housing.

“Housing First” is a strategy that strives to end homelessness by moving the affected individuals into permanent housing. The program also provides complimentary services and permanent housing to help victims comfortably adjust to their new houses (Colleti, 2018). Private entities have also made significant contributions to resolving the problems. For example, Apple donated $400 million for affordable housing projects (USC Equity Research Institute, 2020). Ending homelessness means this situation will be rare, brief, and a one-time experience for every American in the United States.

Effectiveness of Social Policy

The funding provided by the federal government has an undeniable positive impact on homeless people, especially on low-income households. Due to limited funds, only one in every four homes receives rental assistance from the government (“Affordable Housing,” n.d.). However, it can take up to several years to receive federal aid. The effect of the public program has been more significant at the mezzo level than at the micro level. The government tends to prioritize the homeless with families over the individual homeless. Low-income families are the largest beneficiaries, accounting for 75% of all beneficiaries (“Affordable Housing,” n.d.). Nonetheless, the federal government cuts down household spending by $125 billion in domestic programs. Unfortunately, over 2.2 million families depend on these programs and, therefore, are at risk of being homeless (“Affordable housing,” n.d.). Shifting the rental burden back to households and individuals will only exacerbate the problem.

Social Security Privatization

Social security has been one of the most impactful programs in the United States. The project entails compulsory payrolls that are administered during retirement, death of a spouse, survivors, and insurance programs for the Disabled. There has been a growing interest in replacing it with a private system (Mitchell, 2018). Policymakers have proposed social security privatization alternatives such as mandatory savings and partial or complete dissolution of the approach. Privatization will allow Americans to choose their retirement and disability insurance plans. Investments will be saved in a separate account, and their value would fluctuate depending on the market value. Proponents of this system cite higher savings and investments for the public and future economic growth (Mitchell, 2018). Retirees are living for too long, and the current workforce cannot sustain the program. Social security has already accumulated billions in liabilities demanding that major cut downs be made to support the project.

Implications to Social Work and Homelessness

Social security privatization will expose the public to investment risk, which will, in turn, undermine the security and safety values of retirement plans. The program will leave many impoverished households and individuals without a safety net or guarantee in case of a market crash. Statistics from the HCV show that seventy-five percent of homeless beneficiaries are low-income earners, thirty-six percent have a household head with a disability, and twenty-five percent are the elderly (“Affordable Housing,” n.d.). Hence, privatization of the project might aggravate the homelessness situation. This can be attributed to the fact that vulnerable populations are less likely to save. Given that the elderly and the poor lack stable sources of income, compounded by the privatization of the social security program, there is a probability that homelessness in the United States might increase.

Comparative Social Work

Social work is characterized by country-specific policies and regulations that underpin their practice. The International Association of Schools of Social Work and the International Federation of Social Workers have made a significant contribution to social work with respect to improving social work’s involvement across different countries. The organizations have promoted diversity in social work by publishing academic literature on social practice in other nations. Through the efforts of these organizations, social workers can identify and compile data from different countries and compare them with their national social work systems.

Comparative social work helps social workers to familiarize themselves with the practice standards in different settings and societies, hence broadening their knowledge of the discipline. Additionally, increasing understanding of social work practices on the international scale exposes the local-level operations to constant criticism from the public (Singer & Sage, 2015). In contrast, social workers at the microdomain level are likely to absorb and adopt skills and expertise to transform professional practice. An example of social work practice that has been significantly affected by comparative social work is the use of technology. The integration of ICT with social work has been limited by micro factors that restrict social services workers’ access to technology. However, macro factors such as healthcare policies and an increase in knowledge of online treatment interventions and mobile and social media communication have led to the popularity of online treatments in social work (Singer & Sage, 2015). The cognizance of international social work processes can directly influence the policy of nation-states, which affects the local-level social practices.

Conclusion

Government policies can influence homelessness through statutory responsibilities with respect to providing access to public spaces, regulation of homeless shelters, and the coordination of housing services. Compounded by the privatization of the social security system and significant budgetary cuts, homelessness is likely to increase. Unfortunately, most governmental policies are band-aid solutions to deeply-rooted problems. A public-private partnership could help to alleviate homelessness at the micro and macro level. Private organizations could finance housing programs while the government addresses the structural and systemic causes of homelessness. Comparative social work can help inform the local and national policy-makers on the best strategies to minimize homelessness.

References

Affordable housing. (n.d.). National Alliance to End Homelessness. Web.

Colletti, J. (2019). How many California continuum of care projects funded through the federal continuum of care program is implementing a housing-first approach? Hub for Urban Initiatives. Web.

Homelessness legislation (2020). National Alliance to End Homelessness. Web.

Mitchell, D. J. (2018). The case for privatizing social security just got stronger. Foundation for Economic Education. Web.

‌Singer, J. & Sage, M. (2015). Technology and social work practice: micro, mezzo, and macro applications. In Social workers’ desk reference (pp.179-188). Oxford University Press.

USC Equity Research Institute (2020). Toward a greater Los Angeles. UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.