I ran into an interesting fact and it seems like a simple solution, of course it isn’t. The numbers are staggering but some states are making a difference. Millions of Americans are homeless, and yet they’re outnumbered by vacant homes and government-owned buildings. A growing number of activists are calling for these empty spaces to be filled with the humans living on America’s streets. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, almost 600,000 people experience homelessness on any given night in the United States as of January 2014. About 15 % of those people are the “chronically homeless,” while the rest may lose their homes temporarily but find some form of recovery that keeps them off the streets on a long-term basis.
Since 2007, banks have foreclosed around eight million homes. It is estimated that another eight to ten million homes will be foreclosed before the financial crisis is over. This approach to resolving one part of the financial crisis means many, many families are living without adequate and secure housing. In addition, approximately 3.5 million people in the U.S. are homeless, many of them veterans. It is worth noting that, at the same time, there are 18.5 million vacant homes in the country. Most empty homes sit vacant after foreclosures, leaving them owned by banks that are loathe to part with them. Interestingly, the numbers appear to be similar in Europe, homes are built for people to live in, if they’re not being lived in then something has gone seriously wrong with the housing market.
European Union figures show that there are 4.1 million homeless living across Europe, while there are 11 million empty homes across the continent. So in the U.S., another report last year highlighted the 77,000 empty government buildings that could be refitted to house the homeless. Some existing legislation allows for a solution, it requires local pressure and pro-active legislators to be effective. In San Francisco, for example, the city passed the Surplus Property Ordinance in 2004, which gave the Mayor’s Office for Housing the jurisdiction of vacant lots so they could be developed into shelters for homeless people and in Seattle, a homeless grassroots group called Operation Homestead re-opened abandoned apartment buildings and turned them into affordable housing for formerly homeless people.
Activists in Baltimore are pressuring lawmakers to house that city’s 30,000 homeless in its estimated 16,000 empty homes. Clearly there’s a moral crisis when you see so many people in need of homes and there’s such a glut of vacant ones. Utah announced it has almost eliminated chronic homelessness through a pioneering program to put the homeless in vacant apartments, then provide them with social services like drug rehabilitation after they are safely housed. Officials announced that they had reduced by 91% the ranks of the chronically homeless, defined as someone who has spent at least one year full-time on the streets and are now approaching a real solution. In 2005, when state officials began placing people in permanent housing, they counted 1,932 chronically homeless. Today, with 1,764 people housed, that number has plummeted to just 178 statewide. And officials have their sights set on those remaining.
Overall, data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness suggests the homeless population, defined as those who sleep on the streets or resort to shelters, has decreased since 2007. But the same figures look far less positive after factoring in the number of people who still lack homes of their own. According to the alliance, “The number of poor people living doubled up, has grown substantially over the last several years. These are people who are housed, but not living independently in their own homes. This is a symptom of the affordable housing crisis in this country.” I would say that this issue can be resolved. Now, the people given homes should have to qualify just like they qualify for benefits, but those who choose to use this system to get a home should be given that opportunity. Banks can be given the value of the home or they can be given a tax break. Everyone can win in this situation, it just takes the little guy making a difference.