Homeless Advocacy and Policy in the US and Abroad

Topics: AdvocacyPolicy

Garrow and Hasenfeld (2014) examined the types of advocacy nonprofits in Los Angeles (LA) engaged in. As they describe, an organization might advocate for social or organizational benefits—the former being improvements in the lives of a population of underprivileged (e.g., rights, policy change), the latter being benefits specifically for the clients of the organization. The researchers used a stratified sampling technique based on geographical location of the organizations within LA, and conducted phone surveys with executives of randomly selected organizations.

They found that organizations in poor areas were associated with advocacy for social benefits.

Those in more affluent areas advocated for organizational benefits, possibly because it was easier to appeal to donors and the direct effects of poverty and lack of resources did not affect the way they functioned.

That being said, 44% of organizations in the study took part in both types of advocacy, so this is not a mutually exclusive situation. The researchers also found that organizations that saw their clients’ misfortune as a symptom of societal problems more often advocated for social benefits. From a social movement perspective, organizations can seek more representation on, say, an advisory committee; they may also seek relief in the form of housing or skills and job training. An analysis of many homeless movement tactics and outcomes revealed that these types of relief were the most common outcomes, rather than representation, for participating organizations.

Policy and Public Opinion Speer (2018) studied the revitalization of downtown Fresno and the effect it had on homelessness in media and policies, analyzing media sources and holding interviews to find out common perceptions of homeless in Fresno.

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She ascertained that the homeless were deemed aesthetically unappealing, and this idea was disseminated in the news and reflected in creation of policy. Ordinances were passed that made panhandling and pushing a shopping cart illegal (11-12), and the city wanted the homeless camps to be tidy and “uniform”.

As in Fresno, many cities create ordinances that may technically apply to everyone but are specifically meant to deter behaviors associated with homelessness. Olson, MacDonald, and Rankin (2015) compared different Washington cites’ ordinances and citations targeted at homelessness. Some behaviors were covered by more than one ordinance (overlapping), and some ordinances covered more than one behavior (compound). Additionally, some behaviors were covered under both criminal and civil infractions, which caused inconsistencies in the way people were charged. Seattle issues by far the most civil citations of any city in Washington, but the homeless population there is one of the largest in the country.

Housing first, or supportive housing, is meant to house the homeless without contingencies like abstinence, and there are often social services like mental health treatment and addiction recovery services if the clients need them. In Seattle, for example, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) has been developing old buildings and building tiny homes for low-income or homeless people since 1990. They also run transitional encampments for the city, which are meant to allow people to adjust more slowly to a housed lifestyle, the thought being that some people have been experiencing homelessness for so long that a sudden shift might be excessively jarring. As noted by Garrow and (2014), organizations that are located in poorer areas are more likely to advocate for social benefits, which LIHI does.

Culhane, Metraux, and Hadley (2002) analyzed cost-benefit analysis of housing first options. They examined the cost of services used by homeless people with mental illness before and after being placed in supportive housing. They found that while the cost of services used after housing (including the cost of the living quarters) was slightly more than the overall services used while homeless; however, real savings occurred regarding the costs to healthcare, shelter services, and the justice system. This study directly affected national policy on homelessness in 2003 when supportive housing programs received additional funding in the fight to end homelessness.

Outside the United States Homelessness and health problems go hand-in-hand. In Germany, the fact that there is universal healthcare, coupled with housing assistance for people with medical issues, has the effect of reducing both the negative attitudes about the homeless, as well as the actual number of homeless people. A phone survey of people in Germany compared with people in the US revealed that Germans are more compassionate toward the homeless and felt that social factors played more of a role in becoming homeless than individual failure.

Canada also has easily accessed healthcare. In a randomized control trial comparing outcomes of people placed in housing and others who were not, there was very little difference in outcomes of because of this there was found to be little difference in healthcare outcomes between homeless individuals who had been placed in a housing first program and those who had not. The main difference found between the groups was that those placed in housing spent more time being housed than the other group.

A common issue in several European Union countries is the increase in immigrants and refugees. In many countries, government assistance is unavailable to people who are not citizens or who do not have identification. In the UK, the Housing Act of 1977 requires cities to find housing for “unintentionally”  homeless people. Because there is a limited amount of assistance available, level of need must be determined, which runs the risk of excluding people based on their not being needy enough.


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Homeless Advocacy and Policy in the US and Abroad. (2022, Feb 22). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/homeless-advocacy-and-policy-in-the-us-and-abroad/

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