Cusp In The Media

How cities are reworking their approaches to homelessness

Communications Home Feature

When envisioning a “smart city” of the future, it’s hard to imagine a street of driverless cars, LEED platinum buildings and homeless men and women occupying the sidewalks between the two. Yet that vision is a complex reality for cities of all sizes — and the problem is in dire need of a long-term fix.

In decades past, attempted solutions to combat homelessness largely involved opening a shelter to get people off the street. But municipalities and their partners now are delving deeper into different approaches to the problem — including incorporating technological innovations — to get to the root homelessness and reduce the number of people who experience it.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are nearly 550,000 people experiencing homelessness in the United States. From 2015 to 2016, the number of people staying in shelters decreased by 5%, but the number of people staying in unsheltered locations increased by 2%. Although HUD notes a 15% overall decline in homelessness between 2007 and 2016, the issue is still prevalent and cities continue seeking ways to further drop the number.

More municipalities are adopting a holistic approach — known as a services-based system — and shying away from traditional solutions that only offer shelter — known as a facility-based system. Holistic approaches attempt to address the causes of homelessness such as substance abuse, joblessness or inadequate mental health care. Plus, they recognize each person as an individual with different needs rather than treating homelessness as a monolithic issue. Cities using service-based systems rather than facility-based systems find success with many residents becoming more self-sustaining and staying in shelters for a shorter period of time.

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