There are people out there who are unable to care for themselves — People with severe mental illness, severe disability, or people who simply are unable to responsibly hold a job.
For this group, it’s essential that we have a way to provide housing, food, support services and entertainment, so that they may have a fulfilling life. And it’s important we provide it for 100% of those who need it. I think we can all agree on that.
The real question is, what is the best solution? How do we do it affordably and how do we do it responsibly?
The Rural Care Center Solution
I’d like to propose something radical. Try to think about this logically without rushing to pass judgement.
What if we took a rural town and gave them a large economic stimulus in exchange for building retirement communities for the homeless. Here me out:
First, rural towns are struggling economically and their city has a lot to gain through this. Caring for others can be a staple industry in these cities. It could revolutionize a struggling city into a vibrant community.
Second, building centers in rural towns is 4x more cost effective than building them in large cities. That means we could actually have a chance of ending homelessness if a solution like this works. The figures below to show how this solution could save literally, trillions of dollars of the years.
Third, large cities a) don’t have enough land to build proper supportive housing communities for the homeless and b) it doesn’t make sense to use what little land they have for people who will not be working in the city.
The reason free homeless housing was first put in the city was because it was thought that people needed to be close to where the jobs were. However, the subset of the homeless population who Rural Retirement Centers are made for is the subset that will not be working for the rest of their life.
Fourth, it provide the proper incentives to get people working again who can work again. Currently, 95% of those given free homeless supportive housing in the city never work again. That’s largely because there is no incentive too, you’ve already got free housing with support services in a prime location! If you work, you can actually loose it!
“I’m not saying Rural Care Centers is the answer, but if you have a better solution please show it to me.”
So under this proposal the free housing left in the city is moved into transitional housing, meaning you only have 2 years maximum stay there and you need to figure out a way to earn income for yourself after that. In other words, we can house anyone temporarily in the city if they need a quick moment to get back on their feet, after that you’re more or less retiring on the governments’ dime and the housing you are offered is not in a prime location.
Lastly, research has shown that putting mentally unstable people in dense urban areas leads to conflict. That day when someone forgets to take their meds or has a “trigger moment” can turn into something much worse than it needs to if the right people aren’t around to help. The best solutions for the severely mentally ill continues to be finding a large safe area for them to call home and surrounding them with a community of familiar people whom they trust.
“Everything about homelessness as we know it would change.”
Proving the Model
This is still just an idea… I’m not proposing this is the silver bullet and everything needs to change around this. But it could be.
Like all ideas, the only way to find out if it’s good or shit is to try it out. And the key is to do it responsibly.
You start with one small city that is struggling economically (lets say Stockton, CA) and a city close it with a large homeless population in need of housing (Santa Clara County). Santa Clara county spends $520,000,000/yr on homeless programs. Most of that goes towards helping 2,800 struggling individuals.
So if Santa Clara took $100,000,000 and gave it to Stockton to build out a retirement community for 1,000 people, would that be so crazy? What if it worked? What if the people who moved there loved it and the people of Stockton loved it…
Everything about homelessness as we know it would change.
Any idea can be done responsibly or irresponsibly. Giving people strictly housing would be irresponsible, because it wouldn’t cater to all their other needs. Any proper program like this would need to include: Food, shelter, mental healthcare, medical care, religious support, community programing, workforce empowerment programs, unlimited travel to all neighboring cities (especially they’re coming from) and lots of fun filled activities for people to engage with the community. A responsible program would be celebrated as a victory in the community, where as an irresponsible program — the kind where people are left to struggle to get the things they need — will end up in a disaster.
There are three big objections that could stand in the way of this working.
There are many people who would see this as ‘sending poor people outside the city.’ This is called optics — when regardless of positive something is if it looks bad than politicians won’t get behind it.
I’m not a big believer in optics. I’m a believer in numbers. I’m a big believer in 1,000 people who now have homes and a city who is saving $100,000,000 a year (assuming this works).
I’m a believer in trying out crazy ideas, because when they work things change. I’m a believer in reforming our current systems so that no one ever has to be homeless again.
Or Not In My Back Yard — there is a chance that people in the rural city will fight against this solution. Maybe I live in Stockton and I’m not okay with 1,000 homeless people moving into our town! I am afraid of the unknown!
I think this is a logical fear, one that can only be overcome with responsible communications and proper incentives. Yes, we have a 1,000 homeless people moving in, but they will never be homeless here and we are supplying 2,500 people with jobs. Yes, there are 1,000 new community members coming to town, but we are also bringing in a new church, new football stadium, new movie theater and BINGO every day of the week!!! You get the idea.
Every form of NIMBYism I’ve seen related to homeless comes down to health and safety of the community. If we can prove that with the rural stimulus program we can help make a rural town more safe and prosperous than we can win this battle.
The third problem with this solution is it’s currently not possible for different county’s to work together on homeless programs. Technically it is possible, but no one does it. It’s a whole new thing — and new things scare people.
What happens if something goes wrong? Who is to blame? What happens if we need more money? What if a citizen is killed by someone we bring in? Will I loose my job?
This type of thinking is status quo in politics and it stops a lot of good ideas from moving forward. Like all things, you just have to lay out all your worries and make the best solutions you can for various outcomes. It’s not hard to do, it just takes the willpower of people who want to see things move forward.
“This type of thinking is status quo in politics and it stops a lot of good ideas from moving forward.”
Are there better options?
To be fair, all cities across America are already trying their best to help the homeless in their area. Cities are simply unable to do anything more, because of rising land costs, lack of available land, and citizens that honestly, don’t want to let homeless housing happen in their back yard.
The 30 most expensive cities in America are home to 40% of America’s homeless population.
Rent in these cities keeps going higher and higher and as it goes higher more and more people become homeless. Furthermore, homeless housing costs continue to go up. So where does that leave us?
Big Dreams, Small Beginnings
The Rural Retirement community model is already used to help the elderly, there is no reason why it can’t be integrated for an expanded group. And if this model proves successful then it can be replicated all around the world.
Rising homelessness and an aging population are two major factors that will have to be dealt with eventually. I suspect things will only get more complicated in the future when automated vehicles wipe out 4–8% of jobs in the US by 2030. Before that happens America needs to come up with better solutions to help those in need. I’m not saying Rural Care Centers is the answer, but if you have a better solution please show it to me.
Housing those in need is a problems that almost every nation faces, yet no country with 100mm or more people has an adequate solution. As the world around us changes, so most our civic solutions. If interested in chatting more on things, please ping me on Twitter — @StartupGreg