Let’s examine Baltimore’s two big plights. First: The city’s housing crisis has resulted in 16,000 vacant homes, and second, on any given night, 3,000 people will experience homelessness.
For the sake of human dignity, isn’t the answer to both problems to simply put them together? Why can’t these empty homes be turned into housing for the homeless?
That’s the mission of Housing Our Neighbors, a group that’s part of the Housing Is A Human Right Roundtable organization that’s made up of anti-homelessness advocates. As the Atlantic reports, the Roundtable is hoping to “create a community land trust — a non-profit that will hold the title to the land in order to make it permanently affordable.” The same approach has worked to protect low-income residents from gentrification in places like Austin, Texas; Albany, Ga.; and Albuquerque, N.M., the publication says.
“Why do we live in a city with tens of thousands of vacant homes and still have people who are homeless?” Father Ty Hullinger of St. Anthony of Padua, a local Roman Catholic Church, says in the Roundtable video below. “We have parishioners who have lost their homes to foreclosure. These are families that work hard to keep their homes but found themselves, like many American families, unable to get out from under the debt [from] financing their homes.”
Baltimore’s just a smaller example of what’s happening throughout the United States. As Amnesty International wrote in a blog post following the last government census, “approximately 3.5 million people in the U.S. are homeless, many of them veterans…at the same time, there are 18.5 million vacant homes in the country.”
Here at NationSwell, we’ve mentioned several times how the idea of providing “housing first” has taken off in Utah, a state where chronic homelessness has dropped 74 percent over the past eight years and is on track to become eradicated by 2015. Similar initiatives are also working in Atlanta and Nashville. (It’s even saving taxpayers’ money.)
Give a homeless person a safe shelter and an address, then he or she can go to work on finding a job and getting back on track. “Most people are homeless largely for economic reasons,” Nan Roman, the president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, tells The Atlantic. “If there’s not enough affordable housing, people who have additional barriers are not going to be competitive in the market and they’re going to lose out.”