According to a recent research by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the number of homeless individual across the country has grown over 600,000; however, a worrying trend associated with the increase in homelessness is their involvement in crime (Saul, 2013). An absolute count of the homeless is challenging to arrive at since some of the homeless people live in cars, abandoned buildings, caves, under bridges, on the banks of rivers, and on steam grates. The number of homeless individuals in the U.S. has rapidly increased over the past several years. In some localities, such as New York, as of April 2013, the number had hit a notch high of 50,000 people (Saul, 2013). According to Leavitt (2007), about 24 million jobs, that is, one fifth of all employment opportunities in the US, cannot sustain families of four members above the poverty line. Homeless individuals involvement in violent crime and drug trafficking is becoming increasingly widespread in suburban areas and large cities, as well as, small towns in the US. Contemporary gangs due to homelessness have become a widespread threat to communities through the nation. Once considered largely an urban phenomenon, homeless individuals have increasingly emerged in smaller communities, presenting a challenge that adversely strains local resources.
This policy paper is intended to generate a greater awareness in the field of justice among courts, defenders, prosecutors, advocates, law enforcement, the homeless and social service providers about the resources available at States Department of Health and Human Services to serve those who risk being homelessness, and the law enforcement agencies in the US to deal with the homeless individuals involved in crime.
The Target Population
The main target populations for this policy are homeless individuals, especially those reported to be involved in criminal activities. There is no doubt that homelessness is a prevalent social problem in the US, with about 2.5 million homeless individuals. Taking part in criminal activity is the primary means that homeless individuals use to acquire the resources required for basic survival. Chamard (2010) reports that on any given night, there are about 636,000 homeless americans; these homeless populations are the primary target of this policy. The main eligibility requirement for the target population beiing affected by this policy is the lack of a regular dwelling and are unable to obtain and maintain adequate, secure and safe housing for both daytime and night-time residence. The underlying assumption that this policy draws upon is that homelessness increases the chances of an individual being involved in crime as a means to survive. Nevertheless, it is also imperative to ascertain whether an individual is homeless intentionally or the circumstances forced him/her to be homeless. People who are intentionally homeless include those individuals who are capable to secure a fixed and regular housing but opt to be homeless. People who are homeless because of the circumstances are those who do not have the means to afford am adequate and safe housing. This policy targets people who are homeless because of circumstances and those individuals who are intentionally homeless but involved in criminal activities.
The Decision Authority
This policy requires a collaborative work between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health Human Services (HHS). DOJ serves to address issues associated criminal activities undertaken by the homeless whereas HHS focuses on the social problem associated with homelessness. HHS is the principal government’s agency for protecting the health of the Americans citizens, as well as, to support the delivery of the basic human services; thus, HHS will play a forefront role in addressing the root cause of the crimes associated with homelessness. The criminal justice policy in the United States has a direct influence on the prison population but does not give emphasis on the prevention of crime.
This policy paper provides a problem solving outline to be applied to homeless families and their involvement in criminal activities. This policy should be a useful tool to provide guidelines for community groups and agencies to develop critical responses to homeless individuals and local crime problem. This policy will involve analysis, scanning, assessment and response. The Department of Health and Human Services, through The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) will be involved in first searching and identifying homelessness family problems. The second step is an analysis which involves a detailed investigation of the problem. After identifying documenting homeless individuals in the US, the DOJ, through its law enforcement agencies, through the Office of Justice Programs, will undertake a detailed analysis regarding the nature of crimes committed by homeless people and convicting these individuals accordingly. As a proactive measure, the USICH will be charged with the responsibility of implementing the proposed solutions to reduce homelessness in the US, which will be the first step towards reducing crimes linked to homelessness.
Policy Provision and Procedures
The policy of subsiding housing is very effective for first-time homeless families. Simulations by Quigley, Raphael and Smolensky (2001) highlighted that the implementation of this policy for low-income citizens had the strongest effect on reducing the homelessness rate as compared to other interventions experimented. Therefore, when this intervention is put in place, 80-85 per cent of homeless individuals and their linked gangs achieve housing stability. . Homeless individuals often form gangs that create problems local in nature. Whether rooted in neighborhoods or access to economic opportunity or providing surrogate families, most street gangs are local. These gangs tend to be affiliated to reputed nationwide networks and take advantage of local resources to carry out gang activities.
America has become a society almost preoccupied with homeless individuals linked to violence and drugs. Violence among homeless individuals has escalated and involvement in drugs has become an aspect of street gang life for over a decade. Gangs as a result of homelessness are now increasingly and almost exclusively blamed for drugs and criminal problems in the cities. This is associated with the fact that the number of homeless individuals has rapidly grown across the nation, affecting both smaller communities and larger cities like New York.
Transitional Of Permanent Housing Coupled With Supportive Services
For homeless individuals with extreme record of drug abuse or mental illness, transitional or permanent housing coupled with government supportive services is very effective. This policy addresses the abuse of drugs by homeless people (Michelle, 2013). Supportive housing policy aims at low-income individuals or families who at risk of becoming homeless or were formerly homeless. The services coupled with this policy help individuals and families in the network of community based programs that can empower them to return to self-reliance. The supportive services granted by the Federal government through Supportive Housing Policy are those considered as basic needs to assist people to self-sufficiency. Transitional housing is a form of temporary accommodation, which usually does not exceed 24 months (Michelle, 2013). This provision is also coupled with the free access to food and other supportive services. These include purchasing transportation services, such as taxi fares or bus tokens. Transportation is also provided for participants to acquire public assistance, medical care, training, education and other social services not availed on site.
Drug abuse leads to various social problems. This includes crimes, inter-gang violence, rape and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. This policy also prevents initial homelessness as a result of drug abuse and stigma (Chamard, 2010). Moreover, the poor and chronically people are removed from the streets. Some of the drug barons use the mentally challenged homeless people to traffic or sell drugs and guns in the streets. By minimizing the number of channels used to trade guns and drugs, the society benefits from reduced criminal activities. Follow ups by parole officers, and community groups ensure that the affected individuals completely reform. Drug users under probation or out f rehabilitation centers are regularly assessed to determine the need for providing any additional social services upon the completion or discharge from a judicial system program (Saul, 2013).
Direct Financial Assistance to Mortgage or Rent Arrears
Giving cash to citizens with mortgage arrears is the primary government policy to eradicated homelessness and the related social problems. However, this policy is facing administration challenges. It is also faulted with the threat of losing the house even after the settlement of the arrears. Research also indicates that the federal mediation is successful in retaining housing by approximately 70 per cent of normal families and up to about 85 per cent of the mentally challenged tenants, especially when their legal landlords have filed formal evictions (Leavitt, 2007). Gangs related to homelessness portray various aspects, and evoke different images to the society. The success or failure of the nationwide efforts to address such gang crimes depends on how the problems are understood and diagnosed. Law enforcement officials and politicians tend to rely on the legal framework such as criminal behavior to address the emergence of these gangs. This approach has failed since the legal components do not recognize that street gangs not only commit crime but also get involved in some other social problems (Leavitt, 2007).
With foreclosure soaring, prices plummeting and the mortgage market in panic, the government and the private sector should re-engineer the federal housing policy that has failed. The old policies were based on subsidized loans. The cost of subsidized loans ended up being transferred to taxpayers making life to be more expensive in other aspects. Over borrowing also leads to an imbalance in the national reserves. Subsidized loans also resulted in overbuilding, which was not the agenda of the policy. Therefore, communities and local agencies should develop policies and strategies to address their specific local gang problems by analyzing the nature of gangs affecting their neighborhood. Agencies must recognize that the way they picture homeless families will, to a greater extent, solve the gang problem in the neighborhood (DOJ, 2012).
A Collaborative and Community-Wide Action Policy
A collaborative and community-wide action policy would be more effective than the outlined policies above. This is subject to the fact that is incorporates everyone from homeless individuals to Washington. The logic is communal commitment to end chronic homelessness and the related gangs at the lowest level of the society within a set time frame. This policy discourages the overreliance on the central government’s strategies and programs towards decent housing and elimination of local gangs. It is based on the essence of having respect and love for neighbors. The other element of this policy is community policing. Community policing is very effective approach of curbing gang related activities or crimes. This is attributed to the fact that gang members are often locals. Churches and community groups can easily determine the homeless individuals within their regions and channel effective assistance to them. The highlighted policies can be integrated and applied as a community-wide strategy to eradicate homelessness and the linked gangs.
- Educating the community about homelessness. Community members should be enlightened on the root causes of the problem of homelessness as well as the constitutional limits on the law enforcement agencies in their efforts to manage the homeless individuals. Informed people tend to be cooperative to placement of facilities for the disadvantaged, and take part in fundraising endeavors for community programs meant to assist the homeless.
- Integrating community support to address the problem. This can be achieved by including homeless advocacy groups and other stakeholders in the planning stage to avoid being derailed by legal challenges. Some of the stakeholders include residents, politicians, business owners and city officials.
- Educating the law enforcement agencies, especially the police about homelessness: This includes the development of department policy and creating specialized units to deal specifically with the homeless individuals. The departmental policies should pertain to police contact with the homeless. A policy should contain procedures for arrest or casual contacts, and details of how to legally handle the property of the homeless.
- Establishing long-term homelessness community plan.
- Conduct burn sweeps to temporarily eliminate transients in public spaces.
- HHS must meet with the affected community prior to establishing encampments
- HHS has the mandate to set codes of conducts for residents in encampments
- It also has the power to restrict use of cooking and heating services in transitional housing
- HHS should also provide a reasonable number of toilets and shower facilities
- The agency must also specify the maximum distance for free transport service for service housing policy
- It is the mandate of the HHS to ensure that camp sites are clean
- HHS has the power to prevent gathering of transients by restricting public feeding of transients.
- HHS should also increase the capacity of local shelters by providing alternatives to encampment sites.
Recommendations and Conclusion
In conclusion, this paper recommends a collaborative and community-wide policy; a combination approach which emphasizes three broad agenda goals: (1) increased participation of the homeless in policy development; (2) increased cooperation and engagement of the Federal government and the law enforcement agencies; and (3) community investment society security in order to counter the developing gangs. These broad agenda goals are. A collaborative and community-wide policy must offer accessible and acceptable activities to everyone or some of the special population groups of the targeted geographical area. Scanning, analysis, response and evaluation of the homelessness problem must also be focused within a community as opposed to the nationwide approach. In the implementation of any policy of homelessness prevention and gang emergence eradication, consultation with homeless assures extensive investment in desired housing units. Participatory policy development and the choice of housing units by the homeless increases the probability of satisfaction and the willingness as well as the resolution to stay in the presented house.
Burt, M. R., Pearson, C. L., & Montgomery, A. E. (2007). Homelessness: Prevention, Strategies And Effectiveness. New York: Nova Science Publishers.
Chamard, S. (2010, January). HomelessEncampments. Retrieved April 30, 2013, from Center for Problem-Oriented Policing: http://cops.usdoj.gov/Publications/e011013251-HomelessEncampments.pdf
DOJ. (2012, May 8). Department of Justice Resource Guide. Retrieved April 30, 2013, from U.S. Department of Justice: http://www.justice.gov/atj/doj-resource-guide.pdf
Leavitt, M. O. (2007, March). Strategic Action Plan on Homelessness. Retrieved April 30, 2013, from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: http://www.hhs.gov/homeless/research/endhomelessness.html
Michelle, R. B. (2013). Supportive Housing Program. Retrieved April 30, 2013, from Illinois Department of Human Service: http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=59552
Saul, M. H. (2013, March 4). New York City Leads Jump in Homeless . Retrieved April 30, 2013, from The Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324539404578340731809639210.html