Homelessness

“Research and experience over the past 20 years has shown that there is a cost-effective solution to chronic homelessness known as permanent supportive housing”

National Alliance to End Homelessness 

The problem of homelessness is widespread. "An estimated 1.6 million people access homeless shelter services" each year nationally, and "there are approximately 124,000 chronically homeless individuals in the United States," according to a March 2010 brief released by the National Alliance to End Homeless­ness.1 In Baltimore alone, "more than 4,000 people experience homelessness on any given night."2

Though many experience homelessness for only a brief time, "chronically homeless people have disabilities such as serious mental illness, chronic substance use disorders, or chronic medical issues and are homeless repeatedly or for long periods of time."3 Solutions must couple "housing with supportive services that target the specific needs of an individual or family.''4

As the six tales in this section illustrate, Marian House effectively provides such services. The women's experiences shed light on the spiritual, physical, and psychological costs associated with homelessness, and the impact Marian House's supportive transitional and permanent housing has had in helping the women turn their lives around.

At the most basic level, homelessness is dehumanizing: "I had to display this hard person that didn't want to care" (Kendra Gatling); "I had no zest for life at all; I didn't care if I lived or died" (Helena Weathers); "I just felt like nobody cared about me" (Deneen Houze). Additionally, homelessness compounds other problems, including the risk of incarceration. According to one report, "The connection between homelessness and incarceration is bidirectional: incarceration can lead to homelessness, and homelessness often results in incarceration.''5

Homelessness is a corollary to a life in chaos: "I was a junkie living on the streets; I had nowhere to go" (Cynthia Kopec); "I was addicted to drugs and alcohol, homeless, mentally unstable, and just going through a lot of mental difficulties" (Helena Weathers); "I was incarcerated and I was homeless"

(Rowena Gore-Simmons); As such, housing needs to be addressed as fully as every other condition facing the women who come to Marian House.

Studies show programs offering supportive housing that "include health care, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, employment counseling, connections with mainstream benefits like Medicaid"6 and other such services have a significant positive impact not just on the afflicted individuals but on society as a whole: "A study of homeless people in New York City with serious mental illness found that providing permanent supportive housing to the individuals directly resulted in a 60% decrease in emergency shelter use for clients ... Research on the overall costs to the taxpayer of permanent supportive housing has consistently found the costs to the taxpayers to be about the same or lower than having a chronically homeless individual sleep in an emergency shelter."7

For individuals who receive services such as those offered by Marian House, the results are transformative: "Me coming to Marian House was an intervention from God" (Rowena Gore-Simmons); "Marian House broke into that hard shell and got to the core of what was wrong" (Kendra Gatling). For Cynthia Kopec, being at Marian House after living on the streets had a profound psychological impact: "The day I got to Marian House and saw the facility and met everybody, I saw my own room ... I knew I was safe, I knew I could get the help that I needed."

It is little wonder the women who benefitted from the opportunity to restore their lives through Marian House express exasperation at the state of current inadequate resources. "You hear the politicians say they want the drug addicts and the homeless to get help, but the help is so hard to find" (Cynthia Kopec); "As many vacant houses as they have in Baltimore City, if they could just rebuild some of those houses and open up some more homeless shelters for people like us" (Willette Fair).

Willette Fair observes of her own journey, "I came from living in somebody's basement on a sofa up to having my own apartment unit; sleeping in my own bed, having my own kitchen and bathroom." Solutions exist, leaving one wondering why they are not more aggressively pursued.

  1. Chronic Homelessness: Policy Solutions, March 2012 report issued by National Alliance to End Homelessness, p.1
  2. Still Serving Time: Struggling with Homelessness, Incarceration & Re-Entry in Baltimore, October 2011 report issued b Health Care for the Homeless, Inc., p.3
  3. Chronic Homelessness: Policy Solutions, March 2012 report issued by National Alliance to End Homelessness, p.1
  4. Chronic Homelessness: Policy Solutions, March 2012 report issued by National Alliance to End Homelessness, p.2
  5. Still Serving Time: Struggling with Homelessness, Incarceration & Re-Entry in Baltimore, October 2011 report issued b Health Care for the Homeless, Inc., p.3
  6. Chronic Homelessness: Policy Solutions, March 2012 report issued by National Alliance to End Homelessness, p.2
  7. Chronic Homelessness: Policy Solutions, March 2012 report issued by National Alliance to End Homelessness, p.2

Videos

Homelessness: A Primer

Katie Allston, Executive Director of Marian House, offers insights on homelessness and the approach Marian House takes with the women they serve.

Homelessness: Perspectives

Marian House alumnae Willette Fair, Deneen Houze, Cynthia Kopec, Paris Turner, and Chanta Whiting share their experiences with and feelings about homelessness.