I asked our communications coordinator to check again. The percentage she just stated couldn’t be right. She revisited her notes and confirmed. Still unconvinced, I contacted our program manager. Again, the number was repeated.
How could it be that 50%—half—of participating Well members are currently homeless? The number has risen so sharply and so fast, I couldn’t quite take it in. But it’s true. And tragic.
Recently I came across information from the Federal Education Definition of Homelessness that defines a homeless individual as one who, “lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” This is a broad umbrella that includes:
- those in shelters and transitional housing, such as domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, youth shelters, trailers provided by FEMA, housing paid for by programs such as transitional housing, etc.
- those staying in motels/hotels due to lack of adequate alternatives, regardless of who pays for the motel/hotel room
- those staying with other people due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason
- the unsheltered, such as those staying in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings*
These four categories cover the majority of Well members. The few who live with family, in apartments or in boarding homes (often substandard) still remain housing insecure as their living arrangements are often short term. And, when they are required to move, they typically leave behind almost all of their belongings because they cannot move these things by themselves.
Why is homelessness such an issue for people who struggle with severe mental health issues? It can often be traced to their inability to work full time due to their conditions, which leads to poverty. Other factors include challenges with relationships, substance use disorder and the lack of affordable, clean, safe housing options. Basically, there are too many needs and too few solutions.
In 2007, the Well Community opened Jacob’s House, our city of Dallas licensed group home. Dozens of men have found a home there for various periods of time over the years. It not only provides safe and affordable housing, it also offers comradery, community and stability. Because of Jacob’s House, there are seven men who are no longer homeless.