Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Nonprofits are pushing a homeless policy that works for some but not for others (wng.org)
73 points by tomohawk 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 21 comments

> Twenty-five years later, Megison is now president and CEO of Solutions for Change, a nonprofit transitional housing program for homeless families in North County San Diego. Key to Solutions’ success is its requirement that families stay sober and go through an intensive, structured 1,000-day residential program that includes classes on parenting, servant leadership, job training, and financial literacy. Ninety-three percent of families who have graduated from the program are still housed, employed, and self-sustaining.

Housing First has undergone randomized assessments. Has Solutions for Change? Touting a 93% (!!!) 'success rate' reminds me of the bogus AA claims, where they report similar literally unbelievable success rates (and note the overlap of alcoholism with homelessness) by a variety of mechanisms like screening out the hard cases, excluding anyone who doesn't complete the program, ultra-small samples, using weak endpoints like very short-term followups of self-reports or additional attrition, publication bias, p-hacking various outcomes and adding new ones on the fly etc. As a rule, there are no interventions with 93% success rates for such intractable problems as schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug addictions, homelessness, or poverty - the experiment has died and the statistician can only do a post-mortem.

Yes, the 93% success rate seems to be for people who finish the initial 1000 days so they exclude anyone who doesn't complete the program.

I believe it, because 1,000 days is a long time. The baseline rate for people being homeless for so long is already pretty low.

That's a really good point. I'd love to see, and then not believe anyway, some sources for these claims.


>As many have come to expect, WORLD reports the news from a Christian worldview: interpreting world events under the reality of the Christian faith. We strive to provide clarity—relying on the talents of highly skilled, professional journalists and commentators—so you receive stories that are fact-based and put into their proper context. You get the news straight up, unburdened from points of view that fight against ultimate truth.

Not just a Christian worldview, per se, but one founded to "to challenge the assumptions and activities of the liberals and to return the Southern Presbyterian denomination to its biblical moorings". See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_(magazine)

Like any large structural social problem, there's probably not a single all-encompassing policy solution at the current time. Housing First has shown some success. Kudos to Solutions for Change for its accomplishments, too. It's important to realize that Housing First doesn't imply Housing Last, a distinction I'm not sure the article makes.

Ah yes, homelessness in California again. I've worked on a bunch of homeless service projects (I do grant writing for nonprofit and public agencies), and the biggest problem with homeless services is actually zoning—for reasons I describe in "L.A. digs a hole more slowly than economics fills it back in: The Proposition HHH Facilities Program RFP:" http://seliger.com/2017/08/30/l-digs-hole-slowly-economics-f... .

Until the zoning / NIMBY / Prop 13 problems get addressed, there isn't enough money in the world to do enough on the homeless challenges.

Despite this being anecdotal, I think the takeaway seems to be that homelessness is not a simple, single problem, and thus there is no simple, one-size solution.

It also highlights that intelligent, informed people of good will, acting in good faith can view a problem and come up with different solutions.

The unacknowledged myth of public policy is that there is no such thing as "the public good". No treatment -- drug, government policy, 'planning' -- can benefit all people. E.g. People in your country are suffering from malnutrition so you decide to subsidize certain crops. Congratulations now high fructose corn syrup has created an obesity epidemic. In the medical field this is acknowledged under the study of 'iatrogenics', that harm which results from attempting to help.

Unstudied, or unstudiable, government policy results in whole societies being forced to take metaphorical drugs in which politicians, without any supporting evidence, tell the populace that this policy will help them. And yet people who live in the real world see the exact opposite. The economic and social isolation of the political class exacerbates this effect.

> No treatment -- drug, government policy, 'planning' -- can benefit all people.

This is the fundamental problem that any just political systems seeks to solve. No policy will ever benefit everyone, much less benefit them equally. That doesn't mean we should avoid implementing policies that help some more than others: that is in itself a form of injustice.

You confuse "the public good" with "a universal panacea." Reduction of homelessness helps society as a whole, even if it doesn't eliminate it.

Homelessness has a lot of parallels to education and how we teach kids. In schools we need lessons that are individualized to a student. Not every student learns the same. The buzzword that goes around is individualized instruction.

The same can be said of how we fix homelessness. There is no one size fits all solution. You have to figure out for any given person what they need. This is what makes it so expensive to fix. As a society we love panaceas. The reality is that we need to figure out how to diagnose the root cause of a person's homelessness faster and cheaper before anything will get better. With respect to how we do that our technology is still stuck in the middle ages.

Tangent: I find the idea that we'll reach zero employment any time soon strange, because we have (and have always had) a desperate need for social workers. We could have 10x the number we have today, and still not be providing the level of individualized care that would meet most people's idea of an "ethical system" vs. being some sort of Kafka-esque farce.

Maybe nobody will want to pay them (their salaries come out of taxes, after all), but the jobs will continue to exist, with whatever budget—they certainly can't be automated away. There is an intrinsically human element to figuring out just how to untangle a (seemingly-irreversibly) knotted-up human life.

> Not every student learns the same

In the 90s the Teacher's Union often discussed the fruit cart metaphor. Much of the fruit is at or above standard, but in any pile the growth the substandard (and rotten) always occurs. Education rarely benefits from improvements to production-line approaches, where deviation is discarded.

I am really sort of tired of the articles and discussions of homelessness and "the homeless." It is very othering.

Will we ever talk about how society no longer provides affordable housing for young single adults and similar demographics?

I am so tired of these discussions and how they turn a certain segment of society into zoo animals to gawk at in a way that just reinforces the idea that there is something wrong with these people rather than something wrong with society and our policies.

Thanks for sharing. It's interesting that some of the criticism of the housing first approach seem similar to criticisms about housing projects.

I think we've largely seen a policy change away from projects to vouchers that spread people out, though I've also seen some studies saying that projects vs vouchers is not a choice that is better for every demographic group, one way or another.

In an ideal world, you would send people to the program that works for them, but that raises questions of fairness and asks who is going to be making decisions. Maybe it's good that these decisions are being made by decentralized NGOs rather than the government.

Surprisingly, the article was not bad, although the libertarian bias is pretty bare with the last paragraph. But really, World News Group?

I don't notice anything particularly libertarian about the last paragraph, but I appreciate that the article illustrated the complex nature of homelessness. Most media describe the homeless in sugar coated terms, presumably for fear of being viewed as cruel. I found it refreshing that this article was willing to paint a realistic portrait of homelessness. It seems to me that over-emphasizing the innocence of certain groups is often less compassionate than looking honestly at the root causes.

If this sort of realism is particular to one political ideology, sign me up.

  each chronically homeless individual uses about $30,000 to $50,000 in taxpayer funds per year by cycling in and out of emergency rooms, hospital beds, detox programs, jails, and psychiatric institutions.

Damn, that is a huge amount of money. This can't be unique to the U.S. How do they address this problem in other countries?

I read the article and I found the headline to be rather uninspired and obvious. No policy works for everyone. Instead: “When ‘housing first’ fails, some homeless turn to more structured aid.”

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact