Skip to main content

Housing Programs: Helpful or Harmful?

homeless man tampering with gas meters

tampering with gas meters

tampering with gas meters

housing programs are not working in some areas. The International Bill of Human Rights states:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that the exercise of a person's rights and freedoms may be subject to certain limitations, which must be determined by law, solely for the purpose of securing due recognition of the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

Often, the words rights and privileges are used interchangeably, even when to do so is inaccurate. While privileges must be earned, there are also rights that do not automatically exist without certain conditions. In some cases, the conditions include responsibilities and obligations.

Throughout the United States, there are different ways housing programs are implemented. At its best, the programs are helpful and successful for everyone concerned. At its worst, it's a total disaster for everyone concerned.

Housing Programs in Des Moines, Iowa

In Des Moines, Iowa, the latter is exemplified by a private, nonprofit agency called Anawim Housing. While stating "We believe housing is a human right," no conditions exist. Initially called Shelter Plus Care, and transitioning into the Housing First model, rules and even laws that apply to all other people do not apply to their tenants.

This is the first mistake. eg. when illegal drug use is permitted, it becomes a breeding-ground for other criminal activity, and a magnet for criminals. eg. when tenants are permitted to move additional people into their apartments, it becomes a haven for opportunists and predators. Too often, the tenants themselves are harmed.

And, as no person or property is an "island," the effects spread out of control.

The second mistake: Anawim Housing presents a wide range of services and programs that can help individuals address addiction and mental health issues, but "participation is not required as services have been found to be more effective when a person chooses to engage." Anyone who has the most basic knowledge of addiction is fully aware that this 'choice' is rarely made when based solely on "self-determination." ( )

As one neighbor worded it clearly and to the point: They have no incentive.

In contrast, others who need assistance do have responsibilities, obligations, and requirements. As an example, a young mother who needs government assistance must either obtain and hold a job, or participate in some type of job-readiness training or education. Yet, Anawim Housing's tenants are not required to do anything.

The third mistake: tenants- ranging from middle-aged to seniors- are not considered responsible for their behaviors and actions. Whether it's outrageous disruptions to neighbors' everyday lives, destruction of property, or directly harassing others, in most cases they are permitted to retain their apartments and continue the behaviors.

Scroll to Continue

Every person deserves a chance, and every person deserves help. The way this housing program is in practice in this area does not provide either of these features. Consequently, it not only results in irreparable harm to Housing First tenants, but to everyone else concerned. And "everyone else concerned" includes renters who lived here long before these tenants started moving in, landlords who do not seem to realize they are legally liable for everything that occurs on their property, law enforcement officers, and other property owners whose property values decline from it becoming a designated high-crime area.

Changes Have Not Been for the Better

When I was new to this area, I learned some things about the local homeless population. Although many individuals had income- ranging from SSDI to day-labor work to regular jobs- they stayed at homeless shelters or in homeless camps so their incomes could be used to support active addictions. When individuals got paid, the pattern was to rent cheap motel rooms where they could use drugs and/or drink til their money ran out- and then return to shelters and other helping services in the area to provide for their everyday needs.

While I did not think that was acceptable, it's no longer necessary. Individuals are given nice apartments where they have privacy, and all the free time in the world, for whatever they "choose" to do with that privacy and time.

With rare exceptions, I personally do not fault the tenants- individuals with serious problems, not getting the help they need and deserve. But while landlords who accept Housing First tenants have responsibilities they've been unwilling to meet, Anawim Housing simply does not care what their tenants do or how it affects anyone else. Since this started near the beginning of 2017, I've only met one caseworker who showed common sense, as well as conscientiousness in helping their tenant. Otherwise, staff members and caseworkers need to step up to the plate and start taking responsibility for their refusal to deal with their tenants, and the consequences it has been causing to everyone else.

Every Right Includes Responsibilities and Obligations

Is housing a "human right"? If we ask most people who rent apartments, or even most people who own their own homes, they will say it involves limitations or conditions. In one city where I lived years ago, homeowners were not allowed to do basic maintenance on their cars in their own driveways. In another area, a homeowner was fined by the city for building a tree house in his back yard for his children because he had not obtained a permit for the project.

The quote from The International Bill of Human Rights is accurate. There are rules, laws, and basic respect and consideration for others. And, as both Anawim Housing and the Housing First model itself state, the tenants have the same rights, responsibilities, and protections as typical tenants.. without conditions beyond those of a typical renter, their tenants should not be exempt, Anawim Housing is not following the Housing First model as it was intended. Perhaps if they did, their tenants would have a chance- and so would everyone else.

Housing programs can be helpful or harmful; they can succeed or they can fail. In Des Moines, Iowa, it is failing miserably.

© 2021 C A Sheckels

Related Articles