BARRIERS TO COMPASSIONATE PROGRESS:
People are complex. So are their situations. So are the solutions.
People who are experiencing houselessness and extreme poverty are in a challenging situation for many reasons, and there are many barriers to their progress. There is never a single reason, and there is not a single solution. Affirming the human dignity of persons experiencing houselessness begins by embracing the complexity of their circumstances with compassion and understanding.
We all make judgements about people based on appearances. People facing houselessness and extreme poverty face more social stigma than perhaps any other group of people. They are ignored. People avoid eye contact with them. People don't talk or even say hello to them. They are basically treated as socially 'invisible.'
We must strive to have more basic human compassion and dignity for people facing extreme poverty. A little kindness can go a long way to help someone feel acknowledged and not 'invisible.'
LACK OF SAFETY NET -
Many people who find themselves houseless simply lack the social and familial safety net that many people take for granted. These safety nets can help provide basic necessities like food and shelter, but they also provide basic emotional and social support, such as a positive encouragement and someone to just listen.
If you are ever in a position to simply be in a positive relationship with someone experiencing houslessness and extreme poverty, it can go a long way.
Many individuals experiencing houselessness and/or extreme poverty have experienced massive personal trauma during the course of their life that would be difficult for anyone to deal with. Living in a crisis situation often only compounds the trauma they. experience. Without mental health services or healthy relationships available to help individuals process trauma, the adverse mental health effects can further isolate and stigmatize individuals.
SLIPPING THROUGH THE CRACKS -
Many places in West Virginia do not have substantial organizational resources to help persons experiencing extreme poverty, and those that do often see many people fall through the cracks. While policies and regulations are necessary from an organizational standpoint, they can serve as impenetrable barriers for many persons experiencing houselessness and extreme poverty. Punitive policies and regulations can even make some shelters and organizations hostile environments for individuals with mental health conditions, substance use conditions, or who are members of the LGBTQ+ community.
THE RUN AROUND -
Even in communities that provide substantial social services, the lack of good communication and a poor awareness of what is available can be a barrier. If there is not a clear sense of which organizations provide certain kinds of help then people can be given a run around to try and find the resources they need. For individuals with no source of transportation other than walking, this can be a big problem.
UNDER FUNDED AND UNDER STAFFED -
The social services in our state are under-funded and under-staffed. There is a growing need for social services not only in regards to housing, but also for the many intersectional issues that contribute to houselessness - such as mental health, substance use, lack of healthcare, and case management.
While the need is increasing, federal and state funding is decreasing. We must better support and equip organizations addressing homelessness and intersectional issues with adequate resources.
AVAILABILITY OF AFFORDABLE AND TRANSITIONAL HOUSING -
There simply is not enough affordable housing to give people a real chance of obtaining stable housing. More HUD and Section 8 housing needed, as well as case managers to help ensure that individuals are able to navigate their transition into stable housing. We need better partnerships and incentives with developers and landlords to provide affordable housing.
SUBSTANCE USE AND RECOVERY-
Our state is still experiencing the opioid crisis. It has not come an end just because it is not a hot topic in the media. We need better options for placement in substance use treatment and rehabilitation programs for this vulnerable population. There is an intense stigma placed on individuals who struggle with substance use, and we simply need to overcome our approach to these individuals. We need more Peer Recovery Coaches, more accessible rehabilitation programs, and harm-reduction programs.
LACK OF HEALTHCARE -
For many persons experiencing houselessness and/or extreme poverty, medical treatment is very hard to come by. Some communities have free clinics, but most do not. Hospitals are often a hostile environment because of stigma. Many individuals will forego basic healthcare either because of a lack of availability or because of the hostility or dismissiveness they have experienced at a hospital or other healthcare facility. The lack of available medical coverage provides another barrier to receiving basic medical care and treatment.
OBTAINING IDENTIFICATION DOCUMENTS -
This is one most people don't think about, but when your identification documentation is lost, destroyed, or stolen it can be incredibly difficult to get a replacement. You need proper identification in order to apply for many social services or employment, so the lack of ID documents is a major barrier. The cost, travel, waiting periods and the run-around experienced around securing a replacement social security card, birth certificate, or other basic forms of ID prevents many individuals from obtaining much-needed services.
CRIMINALIZATION OF POVERTY/HOUSELESSNESS -
Unfortunately the systemic approach of law enforcement when dealing with housless individuals is punitive and lacks compassion. In many instances tents and belongings can be removed or destroyed by law enforcement, which only compounds the problems and makes it more difficult for individuals to recover.
We need safe spaces and places for houseless individuals to exist without being targeted as a nuisance in need of removal.
There are also many ways in which our systems criminalize people for experiencing houselessness and extreme poverty, and writing tickets and citations with monetary penalties only compounds their situation, creating more barriers to their chances of achieving stability.
EMPLOYMENT & LIVING WAGE -
Securing employment is not a way out of houselessness and extreme poverty situations for many individuals. If they are even able to secure employment in their crisis situation, the lack of a living wage and the barriers to affordable housing make it a long or impossible road to securing housing and stability.
Relying on public transportation is often unreliable and completely changes the dynamic of how a person must structure their time throughout the day. The limited availability of reliable transportation is an issue often overlooked, which most of us take for granted.
ADVERSE LEGISLATION -
Instead of working on positive pieces of legislation that would help improve and address the underlying causes of houselessness and extreme poverty, many advocacy organizations are forced to spend time lobbying against negative legislation that attempts to remove valuable resources that serve this vulnerable population. We must make a commitment as a state, and hold our leaders and elected officials accountable, to present positive legislation that offers solutions, so advocates time can be better spent working on positive solutions for our state.