Poor tired depressed hungry homeless man holding a cardboard house.
Cover Image © chayanuphol

U.S. Homelessness: Part 2 – Potential Solutions

In yesterday’s post, I framed up the current homelessness issue in America via two(-ish) videos. There were really 4, but the main two I embedded will catch you up enough for today’s focus on the 5 ideas I have for actually trying to address the growing crisis facing the United States. In my eyes, this is a test of our humanity.

If I’m Being Honest…

I don’t think this is something that the government can fix, really. Not alone. I think they’ve tried but have proven to be too inefficiently run to truly address this admittedly complex gargantuan issue. That, and the fact that a change in administration can easily mean a change in priorities and tactics for them.

And that’s ok — the government isn’t made to fix everything. Some stuff WE have to take care of ourselves – so everything I recommend below, while it may definitely partner with local governments (and eventually the national government), is primarily spoken of from the private and voluntary sectors.

These are NOT fully fleshed out, and they focus on providing the homeless with homes — not just assistance. I am more than happy to discuss these with people in further detail in the comment section below, or you can kick an email to me at jw3@sosodope.com.

Ok – enough of the intro! Let’s get into it.

Navigate around using the links below if you want a shortcut.

Let The Homeless Work at Amazon Warehouses

I know – “This is stupid,” you say dismissively – but hear me out. In June of 2021, it was reported by the New York Times that Amazon’s warehouse turnover rate is so high that “some Amazon executives … worry about running out of hirable employees in the US” (but, I’m linking to a non-paywalled article about that report).

You can read the brief article I linked to for all of the details, but there is a need from Amazon – at the moment – to have warehouse workers. And there are over half a million homeless people in the U.S. Think of that number… OVER HALF A MILLION.

Now, as is pointed out in one of the videos from yesterday – a number of those individuals have mental or physical disabilities that may prevent them from that type of work, but a very large number of them are trainable and employable. And Amazon is looking for people.

people hand giving money to poor and homeless man to help his hungry for charity. encouragement and sharing concept.

The catch here would be a play on what I previously mentioned in my post about what I’d do if I had Jeff Bezos’ money. In-brief:

  • Amazon is a large enough company that they could seriously buy up land to build warehouses AND housing for as associated homeless-to-non-homeless employee program. Even as a test.
  • The home facility they build out would be intended for rehabilitation purposes for those who want to work. There they would receive necessary assistance and training for their future employment with Amazon.
  • The building of this leg of the program should be government subsidized or Amazon could fully-fund it themselves and then get to write it off the costs associated with this piece in their taxes. I know – more tax breaks for the rich?! In this case, yes – for the company – because it’s addressing a societal ill in a scalable way.
  • Anyway, rather than overnight shelter, this system would provide permanent residence for people so long as they’re in this program and teach them work/life skills to help them get back on their feet.
  • The pay and employee treatment could be government regulate to make sure Amazon isn’t 1) Paying these people less then their other warehouse workers and 2) aren’t treating them as slaves (seriously).
  • After a few months of help & training – the formerly homeless new Amazon employee embarks on working in the warehouse.
  • As a second phase of the living portion of this, Amazon builds up a neighborhood near the warehouse with affordable apartments meant specifically for people who are at the tail-end of this program (only large companies the likes of them and Wal-Mart could probably pull this off).
  • At this point, those rehabilitated and assisted employees are paying Amazon rent to live there and they’re still employeed.
  • At any point, they – or Amazon – can cut off this relationship. Everything is still an “at will employment” situation for both parties.

The goals of this are to allow an efficiently-run organization the chance to do some actual good for a community while helping change lives AND turn a profit while getting a break from the government for their good deed. If the model works, it can be expanded beyond the first test location to others near major metropolitan areas with high homeless populations. And if there’s no room (like in densely populated areas like major Californian cities or New York), allow the homeless to sign up to be bussed off to an area where their new home/job is located.

Is this perfect? No. There are definite holes in this plan and a chance that unforeseen dependencies could develop… But it’s better than the current “nothing” that areas are seeing out in the world.

This doesn’t cost taxpayers any more money and it uses corporate/government relationships in a mutually beneficial way.

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Cities Invest in Mid-Term Homeless Lodging & Residents Pay for Regular Relocation Services

This would be more of a “neighborhood approach” with an agreement for services from trained professionals who come and provide relocation services to a permanent-ish housing location for willing homeless people. Neighborhoods would pay for this service just like they pay for any of their utilities, and those professionals would basically be a mobile social worker-type force.

I want to stress this — these ARE NOT groups showing up in vans and shoving homeless people into situations they don’t want to be in. I know some of you pictured that — that’s not what this is.

There would have to be an approach of informing communities about these services as an opportunity, and those same informational sessions would need to be held for both homeless AND non-homeless residents of areas. Once a neighborhood’s non-homeless neighbors opt-in, the service begins, and guides show up to the area homeless, tell them about the program and build relationships with them until they willingly come.

Poor tired depressed hungry homeless man holding a cardboard house.

They would be taken to city-provided housing built-in or (VERY) near the neighborhoods in question. I know this will rankle the NIMBY (Not in my backyard) folks out there, but there has to be some give and take in these situations. Plus, whether it’s commonly accepted or not – any regularly located homeless person in your neighborhood is already your neighbor (whether you like it or not) — you just don’t know them yet and they’re on a bit of hard luck.

Once the once-homeless are at this lodging facility (that has been paid for through government funding or municipal bonds — their call), they are given 6-8 months of assistance. Clothing, mental workshops, financial training, skill training for any desired field they may be good for (based on what’s available), and job opportunities with partnered area businesses.

What I like about this option is that it involves every aspect of a community coming together. The local government, citizens, and businesses. But, admittedly – that’s also what I don’t like about it.

Americans have gotten used to having things given to them, and it’s a very rare community that is willing to do this level of work to fix a societal ill.

Yet and still – it’s an option.

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Get More Funding from Investors

You can create an investment vehicle for anything. Part of the reason I think the homeless situation in the United States has gone unfixed for so long is that there isn’t much imagination (or legal room) for money to be made on the situation. But what if there were? You just have to apply yourself to the ideas for solutions a bit more (like my Amazon idea above — Amazon would financially benefit — as would their shareholders).

people hand giving money to poor and homeless man to help his hungry for charity.

Well, as I said – you can create an investment vehicle for anything. What if there was an investment tool created the same way as any bond/note where investors bought shares of a “Rehome the Homeless” initiative, and then collected off of the residuals of the improved local economy from the city/municipality in question after a set amount of time? Say 3-year and 5-year spans?

This one is a HUGE “what if?” from me because I literally don’t know enough about the mechanics of this endeavor – but I know enough to think it’s possible to do. And I think there is a huge investment audience out there looking for socially responsible means of investment who would find this attractive.

With this money, cities could fund things like the second idea I suggested. They could build out housing and help centers specifically made for their homeless.

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Airbnb Owners Lend Homes for Goverment Cash

There are tons of Airbnb locations that go unused each night in the U.S. — what if the home/inventory owners could open those homes up to the homeless for a night or two and collect a set rate from the government, or get to write off the associated expenses of those nights in their taxes?

Poor tired depressed hungry homeless man holding a cardboard house. nostalgia and hope concept.

Facts — everyone would NOT go for this, but some would love the idea. Hell, some of the owners might convert their property to full-time use for this purpose if the payment rates from the government were enticing enough to maintain and upkeep the property for this worthy cause.

I haven’t thought of the technical ins and outs of this one at all, but I trust that a smart company like Airbnb could figure something out. Again, private sector ran with some aid from the government in the form of either payment from an allocated portion of their budget(s) or state/federal tax relief in the form of very hefty write-offs.

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Volunteers — Mimicking Foster Care

This last idea is strictly set up on a volunteer-basis and is kind of my least favorite because it depends on societal altruism A LOT! I am not so jaded as to say that “there are no good people in society, so this will never work” (that’d be a terrible way to live). No, my concern here would be maintaining interest and the volume necessary to impact real change.

Still – hear me out.

Imagine there was a program called like… I don’t know… The “Back On Your Feet Initiative” or something like that. If I’m not terribly offbase here, I believe foster homes are provided a stipend for taking in foster children to cover things like room, board, food, etc. — essentials related to fostering.

Ok – what if this initiative focused on connecting caring families with a spare room with homeless people and families? Both parties would be screened and matched, and then once they are matched – the family takes in the homeless person or family. This would allow for the homeless in this situation to have a permanent mailing address for a while, a place to sleep & clean themselves, safety, etc. – but this would be a beneficial thing for them because they’d be contributing to a household until they get back on their feet.

Poor tired depressed hungry homeless man holding a cardboard family.

The supporting family in question would receive a regular stipend along the lines of how foster families currently do. According to the Knotts Family Agency, “The state of California [for example] pays foster parents an average of $1000 to $2,609 per month to help with the expenses from taking care of the child.”

I really do believe this program could just be copy/pasted for homeless individuals and families in the United States. The U.S. Foster System definitely isn’t perfect, and this wouldn’t be either — but it’s a step toward progressing in the right direction and “helping people” vs. perfection.

Again, my only concern here would be not having enough willing good souls out there. And understandably so — I mean, taking in a child and giving them a loving and supportive environment is worlds different than allowing an adult stranger into your home. That’s why the vetting would HAVE to be on point & the screening process couldn’t cut any corners.

This program wouldn’t be for every homeless person out there for sure, but for those who would qualify – it could potentially work wonders.

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And that’s it. Good or bad – those are my ideas. None of them are perfect, and some are downright naive — but hey, I was literally called a dreamer a couple of days ago, so I own it.

As I said in the first part of this, as an individual – I don’t know what all I can do for the homelessness issue plaguing our country other than to point it out on this platform. There really isn’t any system-based move I can make, at scale, that will put a dent in this crisis.

But, my personal bit for this will be to contact everyone mentioned in the CNBC video that I linked to yesterday & share my ideas. I plan to send them a link to this post and ask how I can further get involved in helping. That is MY personal action plan out of this post.

Please keep in mind that homelessness doesn’t have a preference. A person can be of any race, gender, age, and from any background. Their situation may be rooted in a mental affliction, a few choices, or some bad luck. This impacts individuals, families, children. And with many people in The U.S. living check-to-check and with very little in their bank accounts – many of us aren’t far from being counted in this number. All it takes is one financial shock to the system. So, please never forget their humanity.

I really do view this crisis, and how we choose to handle it, as a test of our collective humanity.

Not sure what I expect you all to do with that, but that’s where my head is at with it. I really do appreciate you if you got this far.

Peace, and thanks for reading.

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All Images © chayanuphol (Shutterstock)

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