Housing News This Week

January 13, 2023

Boston doctor has dedicated long-tenured career to treating city’s unhoused community

Since the 1980s, Dr. Jim O’Connell has been caring for the unhoused population of Boston in a critical way, one with perhaps little if any precedent. What began as a year-long assignment prior to plans to begin a prestigious fellowship has led to a decades-long career providing essential health care to those experiencing homeless in Boston’s most urban center, a practice demonstrating what it means to be “patient centered”. In 1985, O’Connell became the founding physician of what became the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, known in short as the Program. In addition to treating patients between a number of shelter clinics, O’Connell also heads the Street Team, a Program-sponsored initiative that meets those living outside or without shelter with a van equipped to offer a coat or something to eat, as well as medical care and general wellness checks. In the span of O’Connell’s career, the doctor and the Program he helped create have witnessed many shifts in attitudes and approaches to addressing homelessness from housing to health care. When it comes to treatment and recovery, the availability of safe and adequate shelter, and the lack thereof, remains a major driver of patient outcomes. (New York Times) 

Missouri criminalizes sleeping on state property as major US cities force involuntary treatment

States across the country continue taking what homelessness advocates describe as anti-homeless measures as states have both passed and are yet considering laws that would criminalize sleeping outside. As of Jan. 1, 2023, it is now illegal to sleep on state property in Missouri, including public parks and under city highways. In addition to forcing further displacement, cities like New York and Los Angeles have also signed into law involuntary hospitalization and medical treatment requirements for those living unhoused who are deemed to be in “psychiatric crisis” or experiencing certain symptoms of mental health conditions. (The Guardian) 

Veteran homelessness reports largest decrease in five years according to 2022 count

According to the 2022 point in time count, the number of homeless veterans has dropped 11 percent since 2020, accounting for the largest decrease in five years. The count reported 33,136 veterans in the United States living unhoused as of January of 2022. That same count reflected a total number of 582,462 people living homeless nationwide. As many advocates remain supportive of the ‘housing first’ approach for those living unhoused, the Biden administration has also announced plans to reduce the number of homeless across the country 25 percent by 2025. (NPR) 

FEMA announces new national plan to combat catastrophic multifamily residential fires 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently announced plans to implement a new national approach to combating deadly fires. As a piece of the Empowering the U.S. Fire Administration Act signed into law in December 2022, the new strategy was rolled out on the one-year anniversary of the Twin Parks fire in the Bronx that claimed 17 lives. The new legislation will grant federal investigative power to further identify causes of catastrophic fires to promote accountability and updates in housing safety and maintenance to prevent future occurrences. Currently, those most likely to die in fires are people of color, older adults, people with disabilities, and those with low incomes. (New York Times) 

Smaller markets like Cleveland are struggling with housing disparity left by rising rents 

The high costs of rent, while most egregious in major US coastal cities, has been felt across the country’s smaller markets as well. Cleveland, OH is one of these markets to recently experience the effects of rent spikes. Ranked number two by Forbes for US cities with the highest poverty rates in 2021, cities like Cleveland, even after losing significant numbers in population over the last several decades, are experiencing increases in rents that have resulted in less and less affordable housing options for an already vulnerable population. In many instances, advocates are also discovering what’s left of affordable homes are either poorly maintained or unsafe altogether. (FiveThirtyEight) 

Universal basic income has potential to eliminate poverty in the US, says advocate 

Support for a universal basic income, or UBI, has gained traction in recent years, and is a way the United States could solve poverty, according to Michael Howard. Past president of the US Basic Income Guarantee Network, Howard touts the success of the child tax credit expansion of 2021 that lifted 3.7 million children out of poverty as just one proven example of the way a guaranteed, monthly government-funded payment stands to improve people’s lives. Noting the potential for a UBI to reduce what he describes as the social costs of poverty, Howard also asserts a guaranteed income would not disincentive people to work, as critics of UBI believe, and would rather offer many the ability to become employed who otherwise must care for children or the elderly full time. (Scientific American) 

Dial 211 to find more resources near you.