NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, March 28th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: getting to the root of homelessness.
A popular policy for helping the homeless has emerged over the past decade and a half. It’s called “housing first.”
It’s an approach that grants housing to homeless persons… usually without requiring changes in behavior—like sobriety.
Welfare reformers point to rising homeless numbers as evidence the policy doesn’t work.
EICHER: They’d hoped for change when famous brain surgeon Ben Carson took over the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2017. Yet HUD still requires government-funded homeless-aid groups to implement housing-first principles.
But some organizations said no to the money. They refused to abandon their behavior-change principles. One of these is a Christian homeless ministry in Southern California. It’s called Solutions for Change. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg paid a visit to find out why the ministry believes so strongly in its model.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Dennis Bone is the chief program officer at Solutions for Change. As Bone drives through Solution’s hometown of Vista, California, he points out a housing complex that the ministry renovated.
BONE: This is one of our off-campus housing. There’s 47 units. These are two- and three-bedroom units.
Bone says everyone who lives in this apartment building is in the last year of Solution’s three-year program. And these residents are earning their housing.
BONE: So they’re all working or going to school.
One of those residents is Juan Estrada. He’s walking through the parking lot on his way to work as a driver for the city of San Diego. Estrada says this is the first job he’s held down in a long time.
ESTRADA: My dad never worked in his life. So I wanted to do the same thing as him. I wouldn’t want to work. I just wanted to hustle or whatever they call it, you know?
Before coming here, Estrada was in and out of prison, which meant he wasn’t around for his three young sons.
When Estrada came to Solutions for Change, in order to stay in the program, he had to get a job and learn how to be a single dad.
ESTRADA: So it was, it was kind of bumpy for me at first. But then once I got it on here, it was, it was perfect for me.
Today, Estrada has completed Solutions’ program and is getting ready to move out on his own.
Estrada says it will be hard to leave the community he’s formed here, but he’s confident that now he has the tools to live a new life.
ESTRADA: Put all that behind me now, no turning back now is, I mean, I’ve got too much responsibilities.
Solution’s Dennis Bone says stories like Estrada’s show that many times homelessness is actually a symptom of deeper, internal issues. And shelter is just one of a homeless person’s needs. So Solutions for Change created a program based on the idea of “Transformation First.”
BONE: That helps them learn how to change behaviors, change their minds, change the way they live their lives for themselves to their kids.
To do this, residents have to live in Solutions for Change housing for 1-thousand days. In exchange, they fulfill work requirements, attend counseling and classes on parenting, leadership, managing finances and classes like this one on job training.
Today, 10 Solution’s residents sit around a long conference table. A volunteer is teaching them how to create strong resumes.
VOLUNTEER: Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to hand out your resource book, OK? There are sample resumes in there…
For the next few weeks, each of these residents will have to apply for 25 jobs, a day.
Solutions’ internal records say their model has helped more than 900 families out of homelessness. Graduates report tripling their income, and 100 percent of program parents reunite with their children.
Dennis Bone says to keep this model, Solutions for Change turned down more than a half-million federal dollars in 2017. That’s because they came with “housing first” strings attached.
Bone says without behavior accountability, many residents would end up back where they started.
BONE: Accountability to stay sober. Accountability to work. Accountability to go to classes. Accountability to be involved in, in, in the life of your kids, accountability to address all the issues that have got you homeless.
AUDIO: [Sound of greenhouse and workers]
Kena Thomas is another Solutions for Change resident. This afternoon, she’s working inside of a large lettuce greenhouse owned by the ministry.
THOMAS: We come over here and then they start seeding.
For the first few months of the program, Thomas and other new residents come here to work during the mornings. She’s pushing small lettuce seeds into cartons of dirt.
Thomas arrived at Solutions six months ago.
THOMAS: Before I came here I was married, and I was in a very like toxic domestic violence relationship.
When Thomas and her husband separated, she and her three children couch-surfed between friends and hotels. She says it feels good to know that now she’s providing housing for her children.
THOMAS: I still have goals and I want to reach, but you look at how far you’ve come in such a short amount of time. Like my daughter, she has autism, so it was hard for her to adjust to the change. But now she has her own room. She’s like calming down a little bit. My boys love their own room, I love seeing them happy.
Monica Hernandez is another worker. She and her husband struggle with meth addictions. That led to homelessness and the state placing two of their four children into foster care.
HERNANDEZ: I had my youngest daughter. She was positive to drugs when she was born.
In October, Hernandez and her husband checked into rehab, but when they completed the program in January, they knew it was too soon to go out on their own. So two months ago, they came to Solutions.
Hernandez says working at the indoor farm and attending classes is helping her build a routine.
HERNANDEZ: I’m just keeping busy, having a foundation, having good supportive women just around me at all times.
Hernandez is hopeful that—thanks to her continuing recovery—she can be back with her two daughters soon.
HERNANDEZ: We’re here as a family and uniting our family back together. If it wasn’t for Solutions, I don’t think I will be where I’m at today.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Vista, California.