Friday, December 01, 2006

“The Third Sector” Blog: My Little Puppy

As the semester comes to a close, a look back on the past three months brings a smile to my face. The only analogy that comes to mind in trying to describe the experience of creating, advancing, editing, and maintaining “The Third Sector” is to compare it to the interactions a loving person would have with a dog. In this sense, the creation of my blog was like the joyous arrival of a newborn puppy with all the excitement, unfamiliarity, and anticipation for the surprises and learning opportunities that were to come. I had never worked in this medium before and did not consider myself to be proficientby any stretch of the imaginationin the use of the internet. The advancement of my blog brought up many of the same emotions faced when training a young dog: uncertainty, overzealousness, and frustration. I began my blog unsure of how to go about doing the simplest of things; as I started to get a feel for technology I became prematurely eager to learn more, in hopes of becoming the ultimate blogger. Next, tension set in as I realized that revisions and re-revisions of my posts were not producing the results I was hoping for. However, once I realized and accepted that blogging is a continuous cyclical process of developing, amending, editing, and upkeeping, I grew to love “The Third Sector” like I would a dog—for both its best qualities and its imperfections.

As a Public Policy, Planning, and Management major, I feel that I have a responsibility to better myself, my community, and the people around me. In an effort to educate the readers of my blog, I chose to address issues that highlighted both the problems in and solutions for society; overall, I believe I achieved this goal. For my second essay, I researched and critiqued the WebAward winning site of the Center for Public Policy Priorities. This assignment afforded me the valuable opportunity to learn about the technical elements involved in web design. In retrospect, however, I would have done a more extensive search before picking the CPPP site as I think that my argument could have been more natural and less mechanical if I had felt more passionate about the site. Learning from this, the subject I chose for my third essay is a person I genuinely have strong feelings of respect and admiration for: Amartya Sen. I believe that this final essay, Honorary Doctor of Laws: Amartya Sen” is possibly the strongest argument I have ever written; nevertheless, I believe the inclusion of more evidence from Sen's scholarly works would have been a great improvement. Through both essays and my blogging experience, the practical application of Adobe Photoshop has been especially helpful.

Overall, my experience in the “blogosphere” has not only added to my understanding and reliance on the internet as a legitimate source of information—from the relevant to the blatantly unimportant—but the past months have also laid out the most challenging writing curriculum I have ever encountered. In the midst of it, Professor Middlebrook can vouch, I was a little overwhelmed, to say the least. However, I believe that the obstacles I faced and lessons I learned have provided me with essential tools for my future career and helped me to produce at my highest potential. For this, I am eternally grateful!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Honorary Doctor of Laws: Amartya Sen

A university—an institution of higher learning—functions, in a practical sense, to meet a number of different needs beyond solely that of education. For some students continuing academic work is merely the next directed action by norms of contemporary society; for others, it serves the principal purpose of a forum for making money and “connections”; still others view this time in their life as an opportunity to discover personal passions and career interests. Today’s universities hold a position responsible for providing a supply in response to several contrasting demands. The self-appointed role of the University of Southern California, as defined by its primary mission, is to provide an environment which fosters “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” Along with many other distinguished educational institutions, USC places a high priority not only on teaching and learning but also on expanding an individual’s body of knowledge through engagement in research and public service. The university, in a manner similar to others across the world, presents students, faculty, and citizens alike with a variety of degrees and awards; yet, corresponding with USC’s motto—“Palmam qui meruit ferat. (Let whoever earns the palm bear it.)”—the recognitions must be well-deserved and merit-based.

In awarding
honorary doctoral degrees, USC hopes to both acknowledge “individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements” and “elevate the university in the eyes of the world.” President emeritus of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, James Freedman, in his book Liberal Education and The Public Interest, explains that the conferring of honorary degrees allows a university to make “an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most” (117). Freedman goes on to note that, over the years, the bestowment of such honors has shifted away from its original purpose of highlighting intellectual excellence and commitment to public service. Much of today’s recognitions have their foundations in advertising the institution and promoting the egos of donors; some even grant degrees “to mere celebrities—who are often famous principally for being famous” as a means of “garner[ing] a fleeting moment of public attention” (126). Thus, in an effort to restore value to the granting of honorary degrees and simultaneously nominate an individual “whose own accomplishments might serve to highlight areas in which the University has developed exceptional strength,” the next recipient for an honorary Doctor of Laws at USC should be Amartya Sen.

To justify the choice of Amartya Sen for an honorary Doctor of Laws—USC's recognition of “outstanding public servicelet us take a look at the motivations behind his professional orientation; in doing so, especially helpful is the criteria laid out by Mike W. Martin, Professor of Philosophy at Chapman University. In his book Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics, Martin writes that “professionals’ desires, pleasures, and sources of meaning [can be placed] into three broad categories: craft, compensation, and moral concern. Not surprisingly, these categories correspond to three goods that enter into the very definition of professions: advanced expertise, social recognition, and service to clients and community” (22). If awarded an honorary degree, the universal message Sen will convey to graduates at commencement will undoubtedly require them to look at the underlying purpose behind choosing the course of their own professional endeavors.

Sen’s expertise has flourished as a result of his personal ardor and dedication to hard work. Having received his Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degrees from Trinity College in Cambridge all before the age of 26, to say he is well-educated would be an understatement. During his stay at Trinity College, Sen took four years to broaden his educational attainment beyond the confines of economics, developing a particular interest in politics and philosophy. In an autobiography composed upon winning the Nobel Prize, Sen wrote, “The broadening of my studies into philosophy was important for me not just because some of my main areas of interest in economics relate quite closely to philosophical disciplines (for example, social choice theory makes intense use of mathematical logic and also draws on moral philosophy, and so does the study of inequality and deprivation), but also because I found philosophical studies very rewarding on their own.” This knowledge and passion provided him with a foundation for teaching, expanding, and applying the social choice theory to assess and analyze global challenges such as poverty, inequality, famine, gender inequities, and violations of civil rights.

Furthermore, Sen developed the “capabilities approach” to public policy and social welfare, focusing on the freedom and abilities—rather than the inabilities—a person has to make use of basic resources. This viewpoint distinguished the way in which government efficiency can be measured and maximized. It is no surprise that such work has not only attracted but also thoroughly satisfied him over the years, as Martin maintains that “individuals will tend to embrace professional ideals that evoke their interest and talents with sustained challenge and complexity” (22). Spurring social change and closing the gap between the rich and the poor poses seemingly insurmountable obstacles; nevertheless, Amartya Sen welcomes the challenge. Without stopping there, for years he has taught university students in an attempt to share his knowledge and pass on his philosophical ideals to a new generation of intellectuals. His commitment to education and its practical application are a definite example of teaching not only “knowledge” but also “skills,” as is the goal of USC. It can easily be seen, in Sen’s case, that Martin is correct in saying “craft motives are primarily aimed outward, toward people and social practices” (23).

Sen, a Nobel laureate in Economic Sciences for his contributions to welfare economics, is held in the highest esteem among professionals and scholars alike. He has been compensated for his work by gaining stature, recognition, and job stability in the academic circles of social, political, and economic thought. Sen has taught at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world—Oxford, Harvard, M.I.T., Berkley, to name a few—and was appointed master of Trinity College in 1998. The Senator Giovanni Agnelli International Prize in Ethics, the Alan Shawn Feinstein World Hunger Award, the Presidency of the Italian Republic Medal, and the Bharat Ratna, only comprise a handful of the many awards he has received. Among other distinctions, Sen is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Nevertheless, it is likely that the most significant way in which he has been compensated is through internal satisfaction from his philanthropic work geared at improving the human condition. On receiving the Nobel Prize, Sen remarked, “When the Nobel award came my way, it also gave me an opportunity to do something immediate and practical about my old obsessions, including literacy, basic health care, and gender equity.” The fact that most of his rewards have not come in the form of material possessions has in no way kept him from his passion for teaching and politically philosophizing. Martin insists “the immediate aim of compensation motives is to gain things for oneself” and that professional undertakings are primarily self-serving; Sen qualifies this claim by achieving his interests through altruistic means in a manner that is, in fact, quite selfless (23).

USC awards honorary degrees to recipients “who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of…the communities of which they are a part” and to those who have contributed “exceptional acts of philanthropy on the national or world scene.” With his work, Amartya Sen has expressed what Martin defines as “moral caring concern”: “desires to promote the good of [people] for their sake” (23). His development of the social choice theory and philosophical discussions on social inequalities and gender disparities has served to accentuate his dedication to the well-being of every member of the human race. In his book Development as Freedom, Sen states, “Expanding the freedoms that we have reason to value not only makes our lives richer and more unfettered, but also allows us to be fuller social persons, exercising our own violations and interacting with—and influencing—the world in which we live” (14). With an emphasis on public service, social justice, and the practical application of education to alleviate poverty and inequality, Sen has focused on using economic and social choice theories to change institutions and their framework. A learned man, he surely realizes that these social transformations are unlikely to be implemented—and even if they are, unlikely to function efficiently and effectively—within his lifetime. However, his personal ideals of providing every individual with the basic necessities of food, shelter, and security continue to drive his tireless effort to stimulate social change and bring awareness to economic inequities.

Opponents of Sen’s work, who are quick to dub him a “socialist”, point him out as a poster child for “anti-Westernism” and “anti-democracy”. Even a CNN article admitted that “for years, despite pressure from Sen disciples to reward him for his work, his leftist world view and implicit criticism of unfettered markets kept him from capturing a Nobel.” Critics have stressed Sen’s “overestimation” of the effects caused by institutional barriers and some, as CNN notes, have gone as far as to tarnish his reputation by claiming that “his analyses weren’t all that original...outstripp[ing] the quality of his scholarship.” In my opinion these condemnations are a result of ignorance, misunderstanding, intolerance, and jealously. Sen’s purpose is not to revolutionize the world but rather to educate those who may potentially have the opportunity to apply the knowledge and principles he has bestowed upon them for redirecting political and economic mechanisms of society. His purpose is not to build up as many environmentally-friendly, green houses as possible or to stop the spread of interdependence and interaction between nations but rather to teach about the benefits and deficits of sustainable development and globalization. His purpose is not to take from the rich and give to the poor—as many of his critics may try to imply—but rather to provide all with the “basic functionings” to participate in and provide for humanity.

Sen has concentrated much of his time on figuring out how to provide people with the capability—which he defines as the “freedom to achieve valuable beings and doings”—to use available resources in order to pursue personal aspirations for themselves. Adopting an institutional framework which is politically transparent and allows for social and economic opportunities is the first step. InDemocracy as a Universal Value” Sen writes, “This recognition of democracy as a universally relevant system, which moves in the direction of its acceptance as a universal value, is a major revolution in thinking, and one of the main contributions of the twentieth century.” Martin’s discussion of professional moral concern, “altruism, benevolence, and humanitarian motives” can be seen in Sen’s call for a simple educating of the people with an intention of advancing basic “functionings” for self-sufficiency (27). While the specifics of his arguments may not be related to all areas of study, his is a conduct worthy of emulation. Whatever discipline or background a student comes from, the functional application of expertise as a means by which to improve the global community is not only a perfectly applicable message but a relevant lesson as well. Sen, discussing a change similar to the transition from university into the real world, has said, “My own interest gradually shifted from the pure theory…to more ‘practical’ problems. But I could not have taken them on without having some confidence that the practical exercises to be undertaken were also foundationally secure…The progress of the pure theory…with an expanded informational base was, in this sense, quite crucial for my applied work as well.” It is likely that Sen will address the ceremony attendees, in an analogous manner, with a profound emphasis on dedication to public service—as a responsibility rather than a right; his speech will undoubtedly disprove Freedman’s statement that commencement speakers have little “more than a fleeting impact on their audience” (130).

As a nine-year-old boy, Amartya Sen survived the Bengal famine of 1943. Over sixty years later he is fighting to educate and empower the masses in an effort to change the world’s course away from famine, illiteracy, and inequality, towards education, equity, and sustainability. At USC “we strive constantly for excellence in teaching knowledge and skills.” In my opinion, there is no person more deserving of an honorary Doctor of Laws—“the highest award that the University of Southern California confers”—than Sen. Not only for his dedication to public and altruistic service, but also for his deep vision as regards practical application of knowledge and education, Amartya Sen serves as an exemplary model of “self-fulfillment…through moral concern and service to others” for graduates, professors, friends, and family alike (Martin 31).

Monday, September 25, 2006

Award-Winning Politics On The Web: The Center for Public Policy Priorities

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, over 85 million people report using the internet to look for political news or information—this makes up 58% of the 147 million American adults on the web. Not a surprising statistic, given that the actions taken by public servants are a matter of concern not only for policy makers and opinion leaders but, more importantly, for the common people. Unrestricted forums in which the public has an opportunity to engage, discuss, and analyze issues are an essential foundation of a participatory type of government. Yet there seems to be a shortage of informative and professional web sites fit to represent the public sphere in an unbiased manner. A handful of award-winning sites, however, are beginning to set a standard for the field. Both The WebAwards and The Webby Awards have compiled lists of nominees and annually present awards of excellence on the internet in web site categories including, but not limited to, “Non-Profit,” “Government,” and “Politics.”

One site winning a particular WebAward for Standard of Excellence in the Non-Profit category is the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP). The site provides informative and knowledgeable textual research of public policies that affect low- and moderate-income Texans while creating an environment which is both easy to understand and easy to use—especially appealing to the general public. The CPPP offers visitors an excellent source of non-partisan research and initiatives that are under development. Although there is much to be praised about the CPPP web site, a number of pertinent weaknesses can still be identified. Possibly these are the reasons the CPPP web site did not secure a higher level award, such as Best web site of Industry; nevertheless the site does set an example for others in the public realm to refer to and even be measured by.

While The WebAwards and The Webby Awards differ in the criteria used to nominate and award sites, there is significant overlap in their evaluation processes. The WebAwards are judged on seven elements, offering a score between 0 and 10 in each area. What is troublesome, though, is that parts of The WebAwards criteria are quite ambiguous and open to much interpretation. The criteria by which The Webby Awards are judged, on the other hand, are more defined and helpfully summarized so that the judges may be, more or less, in agreement of the terms and definitions. Furthermore, the weight of each category in the Webby Award criteria is adjusted based on the purpose of the site at hand. These evaluation standards provide much-needed reasoning behind the awards process. Why was this site awarded? Why was another site not awarded in its place? What were the strengths of this site? In what areas could the site be improved? This can help not only nominated and winning sites improve the experience they provide to internet users but an understanding of the criteria gives guidelines for the bettering of all web sites.

Honoring the CPPP web site is timely as the site has remained relatively unchanged in all aspects—except content—during the past seven years, until its recent update. The visual design has been newly transformed: there have been changes in the color scheme used and improvements in the sharpness of text and images. Nevertheless, the thought-provoking aesthetic tone of the site has been kept intact. The latest design lends itself to somewhat of a more professional feel and creates an appropriate backdrop for a site that wants to be respected for expertise in the analysis of policies. As noted by the The Webby Awards criteria, a visual design which is “relevant for the audience and the message it is supporting” is of the utmost importance. A wider page layout has been implemented, changing the alignment and decreasing the amount of “white space,” which adds to the perception that the site exhibits significant authority. Pale shades of blue, beige, and coral used are less harsh and more appealing to the eye than the previous bold reds and purples. Furthermore, these new colors provide the user an emotional reprieve from the serious, and sometimes melancholy, topics addressed by CPPP. While the visual appearance is by no means extraordinary or exceptional, it is absolutely appropriate given the nature of the site’s broad audience, informative purpose, and intelligent content.

The most important features that must be considered in creating, improving, and enhancing a web site are the accessibility and the flawlessness of technology. After all, as with any medium of information, it is not useful if one cannot get to it. Used as one of the six criteria for The Webby Awards, “functionality” at its best “makes the experience center stage and the technology invisible.” This site loads quickly and clearly. With no broken links, seamless transition between pages, and impeccable movement from HTML to PDF policy pages, the CPPP site should be considered of the highest quality attainable with respect to the practical use of technological tools. Starting from the home page, in just two clicks of the mouse, visitors are able to to e-mail CPPP employees; this is done by choosing Staff (under the About Us dropbox) and selecting the desired individual. Such impeccable user-centered design always allows return to the home page, provides plenty of choices for navigating ahead, and does not appear to result in any “dead end” pages. Taking the aforementioned into consideration, it is unlikely that the CPPP web site obtained less than a perfect 10 for its well-designed and high-performing capabilities.

Because of the wide range of people who use the internet for political and governmental information, the structure and navigation of such sites must be straightforward but not boringly ordinary. The CPPP site succeeds at doing this. The web site is hierarchically planned out, making it easy for the visitor to find his way around the otherwise vast and overwhelming amount of information. Hierarchical site structures, as explained in the Web Style Guide, are “usually organized around a single home page…so most users find this structure easy to understand.” Upon entering the CPPP site a horizontal toolbar, directly under the site's title, lays out for the visitor what there is to see and where one can go: Home, About Us, Research, KIDS COUNT, Real Stories, Newsroom, Events, Contribute, or Initiatives. Not only is this basic structure easy to use, the site has made it easy to follow. Before moving away from the homepage, the visitor is able to see what choices await him on the upcoming page.

Specifically, this can be viewed when the cursor is placed on the “Research” tab (without selecting it) and a set of further navigation choices appear in a drop box. In this case, they include Workforce/Economic Development, Public Benefits, Child Protection, School Finance, Budget, Taxes, Family Economic Security, Federal Issues, View by Date. From here a selection can be made or extensive choices can be seen under the first two items in the drop box. The visitor is offered an uncomplicated way of quickly going where he wants and avoids the pitfalls of unnecessary return trips and perhaps getting lost in the breadth of material on the site. Thus, as with the technological functionality, the CPPP site’s consistent structure and easy to use navigation allows the visitor to focus on the content and purpose of the web site, almost unaware of the features which make it possible for the information to be accessed.

With all technical, structural, functional, navigational, and organizational aspects of the web site out of the way, the initial intention for entering is reached: the content. According to the criteria used in judging The Webby Awards, good content takes a stand. The specifics a visitor is searching for—whether it is text, video, or graphical evidence—must be interesting, informative, and engaging. The CPPP site presents a variety of information, ranging from initiatives launched, to research studies published, to personal stories of Texans who have been affected by program and budget cuts. One personal story in particular regarding child protection and foster care is especially touching: the appointed guardian of four young siblings explains that his (or her) parental rights expired in 2002 and because “the appeal process has dragged on,” the children are still without a permanent home. “It's outrageous!”

While there is an abundance of such valuable information, most of the content of the web site is in the form of text; the lack of videos, charts, or audio data leaves a lot to be desired. And despite the fact that the CPPP's body of knowledge is both interesting and relevant, it is severely deficient in engaging interaction between and among site visitors. Interactivity, as an element of The Webby Awards criteria, is an opportunity for visitors to speak [their] mind so that others can see, hear or respond. Interactive elements are what separates the Web from other media.” However, on the CPPP site there are no chat rooms, suggestion areas, or discussion boards to allow users the opportunity to voice their own opinions. The web site could greatly benefit if such essential elements were added; chat rooms and discussion boards are especially effective in a forum where public participation and civic engagement generally produce sound and successful policy.

In order to gain knowledge from more visually interactive forms of information a visitor should certainly investigate some of CPPP's research publications. Most of these articles are presented in PDF pages that may create obstacles for some readers who do not have access to, for example, Adobe Acrobat. Nevertheless, the policy research is an excellent source of pertinent data regarding current social issues of interest. The policy page, "The State of Working Texas 2006", addresses the unacceptably minimal improvements in household income and labor wages following the 2001-02 recession. In a sophisticated but uncomplicated way the CPPP defines demographics of today's Texan labor force, measures current levels of labor market performance, and recommends higher education as the factor which can potentially stimulate economic development. Keeping with the purpose of the web site and taking into consideration the readers of the policy pages, the CPPP combines textual and graphical evidence to convey a strong message emphasizing the importance of education through their research. Furthermore, these tasks of research and policy analysis are undertaken by staff members boasting impressive educational qualifications of their own: Senior Research Associate Frances Deviney, for one, received her B.A. in Psychology from Vanderbilt University and has gone on to earn a Doctorate in Developmental Psychology. Staff members, including Deviney, are also responsible for coming up with innovative ways of adding to and improving on CPPP's initiatives. The Family Asset Building Project is one measure promoted by CPPP as an effort to help families gain knowledge about specific tools, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, that can be employed to help maintain financial stability. With their talented staff leading the way to initiation of incrimental changes in public policy, CPPP is providing a valuable service to all members of societyon and off the internet.

The presence of the internet is rapidly growing to replace T.V., newspaper, and radio as the primary medium for research and information. However, because almost anybody can launch their own web site, it is rarer to come upon a site that has undergone any type of academic review than one which has not. This is increasingly true as the number of web site choices is constantly on the rise. Thus the overall experience given to a visitor by a site, as a complete sum of all of its parts, is what should serve as a measurement of authority and success. Despite falling short in some aspects of its content and interactivity, the CPPP web site presents relevant, informative matters, with near-perfect structure and navigation, and extraordinary functionality. The Webby Awards criteria explains that “overall experience encompasses content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, and interactivity, but it also includes the intangibles that make one stay or leave. It is not surprising that the CPPP web site—the flow felt and the experience granted—stands as an authority not only in the realm of public policy analysis but also in the discipline of web site creation.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Specter FISA Bill: The Devil is in the Details

Over the past week as Arlen Specter took the Senate floor in defense of his proposed FISA bill, which- if approved- would grant extensive surveillance and wiretapping privileges under the Bush administration, a somewhat widespread reporting of the subject got underway. I took this as an opportunity to scan through the plethora of available coverage, pick out a few relevant posts, and input some personal commentary. First, I commented on the post “Big Brother Comes to America” by Sheldon Rampton as it covers the universally significant issue of media monitoring and his stance on governmental ranking of news outlets which is congruent with my own. My comment on this post is #191. A second post which evoked my comment, “Arlen Specter is lying about his own bill – again” by Glenn Greenwald, is an informative display of the inconsistencies between much of what Specter presented to the Senate and that which is found in the text of his bill. These posts are presented with pressing consequence and are both recommended reads.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Genuine U.S. Surveillance: Increasing Concern and Decreasing Disclosure

The memories of lives lost, the construction plans for the Freedom Tower, and the implications of the USA PATRIOT Act are in the forefront of American minds today, five years after the events of September 11th. And while increasing surveillance is only one of the ripples created in the wake of the attacks, the topic is one of significant consequence as it necessitates a redefining of the terms “freedom”, “privacy”, and “civil rights”. Thus, the issue of domestic monitoring almost invariably lends itself to a plethora of questions: Are the actions being taken truly vital to the protection of the U.S. from another terrorist attack? Or has enhanced security taken a step too far over the boundaries of personal privacy, individual freedom, and civil liberty?

Within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center, it is likely that the preliminary stages of reorganization and strategic planning of the United States National Security Agency were underway. Over the ensuing five years a variety of safety measures which include, but are certainly not limited to, warrantless wiretapping (of both phone calls and e-mails), monetary transfer observation, and personal data collection, have been implemented. However, few specifics regarding such procedures have been offered by public officials. In a speech given last Thursday to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, President Bush says nothing more than, “The nature of communications has changed quite dramatically. The terrorists who want to harm America can now buy disposable cell phones and open anonymous e-mail addresses. Our laws need to change to take these changes into account.” Therefore, much of what is known about the degree of investigation through national programs has been made public via media leaks. The combination of insufficient disclosure and discovery of clandestine inspection techniques has cultivated a serious backlash from a number of civil rights organizations including the ACLU. “It has never been acceptable for the government to spy on Americans without having to go to court and present evidence as to why the individual is under suspicion. It was unacceptable when they spied on Martin Luther King and it is unacceptable today,” remarks ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero.

Yet as long as accountability is maintained, trust in our public officials is intact, and efforts taken are done so with the sole purpose of national security, it is not the extent of surveillance that must be of concern. What must be a more pertinent matter of interest is the extent to which our government is open and honest with the general public about the transparency of supervision that is taking place.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Housing for the Homeless: A Long-Term Solution to Replace Patchwork Shelter Systems

According to research published in June 2006 by the National Coalition for the Homeless, on a given night in February, over 840,000 people experienced homelessness. And while the same study finds an overall increase in both rates of homelessness and number of shelter beds provided, the gap measured between the supply and demand of temporary housing is continually widening. Furthermore, emergency shelters are all too often limited not only in their capacity but also in the services they are able to provide. An alternative must be found. Supportive housing offers this much needed alternative: a stable, permanent place of residence combined with a number of social services, often provided in-house and free of charge; with programs targeted at helping people on the streets in need of job training, mental health services, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, supportive housing helps transform a homeless person into a productive member of society.

It is not to say that homeless shelters do not fill a much needed demand for a temporary place of asylum. Afterall, most shelters are over-crowded with many who would otherwise have to spend night after night on the streets without the basic necessities many Americans take for granted: a roof to sleep under, a clean place to rest, and a refueling of food and nourishment. However, the fact remains that people are still being denied the aforementioned: a recent study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that “14% of all requests for emergency shelter were unmet due to lack of resources” among 24 major cities within the United States.

Thus while it is necessary to maintain the current level of homeless shelters, it is essential that future focus be turned toward planning and further executing permanent supportive housing programs. Proposals for supportive housing have been studied and for years now it has been shown that it is cheaper for local, state, and federal governments to provide such a solution in place of the short-term, patchwork shelter system we have come to rely on. A study done by Dennis P. Culhane, Stephen Metraux, and Trevor Hadley for the University of Pennsylvania Housing Policy Debate dating back to 2002 calculated an average annual net reduction of $12,146 spent per person on social services including health, corrections, and shelter programs after one year of entering supportive housing. All in all, the direction of our efforts must be rerouted; it is the responsibility of citizens to support groundbreaking non-profit organizations in this arena, such as LAMP Community, and promote policies advocating supportive housing.