Categories
Viewpoint

The forgotten cities

As Homeless encampments continue to grow, thousands of Americans are left in the dust. We need to do more. 

I will never forget the first time I drove through “The Zone,” a massive homeless encampment in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Far from my hometown of Cincinnati, I had arrived in Phoenix, Arizona the night before to spend the summer working at Andre House of Hospitality, a soup kitchen and daytime service center for people experiencing homelessness. Driving slowly to avoid hitting people in the street, I saw block after block lined with tents and tarps, hundreds of people living on the streets in the sweltering Arizona summer. The tents surrounded Phoenix’s Human Services Campus, St. Vincent DePaul and Andre House, organizations where people experiencing homelessness could access shelter beds, meals, showers and other necessities. However, in Phoenix, the needs of vulnerable unhoused people extend far beyond available resources. Last reported, Maricopa County had about 1,800 shelter beds but approximately 7,500 people experiencing homelessness. Over half of these people are unsheltered. 

This phenomenon isn’t unique to Phoenix. From Seattle, to Oregon, to Los Angeles’ infamous “Skid Row,” communities of people living on the streets have emerged in many major American cities. In 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court (Jurisdiction: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) ruled that, if there are not enough beds available to shelter a city’s homeless population, it is unconstitutional to criminalize people for sleeping in public spaces. Thus, alongside increased rates of homelessness due to the pandemic, the amount of people living on the streets has grown rapidly while cities struggle to meet the need for shelter beds. Although the decriminalization of homelessness is critical, it is not enough for cities to just turn a blind eye to people living on the streets. Instead, there must be actual investments made to ensure that people are moved off the streets into temporary shelters and eventually, permanent, stable housing. 

Homelessness is an extremely complicated issue. Addiction and mental health both play a massive role — approximately 20% of homeless Americans suffer from severe mental illness and a substantial portion of the homeless population suffers from addiction. Furthermore, incarceration and homelessness are strongly correlated, a lack of effective rehabilitation programs creating a “revolving door” between the streets and the system. The most notable cause of homelessness, however, is a lack of affordable housing, and for good reason. In Phoenix, rent rose by an average of 30% in 2021 and continues to rise. It is shown that in communities where rent prices exceed 32% of average annual income, there are sharp increases in homelessness. Therefore, as long as rent continues to rise at a quicker rate than wages, it is likely that we will continue to witness the growth of tent cities. While all Americans feel the effects of inflation, low income populations are especially vulnerable, and rising rents could force thousands of already struggling Americans into homelessness.

Andre House is a presence-based ministry, and throughout the summer I had the privilege of hearing the stories of many of our guests. Every story was different, and it caused me to realize how nuanced the issue of homelessness is. I met people who had been on the streets for a few days, and people who had been on the streets for years. I befriended girls my age whose parents had kicked them out and watched while elderly, disabled people struggled to navigate life on the streets. I saw firsthand how debilitating addiction could be, and I realized how prevalent untreated mental illness is among the homeless population. Above all else, however, I learned what an immense barrier homelessness is to full human expression. I met so many incredible individuals who were living on the streets of Phoenix, yet their conditions allowed them to do little more than just survive. 

In places like Phoenix, homeless people die preventable deaths every day due to treacherous climates, experience extremely high rates of sexual assault and have a mortality rate that is three times greater than the general population. It is clear that something must be done. The solution does not lie in criminalizing homelessness, and it does not lie in simply allowing people to live on the streets unbothered. Instead, politicians from both sides of the aisle must work together to create more temporary shelters, put protections in place against skyrocketing rents and address the need for better rehabilitation programs. For me, growing up in a middle class suburb and now the ”“Notre Dame Bubble,” it can be easy to ignore the complexity of the issue and place the blame on people for their situations. However, at its core, homelessness is not a political issue, but a matter of human dignity. As a society, it should be our goal to give all people the resources they need to participate fully; thus, it is imperative that something is done to get people off the streets, and eventually, into permanent housing. 

Leah Moody is a sophomore living in Flaherty Hall studying economics and philosophy. She is the Director of Events for BridgeND, an organization that seeks to promote bipartisan discussion on campus. She spent the past summer working at Andre House in Phoenix, AZ through the Notre Dame Summer Service Learning Program.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Categories
News

Center for Social Concerns ends SSLPs, introduces NDBridge

The summer service learning program (SSLP) and its international counterpart (ISSLP) have been phased out by the Center for Social Concerns. NDBridge is the University’s new summer community engagement program, limited to rising sophomores. The previous programs were open to students in each of their three summers.

NDBridge will continue to offer eight-week service-based immersion experiences, a one-credit supplementary course and international options through NDBridge-International to the smaller applicant pool.

JP Shortall, associate director of the CSC, said that the new program will build on the SSLP framework.

“NDBridge will combine the best elements of the SSLP/ISSLP programs while also providing additional resources and structures to enhance and deepen the experiences of our students as they engage in domestic and global service-learning opportunities,” Shortall wrote in an email to The Observer.

Shortall cited the difficulties the previous programs faced over the past three years as the reasoning behind the CSC’s decision to replace SSLP and ISSLP with NDBridge.

“The past three years have presented significant challenges for community engagement programs both at Notre Dame and around the country,” he wrote. “As disruptive as these challenges were, they offered us an important opportunity to assess best practices in community-engaged learning, both nationally and globally,” he wrote. “In light of these assessments and changing student interests on campus, we decided it was a good time to make some changes to our summer community engagement programs.”

The program’s goal is to “get students to think hard about injustice, work with communities around the world that face it and consider their responsibility to the common good while at Notre Dame and beyond,” according to the NDBridge website

Shortall added that he hopes the Notre Dame community can gain “a sense of connection to communities around the country and the world, a sense of solidarity with their joys, hopes, griefs and challenges” through the program.

NDBridge will seek to deepen the experiences and connections of their students through the living situation for students in the program, Shortall said.

“In NDBridge rising sophomores will live with other students in intentional communities of four either at or near community partner sites,” he wrote. “Students often find themselves searching and/or disoriented after their first year in college, and programs like NDBridge serve to reorient them with meaning and purpose. The four-person intentional living-learning communities will offer opportunities to enrich the work the students are doing each day through common meals, prayer, reflection and discussion, with special emphasis on engaging with the local community.”

According to the website, “applications for NDBridge opened Oct. 31 and close at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2022.” Students will then be selected for interviews, receive offers and enroll in a preparatory course.

Shortall said that students should apply because the program “connects some of the most important things about being a person: meaning, purpose, a sense of community and self-discovery. And it’s a great way to participate in the University’s mission ‘to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.’”

The next information session for NDBridge is on Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. in the Geddes Hall coffeehouse.

You can contact Tess Brennan at tbrenna4@nd.edu.