Our discussion today is about permanent supportive housing, which is a comprehensive solution to homelessness. The are some programs in the country that support the homeless by focusing on the whole person: permanent housing, the development of practical skills, emotional support, and a strong sense of community belonging. And these are along the lines of what we’re proposing. To scale the best elements of these programs, communities would need local brain trusts, composed of hundreds of individuals, to deal with practical matters, political issues, food lobbying, etc. It would include a vast combination of healthcare, food, housing, occasional opportunity, education, and skills training.
There are about four key elements we need to consider: 1) Is it possible to develop low-cost efficient housing that would be affordable and still give dignity to the populations that it’s serving? 2) Can we give them access to healthy meals that would be nutritious enough to support their livelihoods? 3) How do we optimize their skills so that they can be used within the community? 4) The government needs to pass laws to subsidize the individual that’s suffering on the streets, give them a chance to reclaim their dignity, grow psychologically, grow in their vocational skills, and rehabilitate to their maximum potential.
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The Missing Conversation, episode six, on this podcast, we will propose critical new strategies to address world issues, including homelessness, immigration, among several others, and making a connection to how our individual psychology contributes and can help transform the dangers that we face. We will break from traditional thinking. As we look at our challenges from a freer and more independent point of view, your host Robert Strock has had 45 years of experience as a psychotherapist author and humanitarian, and has developed a unique approach to communication, contemplation and inquiry born from working on his own challenges.
Robert Strock: (00:47)
I want to thank you for tuning in and welcome you to The Missing Conversation today. We’re going to be talking about permanent supportive housing, which is a comprehensive solution to homelessness. First, I’d like to introduce my dearest friend, Dave, who’s been my partner from the beginning at the Global Bridge Foundation. And since our years in college, in early seventies, has been my close traveler friend in so many aspects of life. That would be absolutely impossible to identify them other than to say they’ve been in the depth of my life in, at every level. So Dave, thanks so much for being here with me and to bring out the best from both of us. My God, has it really been that long. And thank you so much for inviting me to participate and participate, especially in your passion around something so important and so timely. And thank you. Let’s go for it.
Robert Strock: (01:58)
So as you listen to these podcasts, I’d really like to ask you to experience yourself as a co-creator and to join in brainstorming solutions. It would be very easy just to resist or for that matter, even to just blindly agree. But what we’re really looking for is your curiosity and your intention to be supportive, we’ll be presenting a pretty well thought out comprehensive plan for permanent supportive housing as an alternative for the homeless. But we don’t mean this to be something that is all canned, you know, all fixed and that this kind of comprehensive plan is going to be tweaked by every locale. And this is a potentially viable plan if you bought it wholesale, but much more likely, you’re likely to make it retail and adapted to the locale where you find yourself as you’ll see, there are so many nuances, so many differences from place to place that to address all the issues would be way too big for any one plan.
Robert Strock: (03:41)
But we hope to set out key elements and principles that can be monitored, generalized and activated by you wherever you are. Your ideas can be sent via my website, robertstrock.org. So the starting point as we’ve covered, especially in the last episode is how we relate to wealth. And are we really open to explore? Am I optimizing my own life? When I dominantly consider myself my family, my loved ones. And is there a future, not inextricably tied to how we treat the homeless, how we treat the planet? Are those not connected in your wisest voice? And if they are, please let that inspire you to contribute to what we’re talking about. There are some programs that are very important to highlight, to look at what has been done. So we can stay with a bit of the devoted people that have already given their life to this very worthy cause in Trieste, Italy, they have a program for the homeless that is considering great multidimensionality of vocational training, mental health, and treating each person as a whole person and optimizing their capacity to move forward in life.
Robert Strock: (05:34)
Another great example, which may seem a little bit different, but has a great overlap is the German prison system. And really in a way contrast, contrasting it with the American prison system where there they focus on again, the whole person of what is this person’s potential to advance. So they’re giving opportunities for each person to excel in whatever area where they have potential and to earn more and more benefits where they are and further potential to be released early in some circumstances. But the key is they’re treating them as human beings, as you and I would want to be treated, not as defective prisoners.
Robert Strock: (06:31)
There are a couple of programs in the country that are really worth highlighting, and I’m sure there’s a lot more that I don’t know about. So I apologize in advance for whatever programs I’m leaving out. Community First in Austin, Texas has a 25 acre trailer park where there are now 300 homeless people that are in trailers. And again, the focus is on the whole person and how they can develop on practical levels and on heart levels, so much so that they received a call requesting to be able to come there even by people that are living in trailers that were not homeless because they had such a deep longing for community and such a deep longing for belonging. And that has been amongst the most sustaining group of the population. And they’re like what we’re proposing. They have the opportunity to have it be a permanent home if they want it to be. And they also have the opportunity to leave. And The People Concern in Los Angeles is spread all throughout Los Angeles in apartment buildings and facilities. They have a special place called Kensington where permanent supportive housing is really been a devotion for several decades. These are models that we want to build on, and we also want to support any elements of what we have to contribute. We want to offer, even if it’s just a one-off, if it’s one of the 12 to 15 things that we’re proposing.
Dave Knapp: (08:33)
Robert I’m hearing different, and unfortunately so few examples, and I know you’ve been researching and researching and looking and looking in our country around the world for examples of places that had any semblance of addressing the global needs of the homeless And there’s just so few. They’re just so, so terribly few. And again, this missing conversation is what seems to be omission. That seems to be a lack of common sense, just if, for no other reason, economically for governments to look at this and say, “this is just a flat out winner” for crime, for housing, for turning people around so they can become productive, tax paying people in our country, for example. Why is this conversation “missing?”
Robert Strock: (09:27)
So, I’m going to really emphasize the part that I haven’t emphasized in prior episodes. And that is number one. There are a lot of people, tremendous amount of people, especially now that are doing phenomenal work for temporary housing. So they really deserve acknowledgement. So I know what you’re really talking about is permanent housing and the major reason besides the distortion of how it’s being thought of that homeless people are being miscategorized as unworthy and not motivated. So they’re too hard. The major issue is trying to solve the issue through conventional means. So conventional means means apartment buildings that are supremely expensive. Hotels, motels that are expensive or something that is much more cost efficient, which is a granny flat, or to have somebody be in your house for the generous people that are willing to devote themselves to do that. The problem with that is there’s too few to ever really have it be a maximum solution. So the biggest problem is conventional thinking of how the housing would work to be 1/10th of the cost, how, how the psychology of intervening to help and support people psychologically, how the mental health regarding medication care would be addressed, how vocational training would be addressed and how it could be really targeted to be cost effective. So conventional thinking automatically goes to building apartments where it’s $300,000 per unit; 3 or $400,000 a unit in California.
Dave Knapp: (11:35)
I also want to just say on that very point you’re making, it almost sounds like conventional thinking … is take these people off the street, take them out of my eyesight, my vision, so I can look at the street and I can almost imagine that they don’t exist. There is no real comprehensive effort to turn the situation around, as much as it seems like what you’re describing, which is to make it invisible to me.
Robert Strock: (12:05)
Yeah. I think there is a comprehensive effort in a traditional way. In other words, there are thousands of programs in the country that are making a tremendous effort, as you said, to take them off the streets to take the homeless communities off the streets. But the problem is the expense of each one is so much that it can never be a long-term solution to what might end up being something close to a half a million homeless people in the country. And so the key is there’s gotta be a brain trust that is composed of hundreds of individuals, maybe in each location to deal with everything from the practical, the political, you know, the lobbying food, just there’s too many areas to mention, and to really be thinking of what are the bare minimum needs, where you would create dignity and not have it leave the rest of the country poor.
Robert Strock: (13:24)
If we were to try to house the homeless in traditional means the country would probably go bankrupt. We can’t afford to build thousands and thousands and thousands or tens of thousands of apartment buildings. So if we can get creative with cost-effectiveness and still be comprehensive at the same time, then I really believe that there’s some genuine hope, but it’s going to require a tremendous amount of participation from the experts that are already there in the field will have tremendous amounts to contribute, as well as new thinkers that are bringing ideas that can bring that wonderful combination of cost-effectiveness and comprehensiveness.
Dave Knapp: (14:15)
So comprehensiveness in this conversation means what?
Robert Strock: (14:22)
It means, a vast combination of healthcare, food, housing, occasional opportunity, education skills training. If somebody is not ready for vocational opportunity, technological access and development, and figuring out locations where it can really work where it’s not going to just create an endless fight with neighborhoods. Flexibility on the part of government to change laws, to change zoning, to have lobbyist groups be inspired to work for this kind of comprehensive reform. And a lot of things that I could never mention, how many elements would be needed, but those elements are really key.
Dave Knapp: (15:19)
And one of the things we’ve talked about before, and I wonder if you would call it part of what has to be a comprehensive program that’s truly viable is the economics of moving these communities to the edges of, or outside the primary core city centers.
Robert Strock: (15:43)
Yeah, I think because it seems like it’s a battle that could outlive my children to try to have communities or apartment buildings built in neighborhoods. I don’t think we have a realistic opportunity. I wish I was wrong, but I don’t think we have an opportunity, but to try to have it be as close to the city center as possible. And just on the outskirts of the cities that have an outskirts, like for example, San Francisco is probably going to have to go further, is definitely going to have to go further out unless they’re willing to sacrifice some parks or golf courses or something along that line. And that zoning very oftentimes would be agricultural zoning, whether it be thousands and thousands of acres where these communities could be put next to each other, especially if their safety thresholds were the same. And by the way, one thing I’ve forgotten to mention in the prior episodes is security.
Robert Strock: (16:51)
Security is going to have to be a major feature in a number of the communities so that not only the community itself feels safe, but the surrounding community, even if it’s on the outskirts will feel safe. So the reason why the outskirts of many major cities is ideal is because you could get into the tens of thousands or in Los Angeles, maybe the a hundred thousand plus, whereas it doesn’t appear that there’s any opportunity for that within the city framework, to be more than a few thousand here or a few thousand there, if even that.
Dave Knapp: (17:29)
So if you were to describe the top five or so, it could be four, could be six elements of what is necessary for a comprehensive plan to work and what isn’t happening that you would like to see happen. What would those be? What kind of conversation is not happening in those those top five or so elements.
Robert Strock: (17:58)
Number one would be, how do we have low cost efficient housing that would be affordable that would still give dignity to the populations that it’s serving. Number two would be, how do we help them eat healthy meals that would be nutritious enough to where it would support their livelihoods. Number three would be, how do we optimize their skills, whether that’s vocational training or skills that they could use within the community, whether it’s sweeping streets or helping in a garden or helping in a community salvage center or helping serve food, that would be a third. Another element would be how would people be able to have an environment where they could have a sense of psychological support and reinforce belonging, where they could feel like, you know, this feels like home, very likely more like home than any place I’ve ever lived. So you’d meet their psychological needs.
Dave Knapp: (19:19)
If I were to ask you the same question in a different way, because I think what you just said is so, so crucial. And of course we had already talked about, and maybe you’d say this would be another element, is having to be practical about where these are. But if it isn’t simply the top five of addressing the needs of the people in the community, what would be the top five? You could call it issues or obstacles or things that need to happen that are not happening as far as how we, and by we, I mean, our government organizations are our philanthropic organizations. We as individuals that have means, or whoever it may be, what are we not doing so far? What are the conversations we need to have as a society that need to happen?
Robert Strock: (20:15)
I’m not sure I’ll hit exactly five, but I’ll riff, however, close I get to it. The first conversation really is about our individual relationship to wealth, and whether we’re optimizing caring for ourselves and the homeless population, the second part is really developing a cooperative spirit between government philanthropy and hopefully at least elements of the corporate sector. The third aspect would be government itself being more flexible in zoning in what kind of housing would be acceptable and getting out of the old mind models and getting into a new mindset. That’s more flexible and doesn’t lock the problem into a jail.
Robert Strock: (21:12)
The fourth area would be government itself passing new laws that would potentially subsidize the individual that’s suffering on the streets and give them a chance to have dignity and have a possibility of growing psychologically, as well as growing in their vocational skills, in their ability to contribute to the maximum potential or rehabilitate to their maximum potential, whether it’s drug addiction or alcohol addiction. So those would be four key elements that are really crucial. Maybe a fifth one would be something that is really inspiring. That is something that you and I did, which is very low cost, very high quality, psychological care that put people in the frame of mind of optimism and creates a community spirit that furthers the sense of belonging and furthers a sense of encouragement, can lift people from being caught in a certain kind of futility, despair, depression, hopelessness into something that would have encouragement and a feeling of having partners in rooting together for a better life.
Dave Knapp: (22:39)
Thank you for that. I really feel you really described important things and important conversations between huge segments of our society that are just invisible and not happening and need to synergistically happen. And as you described the Declaration of Independence in our last episode and the inspiration of what we want to see happen, the original inspiration for our American society, how does that conversation come into play when it takes its manifestation towards the people that have so little, when it really feels like we’ve left a huge part of our society and kick them to the curb is how it seems. Yeah.
Robert Strock: (23:37)
I think I’ll merge two of your questions into one, which is we need to see that the opportunities are given to everyone, and that’s the key element and that cognitive … that the way the mind thinks of they don’t deserve it because they don’t really try and really understanding that that’s not true and giving access to healthcare, which is related to what are the important things, healthcare needs to be given to everybody that just has to be a human right, and crucial that it be strategically located near the communities so that they don’t have to run long distance to an emergency room.
Robert Strock: (24:20)
And I think that if people are really looking at some of the great alternatives, like in Los Angeles, there’s another outfit called Trash Prophets, an organization in the Valley in San Fernando Valley, where it works with homeless people and gathers them together to go into trash cans, to go into places and gather bottles and cans and get paid. And they’re able to get somewhere around six or $7 an hour, and almost any community that’s functional could be led inspirationally to be able to make a living. And if, for example, the government was to make the compensation be 10 cents, rather than 5 cents per unit, it can make $13 or $14 an hour. And suddenly the homeless population would be a community that was making a decent living wage that would give them the opportunity to have a retirement or be able to stay where they are or to move out if they want to.
Robert Strock: (25:28)
So, Trash Prophets is a great example of an organization. That would be one of the ones that could be involved in any of the homeless communities. Grid Alternatives is another one, which is solar installation oriented and would help the individuals install solar power in whatever living units are there that will make it more energy efficient. And even the ability to create a solar field where all the buildings could be energy efficient, and even the possibility in some areas where they could tie into the utility companies and develop another self-sufficiency the mind blowing thing, really mind blowing, is that thousand dollars a month that social security could empower on a really, truly selective basis. If people were willing to do the best they could and enter into the community is only the beginning of being … even weighing in Trash Prophets and how they can earn a living on top of that. We’re not even weighing in how Grid Alternatives could create an enterprise within the community or a skill set that could be taken out of the community. And we’re just at the very beginning point of brainstorming organizations that are dedicated to trying to support self-sufficiency and even generosity.
Dave Knapp: (27:05)
And, as you say that, and that the amazing part of it is even considering an upside at the same time, we’ve talked about the diminishing of the downside, the diminishing of the costs that are so prevalent to society, the amount of effort it takes for firefighters for first responders, police, people that are making phone calls to complain about people on their street, whatever it may be. And so you not only have the beginning and budding potential of an upside, you also have the diminishing of any downside. And it kind of leads me to my next question, I realized before I felt a little frustrated, as I was talking about kicking people to the side of the road. I actually felt very bad. I felt responsible, as part of the society in my own way. And I sit here and I say, okay, where is the system failing? Where are the people that have the levers of decision-making in their hands missing and choosing to spend so much more money buying apartments, or using housing that has, you know, multiple times more expensive, how to break into that system. And why is that conversation not, I’m sure it’s happening, but why is it not breaking through?
Robert Strock: (28:46)
I mean, it really is archaic thinking. And to be fair, the people that are doing nonprofit housing and building apartment buildings are good people. It’s just, they’re not thinking in terms of what would really have a chance of touching the masses. And so it’s going to require the realization, for example, that tiny homes or travel trailers are approximately $25,000, a unit plus construction costs of roads and sewers and plumbing. And so that may end up being $40,000 per unit instead of $300,000 per unit. And so the difficulty is there’s not innovative thinking that’s being practical, both because the people that are in line to have their business be expanded in low cost housing, they have lobbyist groups and they go to the politicians. And it’s not that it’s corrupt. It’s that it’s not efficient. It’s not really ever going to work and take care of the need. So that has to really be highlighted. So lobbyist groups have to be formed. Politicians have to be more inspired. People in general have to be calling Congress and the Senate and saying, it’s time, it’s gonna pay for itself.
Dave Knapp: (30:21)
We’ve covered so many missing conversations, so many things that seem so self evident and yet are not happening. If you were to call out at least one of the most practical, impactful things that you would like to see happen, what would it be?
Robert Strock: (30:44)
It would really clearly be the government realizing that if they were to allow the homeless individuals, no matter what city they’re in to apply for a residence in a program that was somewhat similar to this, that it literally could not only allow for them to pay for some of their housing or all of their housing, really gradually as a mortgage and their food and the supportive services, but it would also allow for the possibility of their personal expansion, their contribution beyond a thousand dollars a month, to where they may not need a thousand dollars a month anymore, they’ll just go on their own. And whatever percentage would be liberated, might be liberated and stay or liberated and go, but that thousand dollars a month won’t be needed. And also to be understood that that thousand dollars a month is paying back the original mortgage and construction costs of the housing and the food.
Robert Strock: (31:57)
And so it will pay for itself and the inspiration being seen by government officials, philanthropic folks, and corporations that really want to contribute would be an utterly inspiring vision and optimistic and realistic. If we can get out of our outdated thinking of housing and psychological care and vocational training and food, if we could really expand that in healthcare, that would really be the ultimate win-win for our society. So on that rather optimistic note, and I would even go so far as saying, sort of a informal prayer, I invite everybody that’s listening to this. I invite you to please join us in this missing conversation. Your ideas can definitely be sent to my website robertstrock.org. So we all can be in this together, because it can’t really be solved by anything less than that. So look forward to continuing this missing conversation for as long as is needed until we can really implement what seems like a very realistic dream. And thank you very much for your attention and especially for your participation.
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