Automating Inequality

Automating Inequality

How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor

Virginia Eubanks

Coordinated entry is based on two philosophies that represent a paradigm shift in the provision of homeless services: prioritization and housing first. Prioritization builds on research by Dennis Culhane from the University of Pennsylvania, which differentiates between two different kinds of homelessness: crisis and chronic. Those facing crisis homelessness tend to be experiencing “short-term emergencies [such as] eviction, domestic violence, sudden illness, or job loss, or reentering communities after incarceration.” 4 The crisis homeless, Culhane argues, often self-correct: after a short stay in a shelter, they identify family members they can stay with, access new resources, or move away. A small, time-limited investment can offer them “a hand up to avoid the downward spiral” into chronic homelessness. Those experiencing chronic homelessness, on the other hand, tend to be homeless frequently and for longer stretches. Chronically homeless adults, according to Culhane’s research, “have higher rates of behavioral health problems and disabilities, and more complex social support needs.” 5 For them, permanent supportive housing is an appropriate and effective solution. The shift to prioritization in Los Angeles acknowledged that the status quo was not serving the chronic homeless. There was a mismatch between needs and resources: the crisis homeless got resources most appropriate for the chronically homeless; the chronically homeless got nothing at all. The other conceptual shift in coordinated entry is its housing first philosophy. Until very recently, most homeless services operated on a “housing readiness” model that moved individuals through different program steps before they could be housed. Someone who had been sleeping on the street or in their car might first enter an emergency shelter, then shift to a transitional housing program, and finally attain independent housing. At each stage, a set of behavioral requirements—sobriety, treatment compliance, employment—were gateways that controlled access to the next step. The housing first approach emerges instead from the understanding that it is difficult to attend to other challenges if you are not stably housed. Housing first puts individuals and families into their own apartments as quickly as possible, and then offers voluntary supportive and treatment services where appropriate.

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