Down but not out

Social disadvantages can be overcome if its victims are helped.

CNN recently reported that a Louisiana high school senior experiencing homelessness, 19-year-old Elijah Hogan, had graduated at the top of his class with the highest-earned grade.  Hogan, who became homeless a year and a half ago, says he was in disbelief when he learned of his academic achievement.

Hogan, who previously lived with his grandmother since he was 11, says he became homeless after the lease on his grandmother’s house expired when the homeowner decided to sell the property.  “From there, I made the executive decision to live on my own to lighten my grandmother’s burden,” Hogan told CNN.

His grandmother told him about the Covenant House, a homeless shelter in New Orleans serving youth and young adults ages 16-22. Hogan has been living at the shelter as part of its transitional housing programme since he became homeless.  The programne allows young people to stay at the shelter up to 24 months rent-free, giving them an opportunity to focus on education or to save money while working.

Hogan, who lost his mother just before he turned 12, says her death encouraged him to push forward with his education for his grandmother’s sake.  Hogan plans to attend Xavier University in New Orleanscome next September to study graphic design and has been granted a scholarship to cover his tuition fees, he says.

Nice story, you might say, but are you trying to tell us something?  For sure.  First of all, it shows that social disadvantages can be overcome if its victims are helped.  Secondly, it sheds a light on what other countries are doing to address the problem of homelessness.

We too have thousands of disadvantaged children and youth.  The State has a range of services in place to address their needs, but more needs to be done.  Investing more in child services and education is a no-brainer.  It pays through better employability and higher productivity in due course, not to mention the dignity it bestows on the people concerned.

We too have homelessness, even though it is difficult to say how much.  The likelihood is that it is increasing as a result of higher property prices.  Existing shelters provided by charities, even if assisted by the State, are not enough to cope with persons who experience job loss, economic hardship, domestic violence, or other short-term emergencies. 

Such problems require very different housing needs from individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.  The authorities need to offer more temporary housing, emergency shelter, transitional housing, as well as permanent supportive housing   ̶  that is, non-time-limited affordable housing matched with ongoing supportive services appropriate to the needs of the tenants.

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