Knowledge mobilization

Social media platforms have given everyone a place to share observations about homelessness. To balance the rants and misinformation we see, we try to put good information on our Facebook group page. And sometimes we get help there from people we have not even met.

John Kirby (email) of Cathedral City offered an open letter to policymakers on what he learned through his own struggles with PTSD, drugs and homelessness. Kirby went on to work with the unhoused in nonprofit behavioral health and social services for more than 25 years. His commentary exposes the flaws in many of the simplistic solutions we hear or see on social media. What it will take to solve homelessness, he concludes, is the collective will of every one of us.

We rely on an official process called the Point In Time Count to measure the extent of homelessness and understand its causes. Unfortunately, a major rainstorm hampered the 2022 count in Palm Springs and it found only 276 unhoused people (222 unsheltered, 54 sheltered), which we believe is an undercount. Digging beneath the top-line numbers, Kirby finds:

  • 50% of the unsheltered homeless folks in Palm Springs have a history of substance abuse but only 13% are homeless because of substance abuse
  • 44% have a history of mental illness but only 4% attribute being homeless to mental illness
  • 46% have a history of PTSD but none of them reported PTSD as the reason for their homelessness

“In fact,” Kirby writes, “the two largest reasons for homelessness noted in the PITC are lack of income (26%), and family disruption (24%), with an additional 15% noted as ‘other reasons.'”