Doubling up is no solution to homelessness

July 03, 2011

While I agree with Michael D. Ullman's position that long-term solutions to homelessness should focus on permanent housing, prevention and rapid re-housing models ("Not a home, not a help," June 29), his suggestion that "doubling up" with friends and family is a solution to homelessness is completely off base.

People and families who "double" or "triple up" with friends and family are not solving the problem of their own homelessness. They are still homeless, since they lack a home of their own to provide stability, privacy and security.

The federal government has long recognized the precarious nature of "doubled up" housing situations for children by making sure that all homeless children -- including those who "double up" -- receive the education protections contained in the McKinney-Vento Act. The government reiterated this view when it expanded its definition of the homeless to include "doubled up" families and youth in the HEARTH Act of 2009, which governs funding and services for shelter, housing and other resources.

Not only does Mr. Ullman's view go against federal policy, his suggestion would place many renters at risk of eviction. Most renters of private or government subsidized rental housing are prohibited from allowing a friend or relative to move into their apartment; those that do often face the prospect of eviction and homelessness themselves as a consequence of their actions.

The Homeless Persons Representation Project represents tenants residing in subsidized housing, and one of the primary reasons people face eviction is the alleged presence of an unauthorized occupant. Renters should always seek the advice of an attorney before allowing anyone to move in with them, because the possibility that they will lose their own housing as a result is very real.

Mr. Ullman also raises the issue of random drug testing at the new shelter. While it is unclear whether he is a proponent of drug testing and for what purpose, it is worth noting that random drug testing by the government without cause is unconstitutional. To my knowledge, Baltimore rightfully does not intend to violate the constitutional rights of citizens who seek emergency shelter.

Carolyn Johnson, Baltimore

The writer is managing attorney for the Homeless Persons Representation Project

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