Can you force me to be housed?

I am asked, regularly, if I am forcing homeless families to find housing, to seek shelter, to rent apartments. And, if they do not do these activities will they lose their cash aid or other entitlements.

The answer is NO. I do give everyone a 90 day head start and every resource I know in order to assist them to end their homelessness. But I don’t have recourse if they don’t take the help. It is up to them.

Here is the answer from a lawyer:

“The legal qualifications for public assistance benefits are based upon financial assets and health, not on housing. The regulations do not authorize government agencies to withhold benefits from the homeless or to make them contingent upon somebody’s becoming un-homeless. Nevertheless, staff might encourage homeless clients to participate in programs to get them into government subsidized apartments or other housing.       

A homeless applicant, knowing that the law does not require him to give up being homeless in order to get federal disability benefits, medical assistance, or food stamps, must also realize that the law does not forbid government agencies from informing clients about housing programs. There is no law preventing them from even requiring someone to listen to a long housing presentation when applying for disability, food stamps, or medical assistance. This knowledge, that only information-not housing can be forced upon him, should prevent a homeless person from feeling pressured to conform or feeling frustrated that he might not get the benefits.   

This is another situation in which being familiar with the law does not necessarily give someone grounds to sue. Instead, it helps assure more balanced communication in which the client need not feel like a victim and the service provider need not feel like an enemy. Sometimes, agencies tell clients about other programs for which they are eligible only to be sure that the client knows about that eligibility. Sometimes, they tell because getting into the other program might lead to the client’s no longer needing government assistance.

There is nothing illegal about either of those motives. Anyone who takes offense at them is choosing not to appreciate that they are offerings of help, offers that can certainly be declined without fear of punishment. Clients always have the right to say something like, “I’m aware that the food stamp regulations do not require me to participate in the housing program or to have my own permanent address, but thank you for offering me that information.””

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