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Year in Review: New tactics needed to win old battles

Worn-out approaches to homelessness, the immigration crisis, and the fentanyl epidemic dominated 2022

A resident distributes homemade sandwiches to migrants in downtown El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 18. Associated Press/Photo by Andres Leighton

Year in Review: New tactics needed to win old battles

This year witnessed the effects of exhausted strategies on compassion issues across the country. The first Point-In-Time count since the COVID-19 pandemic revealed a growing homelessness problem in major cities and rural areas. Record immigration backlogs and border crossings pointed to a need for comprehensive reforms—changes that seem like a long shot given the intensified political wrangling. President Joe Biden continued his move away from the “defund the police” movement, and some cities changed their tune toward liberal prosecutors. More Americans than ever died from fentanyl overdoses, leaving experts and politicians scrambling. But amid discouraging headlines, faithful men and women continued to bring effective compassion to their communities.

The immigration crisis accelerates

The year opened with attention focused on a report from Syracuse University—a record 1.6 million asylum cases threatened to overwhelm the system. And the asylum process is only one of the many legal immigration channels struggling under a logjam. A green card backlog is forcing some families to live in limbo and plan for the possibility of separation. The Biden administration increased its use of humanitarian parole to bypass a crippled refugee resettlement system, leaving Afghans, Ukrainians, and others in legal limbo.

Agricultural labor shortages and record job openings prompted calls to expand temporary worker visa programs. Most notably, a group of bipartisan lawmakers pushed for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act—so far unsuccessfully—which would streamline a program for workers. Advocates and lawmakers continued calls for a solution for “Dreamers” as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program nears its end. Another bipartisan immigration reform effort failed to gain traction in the lame-duck Congress.

An overburdened legal immigration system further exacerbated illegal immigration. Undocumented border crossings between ports of entry skyrocketed, and border communities bore the brunt of the influx. Unaccompanied children were caught in the middle of the crisis. Border Patrol agent suicides rose, and record crossings overwhelmed local law enforcement in border cities. Nonprofit shelters struggled to accommodate the surge.

Though he campaigned on promises to end the Trump-era public health order, President Biden and his administration continued to use Title 42 to control the surge. The policy allows immigration authorities to expel certain immigrants before they can claim asylum. A federal judge ruled an end to the policy in November, but legal wrangling is keeping it alive for now. The administration paroled hundreds of thousands of other illegal asylum-seekers into the country with alternatives to detention and notices to appear in court.

Some border cities and states took measures into their own hands. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expanded his border security initiative, Operation Lone Star, and bused thousands of immigrants to sanctuary cities across the country. Arizona joined the busing operation and explored its own methods of keeping illegal immigrants out. Border cities and states made last-ditch calls for federal action as the number of crossings exploded at year’s end.

Housing First continues to fall short

The Point-in-Time count indicated that homelessness decreased in a few categories, most notably among military veterans. But overall, the problem worsened. Liberal cities across the nation cracked down on growing homeless encampments.

Local governments continued to tout the effectiveness of the Housing First approach, which houses individuals as quickly as possible with little to no preconditions or service requirements. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released funding to tackle rising rural homelessness with Housing First requirements, excluding programs that focus on sober living and life transformation. In some major cities, local governments moved homeless men and women into hotel rooms. But the root issues that put the same men and women on the street followed them there. With no accountability for residents, living conditions quickly deteriorated in San Francisco hotels.

Two coastal states took a more hard-line approach to get homeless people who struggle with mental illness off the street. California passed the Community Assistance Recovery and Empowerment Court Act, which provides a way to get homeless men and women with serious mental disorders into court-ordered treatment. New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a similar directive.

Fentanyl deaths climb

Following a record-breaking number of opioid overdose deaths during the pandemic, fentanyl continued to take the country by storm. The deadly synthetic opioid accounted for about two-thirds of opioid overdose deaths last year. Several major pharmaceutical firms paid billions in damages to states for dispensing addictive drugs without raising red flags.

To combat the epidemic, the Biden administration created an overdose dashboard to pinpoint hot spots and alert first responders. Schools across the county stocked up on the anti-overdose drug Naloxone. Researchers investigated solutions for drug addiction, including experimental brain surgery to stop cravings and the development of a vaccine to counteract fentanyl’s all-consuming high. The escalating crisis indicated that government solutions can only go so far and pointed to the need for holistic responses to a complicated crisis.

Policing approaches and crime backlash

Cities across the country followed 2021 trends and boosted their police budgets to counter a crime wave, and President Biden continued his move away from the “defund the police” movement. Many police departments got their budgets back, but staff shortages plagued departments across the country.

Still, cities did not give up on exploring alternatives to traditional policing methods. Several experimented with sending clinicians instead of police officers to respond to mental health crises. Law enforcement and program designers argued that programs help individuals in crisis but do little to fight crime. Similarly, community-based violence interrupter programs proved most effective when working alongside law enforcement.

Rising crime motivated backlash against liberal prosecutors. In San Francisco, voters recalled District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Critics argued that prosecutors who refuse to prosecute misdemeanors and treat incarceration as a last resort are abusing their prosecutorial discretion and hurting the communities they intend to help. Republican candidates made crime a key issue and expected the issue to resonate with voters during the midterm elections. Though public safety concerns tightened key races, voters gave mixed reviews to tough-on-crime candidates.

God at work

In July, WORLD highlighted four poverty-fighting ministries—organizations that don’t stop at good intentions or bread lines. Our 2022 Hope Awards for Effective Compassion finalists are doing effective compassion in their cities and neighborhoods by providing gospel-centered help that is both personal and challenging:

  • In Albuquerque, N.M., Next Step provides transitional housing for men coming out of prison or rehab. 
  • His Way in Huntsville, Ala., offers men a Christ-centered residential rehabilitation program. 
  • Men and women battling drug addiction get accountability and a family at Good Samaritan Rehabilitation in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. 
  • LifePlan pregnancy center offers something for fathers, mothers, and babies. The center in Niles, Mich., aims to strengthen the entire family on a foundation of Biblical sexuality.

Addie Offereins

Addie is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty fighting and immigration. She is a graduate of Westmont College and the World Journalism Institute. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Ben.

You sure do come up with exciting stuff to read, know, and talk about. —Chad

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