Innovation. An interesting word.
It denotes being able to creatively come up with some new way of doing things. Is it synonymous with the word "invention."
One dictionary defines the word this way:
- A creation (a new device or process) resulting from study and experimentation.
- The creation of something in the mind.
- The act of starting something for the first time; introducing something new.
There is no doubt that the world is chock full of innovations. The innovations that have become the most successful are also the ones which have benefited the masses of people.
Henry Ford used moving assembly lines in his automobile factory. In doing so, he was able to mass produce automobiles. This ability to build cars en masse reduced the cost of production, enabling more and more people the ability to afford the purchase of a car. With the numbers of vehicles on the road, just in the U.S. alone, we can see that his innovation had a huge impact on society.
Emulating Henry Ford’s production techniques, other companies begin using assembly lines to produce their wares. The net effect is that the public in general became the benefactors. More and more items and goods, that at one time had been available only to the wealthy and elite, became available for the everyday person.
Another innovation, tin cans, provided a way for food to be produced, packaged, stored and distributed. Tin cans meant that food could be processed in one part of the country and then shipped to another part of the country without the fear of spoilage. Again, the public in general became the benefactor.
Over and over again, throughout history, the greatest innovations have been the ones which have helped to elevate the standard of living for the masses of people. These innovations have been the great equalizers of society.
The one thing about great ideas and innovations is the ability for them to evolve and be adapted as the needs of society change. It is this ability of adaptation that has continued to help improve the overall quality of life for mankind.
Having said all that, there are still some 3 million plus people in this nation who are homeless. They live in abject poverty, squalor and, for the most part, are treated by the majority of their fellow citizens as though they were nothing more than an eye sore on the landscape of society. They are ignored, treated with contempt, and otherwise viewed as something to be gotten rid of – or at least hidden from sight.
The stereotypical views of who is homeless are based on misconceptions. Moreover, the majority of people are completely ignorant of the true demographical make-up of homelessness.
In the mind of many, the homeless are still primarily thought of as some drunken derelict laying in a dark alleyway, clutching his bottle of alcohol wrapped in a brown paper bag. The homeless are seen as someone who is just too lazy to find work. They are seen as societal leeches. They are perceived as outcasts, troublemakers and otherwise undesirable.
Yet, the stereotype belies the reality. Today’s homeless population is made up of people from all walks of life.
"One of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population is families with children. A survey of 24 U.S. cities found that in 2005, families with children accounted for 33% of the homeless population…"
Another NCH fact sheet, "Who Is Homeless?" states,
"Research indicates that 40% of homeless men have served in the armed forces, as compared to 34% of the general adult male population…"
Further down the same fact sheet,
"Approximately 22% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness…"
The largest obstacle faced by the homeless of today is a lack of adequate programs and resources. Even in areas where resources are available, these are seldom effective at helping the homeless transition back into the community. The reason is because the vast majority of agencies, organizations and resources are geared primarily toward providing only emergency shelter and meals. Very little is actually being done to help the homeless raise their standard of living.
Lack of funding and personnel to staff homeless shelters and other such homeless support service agencies precludes the ability to provide an effective means for the homeless to move ahead with life. But, it isn’t just lack of funding which is the problem. The homeless support service agencies and organizations themselves are part of the problem. They haven’t allowed themselves to keep up with the times. This lack of "evolution" has prevented them from being able to minister to the needs of today’s homeless population.
The truth is that most homeless support service agencies are still dealing with homelessness in their respective communities as though it were 20 or 30 years ago. Basically, they are using out dated and obsolete methodologies to deal with homelessness. Is it then any wonder that so many homeless who otherwise should be able to find a way out of homelessness are finding themselves homeless for extended periods of time?
I’m not advocating giving the homeless everything on a silver platter. I don’t believe that we should coddle or "spoon feed" the homeless. It’s in no one’s best interest that we make things "too easy" for the homeless. And yes, we should expect the homeless to do something to help themselves. But, we should – and must – be willing to offer a helping hand.
If we want to get rid of the homeless, then we must be willing to provide the means, for those homeless who truly want to raise their standards of living, to do so. Only by helping them become a productive part of our communities can we honestly expect to significantly reduce the numbers of homeless in our nation.
We seem to find it so easy to talk about how something needs to be done about homelessness; how we have to reduce the numbers of homeless in our communities. But, we don’t seem to be willing to roll up our sleeves and actually work toward that goal. We’re content to allow our elected leaders to pass ordinance after ordinance that do nothing more than penalize the homeless in hopes that the homeless will go elsewhere. Yet, these ordinances don’t work. They never have. The never will.
It seems to me that it’s time we stopped using outdated methods for dealing with homelessness. It’s time that we changed with the times. It’s time that we recognize that the needs of today’s homeless are not the same as the needs of the homeless from 2 or 3 decades ago. It’s time we recognized that one size does not fit all.
What we need are people, agencies and organizations who are willing to try new and innovative ways of helping our homeless. Only by doing can we expect to make a genuine difference.