Most mornings, one of the first things I do is check the statistics for this site: how many people have logged onto the site; which posts were read the most within the previous 24 hours; and what search engine queries were used to find the site.
Over the last four or five days, I’ve noticed variations on the same theme: "what impact does homelessness have on society?"
It’s a valid question – one which I’ve thought about off and on throughout today.
Homelessness impacts a community in a number of different ways.
There is, of course, the economic impact that homelessness has on society. Operating and maintaining homeless support services programs such as homeless shelters, day centers, homeless medical services and so forth are costly ventures. The funding for these programs comes in the form of taxpayer dollars and private donations. Yet, most of these programs are generally unfunded, which means that only the most basic of services can be offered. This in turn means that many homeless are forced to seek alternate methods of getting their basic needs met. Subsequently, those homeless who cannot find employment will turn to recycling or panhandling as a means of putting money in their pockets.
As the numbers of homeless who dig through garbage cans and dumpsters in search of recyclable items and as the number of homeless who panhandle increases there are the inevitable complaints to the community’s government to "do something about the homeless." This usually causes the city to adopt stricter laws concerning – and in some instances, prohibiting – these activities. Then, because of the need to enforce these ordinances, local law enforcement must be on the look out for violators.
For those homeless who are caught, the officer must then take the time to stop, check the person’s ID, and write the person a ticket. Which costs more money, because then it has to go through the local court system. Paperwork has to be filled out, court appearances must be set, and for those homeless who either don’t pay the fine or show up in court, additional paper work is created. If a warrant is issued, then the next time the person is caught, there is a possibility that they will be given a trip to the local jail – at taxpayer’s expense, of course – which means more paperwork.
In a small community, such as San Luis Obispo where the local economy is heavily based on tourism, a high visibility ratio of homeless can adversely affect the amount of tourist dollars in the coffers of local businesses. The remedy used by the governing bodies is to strengthen or adopt stricter anti-loitering ordinances in high tourist traffic areas. But, of course, there is then the need to enforce these laws. So, a special transient task force is brought into play. Since local police departments can’t just pull officers out of other departments, additional officers must be hired – again at taxpayer’s expense.
There is also an environmental impact that homelessness has on a society.
Since most communities do not have anywhere near the amount of supportive resources needed for the numbers of homeless in their areas, the homeless will be forced to find alternate places to live and sleep. In more urbanized areas, this could be in the doorways of businesses after closing hours, behind buildings, public benches, bus shelters, building hallways and the like. In other, less urbanized communities, the homeless may seek shelter in "green belt" areas.
Since every person has a need to heed the call of nature, and because many businesses deny the homeless the use of bathroom facilities, the homeless are forced to use whatever convenient location they may find to tend to those needs. And the cost of clean up, once again comes out of taxpayer dollars.
It is a sad truth that there are homeless who, for whatever reasons, do not have access to homeless support services.
Since no one wants to starve, the stealing of food becomes a necessity just in order to survive. Additionally, on those days when the weather is cold or wet, the need to stay warm and dry may cause some homeless to "borrow" certain items from retail or department stores. And who ultimately pays for that? Once again, it comes out of the pockets of John and Jane Q. Public in the form of higher prices at the check out line.
Call me simple, but it seems to me that if we truly want to reduce the numbers of homeless in our communities, the most effective way of doing so would be to help them become productive, self-sustaining members of the community. That would put them back on the "tax rolls." And that means, that they in turn, could help share the burden for helping the homeless help themselves.
Or does that make too much sense?