Off and on throughout the day yesterday, I kept thinking about the post I’d written in the morning. And I kept thinking about that homeless gentleman I’d met.
I think what impressed me about him was that he had admitted to having had become homeless because of an alcohol addition. He had owned up to having caused his own "downfall." He hadn’t even attempted to shift the blame elsewhere.
But something "clicked" inside of him. He had wanted a better life. He had wanted it deeply enough that he had gone through a rehabilitation program to get himself sober. He was most certainly sober when I met him. Yet, despite having been clean and sober for nearly two years, he admitted that the stresses of homelessness often times tempted him to begin drinking again.
While I personally do not approve of drunkenness, I can understand why a person who is homeless might choose to dull their senses while living on the streets. Homelessness is a terrible condition to have to endure day in and day out. And, regardless of what so many people believe – getting out of homelessness is not easy. It takes so much more than just going out and getting a job – which seems to be what most folks believe to be the cure all for homelessness.
Sure, a person can go out and get a job flipping burgers at McDonald’s, but earning minimum wage at a part time job just doesn’t cut it.
There are folks in the work force right now who are making substantially more than minimum wage, yet they are living paycheck to paycheck. One small financial glitch in their lives and they too might find themselves homeless. It doesn’t take much these days to place a person into a position where the city streets become home. And that – is reality.
The homeless gentleman I’d met had gone through rehabilitation in an attempt to rebuild his life. But it occurs to me that it will take a different type of rehabilitation for America’s homeless to get a proper chance at becoming housed members of society. And, believe it or not, the one’s who need to be rehabilitated is the rest of us.
Yes, you read that correctly. We, the rest of society, are the ones who need to be rehabilitated if we are going to make significant headway at reducing the numbers of homeless in our nation.
First, homeless support services agencies must rehabilitate the methods used to provide services to the homeless. Providing just a meal and a bed – which are the only services which most homeless shelters offer – simply aren’t enough. New, innovative and comprehensive programs must be implemented: programs which are designed to actually help the homeless transition back into the community.
Next, local municipal governments must stop "dealing" with homelessness by adopting and enacting laws and ordinances which only penalize the homeless for being homeless. If anything, local government must rehabilitate their legislative actions to create new laws which mandate providing adequate funding to help the homeless; to provide them with the types of assistance which are designed to place the homeless into some form of stabilized housing.
Also, the business community must rehabilitate their hiring practices. Perhaps a concerted effort between themselves, the local governments, and the homeless support services agencies to find ways of providing jobs to the homeless which provide a livable wage. Maybe a minor "tax break" for hiring a homeless person might give local businesses an incentive to find ways of hiring the homeless.
But, the most important of these rehabilitations has to come from the community itself. There has to be a rehabilitation of the way we view the homeless. We have to "rehab" what we believe homelessness to be; who the homeless are; and who can become homeless.
We have to rehabilitate our narrow view of the homeless we spot on the streets. We have to stop believing that all homeless are drunkards, drug addicts, or lazy and unwilling to work. We have to rehabilitate ourselves so that we cease having prejudices toward the homeless; prejudices which are based solely on misconceptions and stereotypes.
It seems strange to me that we want the homeless to stop being "drunken bums" but, all the while, we’re intoxicated by our dislike and disgust of the homeless. We want them to clean themselves up and "fly right." Yet, we’re unwilling to "fly right" and treat them with even a modicum of human dignity.
Perhaps what we need as a society is a type of 12 Step program which would rehabilitate and educate us about homelessness, and which would take the intolerance we seem to have toward the homeless and replace it with compassion for them.