Despite data and evidence which points to the opposite, there are scores of folks who continue believe that homelessness is a choice.
Even during harsh economic times – such as the U.S. is currently undergoing, when jobs are scarce – there are those who still believe that the homeless are so because they refuse to "seek help."
Perhaps part of it is that folks mistakenly believe that there is an abundance of resources available for the homeless. And, as a result, it’s easy to assume that if they are not escaping homelessness it must be because they enjoy being homeless.
Unfortunately, there are not an over abundant amount of resources to help the homeless rebuild their lives. In fact, there is a noticeable lack of resources. Subsequently, there are numerous homeless support services (HHS) organizations, in communities all across the nation, who are reporting having to turn folks away.
Interestingly enough, that folks who are experiencing homelessness are being turned away by HSS organizations is rather compelling evidence that they are indeed seeking help; that they do want a way of escaping life on the streets; that they want to be able to rebuild their lives. And that contradicts the notion that the homeless choose to be homeless.
So, if the homeless are seeking help but are being turned away for lack of resources, does it mean that we aren’t spending enough at trying to help them? That we need to be spending more? Or, is there another alternative?
One of the realities of economics is that there is only a finite amount of funding to go around (as most families who are struggling to make ends meet will attest to). As such, making every penny count then becomes of paramount importance. In other words, we need to be getting the "biggest bang for our buck." We need to ensure that every dollar we spend is productive and yields positive results.
Last March (2010), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), released a report outlining the costs associated with sheltering first-time homeless families versus providing them with a rapid re-housing approach. The cost of providing rapid re-housing programs proved to be the most cost efficient. In some communities, the savings were quite significant – by as much as two-thirds. The additional benefit is that by helping those families become housed, it meant that the communities then had less folks homeless and living on the streets or in shelters.
Let me put it this way: as long as we continue to provide only those types of services that shelter and feed the homeless, the numbers of folks living in the streets of our communities will continue to increase. And, we will continue to believe that the homeless do not want a better way of life.
On the other hand, if we begin to actively offer programs, ripe with solutions that help the homeless off the streets, back into housing and allowing them the ability attain some measure of self-sustainability, the numbers of homeless will decrease. And, if the numbers of homeless were to decrease due to those types of programs, wouldn’t that also be proof that the homeless aren’t so by choice?
Offering shelter and food to our nation’s homeless is a noble and humane gesture. And it certainly appeals to our desire to do something good for those who have less than ourselves. But in the end, if it doesn’t lead to helping the homeless get off the streets, all we’ve really accomplished is made ourselves feel good.
Is homelessness really a choice?
It only appears that way because they remain homeless. And regrettably, they remain homeless because we have yet to consistently offer them the types of assistance they need to rebuild their lives.
In some ways, you might even say it is a lack of choices that prevents them from escaping homelessness. Their options are restricted only to whatever services we are willing to provide. And with such limited services available to assist them, how can we in good conscience believe that they somehow find living on the streets of our nation, with no hope for tomorrow, a preferable lifestyle?
The next time you see a homeless person and are tempted to say that they are homeless by choice, think along these lines:
Would you find being homeless so appealing that you would choose to be so? Or, would you try your best to avoid becoming homeless? And if homeless did occur to you, wouldn’t you hope that someone would offer you a genuine chance at becoming housed, rather than have them just offer you a meal and a bed?
And, how you would feel if you could find no assistance to become re-housed and ended up being homeless for an extended period of time; unable to find a job? Wouldn’t it wound you to have someone believe that you were homeless because you chose to be?