In my post, Are homeless support services doing their job?, I raised a number of questions regarding the increase in homelessness despite the best efforts of the homeless support services (HSS) industry. One of those questions dealt with funding. In essence I asked if homelessness has risen because there is a lack of adequate funding.
There are some who maintain that if the HSS industry were given more funding there would be less homeless. And at first glance that may seem to be a reasonable conclusion to make. But is it?
It would certainly be nice if suddenly there were ample financial resources to end homelessness in the U.S. all at once. But I’m too much of a realist to expect that somehow, someway there will magically appear unlimited funding for that to happen.
To be sure, the Obama Administration has proposed an increase in funding for homeless services for fiscal year 2012 – and a rather sizable increase at that.
According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness’ website,
"The President’s Budget includes $4.8 billion for targeted homeless assistance funding, a 23.4% increase over the previously enacted Fiscal Year 2010 Budget and a 13.3% increase over the President’s Fiscal Year 2011 Budget proposal."
Unfortunately, what President Obama is asking for and what Congress will approve are two different things.
Still, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Congress approves the $4.2 billion for FY 2011 and the $4.8 billion for FY 2012. Will that completely end homelessness in the U.S.?
My best educated guess is: No – at least not in the short term. And certainly not if we continue to address homelessness along the same lines we have historically done.
We have been aggressive at trying to shelter and feed as many of our nation’s homeless as we can – with some measure of success. However, we haven’t been equally as assertive in creating solutions to assist them become re-housed, attain some measure of self-sustainability and regain their place in our communities. And the outcome has been that homelessness becomes a self-perpetuating cycle for many of them – with little or no hope for escape.
I’m not suggesting that ending homelessness is an easy task. I know it’s not. In fact, it may be one of the most difficult social issues for us to address.
Yet, I believe that if we approach it with an eye toward creating more permanent housing solutions – and not merely temporarily sheltering the homeless – we can make significant headway at reducing the numbers of people living on the streets of our communities.
In order for that to happen however, we have to re-prioritize how we spend the funding we already have.
Are we going to look to increase the numbers of meals and shelter beds we provide? Or are we going use that funding for the purpose which it was intended for in the first place: that of helping the homeless rebuild their lives?
To be honest, if it were left up to me, I would reduce the amount being spent on homeless shelters by about half, and then re-direct the balance toward housing programs for the homeless.
On the surface, the approach I would use may sound a bit cruel and inhumane. And I’m sure there are those – including those from within the homeless support services industry – who would strongly disagree with my position.
Nonetheless, if you really stop and think about it: the more of our nation’s homeless who we can help become housed and self-supporting, the less homeless there will be who we would have to shelter and feed.
Not only would it benefit those we help, but it would strengthen and improve our communities as well. And that would be a good thing, don’t you think?
I can’t stress this point enough:
Sheltering our nation’s homeless is a wonderful thing. It befits the American spirit and shows that we care enough about those of our fellow citizens who have hit bottom. It shows that our hearts are in the right place. In fact, some communities have even succeeded in providing enough shelter beds to accommodate the majority of its homeless population.
New York City – for example – is able to provide shelter for more than 85 percent of its homeless. Yet when all is said and done, it doesn’t make them any less homeless, only sheltered. And if you ask anyone experiencing homelessness, they will tell you that there is a diametric difference between being sheltered and being housed.
Does ending homelessness require more funding?
Perhaps to some extent. And it would certainly help.
But equally as important is how effectively we use the funding we already have.
What comes to mind is something Ernest Hemingway said:
"Never mistake motion for action."
Up till now, when it has come to addressing homelessness, we’ve being engaged in a good deal of motion.
Now it’s time to begin solving homelessness. That requires more than just funding. It requires action.