Homeless support service agencies and organizations, contrary to popular belief, do not come anywhere near close to meeting the needs of the homeless. At most they offer a meal and a bed (if possible) and, although most of them do offer referrals to other agencies that also offer services to the homeless, the services are geared toward those who have some disability. Without a disability, a person who is homeless is going to receive little or no help at finding a way out of homelessness.
Part of the problem is the lack of adequate funding. Another problem is that homeless services providers are still treating homelessness as an emergency situation, and so they offer "emergency" homeless services. However, because the demographics of who and why a person becomes homeless has changed radically over the last two or three decades, what is offered simply doesn’t meet the needs of this generation of homeless.
It’s easy for us as a society to say to a homeless person that they should just go out and get a job but, since the overall average unemployment rate for this year is around 4 percent thus far, there are more than just homeless people who don’t have permanent or gainful employment.
Because homeless support services are limited and because many homeless cannot find permanent employment, they are forced to use whatever methods necessary to generate an income. For some it comes in the form of panhandling. For others it comes about through recycling aluminum cans and plastic bottles.
Late yesterday evening I ran into three homeless men that I have known for about 14 months now. They were discussing their plans for coming up with some money – where was the best place for them to go "canning." There was no yelling or shouting, no major disagreements, just three men trying to decide where they would have the best chance of putting a few bucks in their pockets. After a while they decided their best course of action.
As I sat listening to them it occurred to me just how much like a board meeting is sounded. And in my mind’s eye I was able to envision these three men sitting around a giant conference table planning the course of action for the future of a large corporation. To tell you the truth, it actually made me chuckle.
Unfortunately these three men, like so many other homeless, are unable to raise their standard of living – certainly not because they don’t want to, but because when a person is homeless, making long term plans for the future is always overshadowed by making plans to meet ones immediate needs: things like food and a place to sleep.
As I said, homeless services agencies don’t come near meeting the actual needs of a homeless person. Consequently individuals who would dearly love nothing more than to have a place to call home are kept prisoner in the homeless lifestyle longer than they want. Those homeless who have no disability and who would welcome the opportunity to move ahead in life are usually the ones for whom no viable services are provided. They constantly fall between the cracks.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to help those who want to be helped rather than waste time and money on those who deliberately choose to be homeless?