One Stop Shopping

Posted: August 5, 2007 in Bureauacracy, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future – more accurately I’ve been thinking a lot about the immediate future. I’m getting older – but then again, who isn’t?

One of the things I’ve noticed among the homeless that I’ve met here in San Luis Obispo is that they plan their futures around both the day center and the night shelter. They have to. Those the two main places in town where they are able to get meals provided for them. And since food is an absolute necessity that’s where the homeless will congregate.  

There are some other services that they can receive at either place, but in all reality, those services usually are nothing more than referrals to other places.

I can understand that. Funding is limited and it’s difficult to provide the types of services that the homeless really need in order to get ahead – or at least that’s the line that everyone gets told. To be fair to the homeless service providers however, I know for certain that they don’t have an unlimited budget; therefore there are certain things that the lack of money can’t buy.

In May of this year, I attended a meeting of the Homeless Services Coordination Committee. This is a group that meets together to discuss how to best provide services to the homeless without any of the attending agencies offering duplicate services. If one agency provides a certain type of service to the homeless, there is no need for another agency to spend money providing similar services.

I think the fact that there are two primary places that provide services to the homeless is actually a part of the problem and not the solution. The night shelter is on one side of the city and the day center is on the other. Then there are all of the other secondary homeless service providers – also spread through the city. The homeless who want help are then forced to move from place to place to try and get the help that they need or want.

Perhaps, all of these agencies should stop worrying about their separate budgets, pool their resources and create a "one stop shopping" type of location. Not only would it save time (and every one knows that time is money) but, it would make it easier to immediately direct a homeless person to someone who can help them with their specific needs.

The goal after all is to help the homeless transition out of homelessness and back into the mainstream society (at least that’s what every one claims). So then, why not make it happen? Or, are the people who run these agencies too overly concerned about their own job security?

Just from talking with the homeless people I’ve met, I’ve come to the conclusion that the goal should be to help a person who becomes homeless to get back into the job market and, subsequently back into to adequate housing just a soon as possible. The longer they remain homeless the harder it is for them to get out of homelessness.

Unfortunately, it seems to me, that all of these agencies are too busy coming up with their ideas of what a homeless person needs. But, why guess at it? Why not just ask the homeless themselves what they need? After all, if a person needs a pair of shoes – for example – why give them a sweatshirt? It doesn’t make sense – and it’s a waste of money.

The Homeless Services Coordination Committee supposedly meets once a month at the SLO Library. I’ve been diligently checking for meeting dates and times, but since May, I haven’t seen any meeting dates posted. My question is this: Did they take the summer off and go on vacation?

The homeless didn’t – neither did their needs.

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