Gone Fishing

Posted: September 9, 2007 in Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions

Mid afternoon yesterday, I ran into a gentleman I know and we starting talking. After a few minutes or so he brought up one of the post I just recently published: World Famous. Finally he asked: "What’s up with you and homeless shelters? Now you’re telling people not to donate to the homeless shelters?"

He pointed out that I had mentioned San Luis Obispo’s Farmers Market and how, although, the idea of all of the vendors there setting aside a small percentage of what they take in on Thursday evenings to help the homeless sounded like a good idea, why didn’t I want them to give the proceeds to the homeless shelter and day center. I guess what he wanted to know was if I had a bone to pick with them or some sort of personal vendetta against them.

So I guess I’d better clarify myself and reiterate some of my thoughts regarding that issue. Sigh.  

First let’s start with some cold hard facts…

According to the most recent data on the numbers of homeless in SLO County, there are some 2400 people who are homeless. There are only two shelters for the homeless in the entire county. That means that there are roughly 200 beds available to provide night shelter for the homeless. So, what that tells me is that over 90% of this county’s homeless are forced to sleep out of doors every night.

Let me make this painfully clear, I AM NOT advocating that anyone NOT support the homeless shelters, the day center, or any other agency that provides assistance to the local area homeless. On going support of homeless support service agencies is an absolute must. However, at most, these agencies are only able to provide the most basic of essential needs – primarily in the form of food and clothing.

As the needs of the homeless have changed with the times, the homeless service support agencies have not been able to keep up with those changing needs. They lack the funding, the man power and essential resources to do so. And, although I will give them the credit that they are due for their efforts, the truth remains that they are still functioning as "emergency" support service agencies.

It seems to me that the emergency is long past. Homelessness in this county is at epidemic proportions. And it’s only going to get worse if something isn’t done to somehow ameliorate the effects of homelessness.

What I see is the need for an agency whose sole purpose is to find a way of helping homeless persons become reintegrated back into society. This means that it would have to institute viable AND effective programs that would, in essence, retrain the homeless, help them find adequate employment, teach the basic skills necessary to manage their money properly, and whatever else may be required to prepare them for life as part of the mainstream community. This would allow the other homeless support agencies to focus providing food and shelter without the need to try and do it all.

The old adage is:

"If you give a man a fish, you feed him for today
But, if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for the rest of his life."

What we need, not only in this community, but throughout the entire nation, are agencies whose only function is to teach the homeless how to "fish."

As for those who aren’t willing to learn how to fish… well, I guess they’ll just have to go out into the forests and forage for wild berries on their own.


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