Micro-Communities

Posted: December 7, 2007 in Acceptance, Bureauacracy, Compassion, Goals, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Morality, Politics

As I walked down to my favorite convenience store to grab a cup of hot chocolate it started to sprinkle lightly. After I left the sprinkle had grown a bit heavier. Then of course, the wind decided it would pick up some. And that’s the way it was for part of the night.

This morning as I write this I can hear the rain falling outside. It’s a heavier rain than it was yesterday evening, and so it makes me wonder which of this community’s homeless that I’ve met didn’t get a bed at the shelter last night – and which of them were able to find a place to stay reasonably dry.  

Because of the inadequate number of shelter beds available in this area, many of the homeless aren’t able to find "indoor" shelter – especially when the weather starts getting colder and the rains start to fall. Even when the weather is relatively pleasant out of doors, there are homeless who try getting a bed at the shelter but can’t because of the ratio of homeless that out number the availability of beds.

There must a viable remedy that will be acceptable to "both sides" – the homeless and then the rest of the community. I don’t think that giving the homeless tickets for sleeping out of doors when there isn’t any room at the shelter is an acceptable solution. I don’t think that penalizing someone for what they don’t have is part of the American ideal – and what people who are homeless don’t have are homes.

Now, I’m sure that there will be those who will say that they should just get jobs so that they can get a place of their own. But that type of thinking is naïve at best. More than that, it’s an unrealistic mode of thought. There are many people who have homes of their own and who don’t have a valid disability who also don’t have a job. In fact, percentage wise, there are more housed people who are unemployed than there are homeless who are unemployed.

Trying to "run the homeless out of town" isn’t a valid remedy either because it doesn’t address the underlying cause of homelessness. Sure, you could run the homeless out of town, but they’ll only end up being homeless somewhere else. And that city is probably trying to run their homeless out of town as well.

In cities all across this nation there are what is known as "brown spots." These are vacant lots of land whose owners have left abandoned and have subsequently been "seized" by the city for non-payment of property taxes. Some of these property have buildings that have been vacant since who knows when. I’m pretty certain that many of these buildings could be renovated by a partnership between the city, the local community and the local chapters of Habitat For Humanity and used as some form of housing for the homeless.

There are people who are going to cry "foul" and say that a plan like that couldn’t possibly work because the homeless would just destroy the property. Maybe. Maybe not.

Let me tell you why it could work…

In Fresno, California, there is something called the "City of Hope" (also known as the "Village of Hope"). It’s a plot of land that is adjacent to the Poverello House – a homeless shelter. It had been an empty lot for quite a number of years. Then, it became a type of "tent city." Now, it is a small "micro-community" that houses a number of the area’s local homeless in "cabins" which are actually nothing more than the types of sheds that can be bought at places like The Home Depot – all of which have been donated by members and organizations of the community.

City of Hope residents are allowed to stay (rent free from my understanding) as long as they need while they work toward becoming self-sufficient and are able to re-establish themselves within the community.

The property is fenced and is run by it’s own residents who are pretty much "self-governing." They even have their own type of "constitution" – which is a list of "ordinances" that all residents are required to adhere to in order to remain. If and when there does arise a situation or problem that cannot be resolved by their own "governing body," then the staff at the homeless shelter will step in to mediate.

From what information I’ve been able to gather, the City of Hope has been pretty successful at being a viable method to aid those homeless who want to get out of homelessness. And, because it has turned out to be a working solution for helping the homeless help themselves, it has community support.

Can such a "community" work in other cities? Call me naïve, but I honesty believe so. All it would take is for the community to begin recognizing the homeless as people with needs that can be addressed, people who need a method for getting out of homelessness.

Citizens of the City of Hope have shown that anything is possible, if we as a community band together and work for common good.

And who knows… if we take the time to reach out a helping hand to one or two of the homeless we chance to meet, we might end up with a lifelong treasured friendship as a bonus.

After all, this is America…

Oh, by the way, here’s a link to a copy of an October 2, 2007 Agenda Item to the Fresno City Council, requesting funding to increase the capacity at – what the city of Fresno calls "The Village of Hope."

City Of Fresno: Report To The City Council (October 2, 2007)

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