Hitting Home

Posted: January 4, 2008 in Bureauacracy, Goals, Government, Homelessness, Housing, Misconceptions, Money, Politics, Stereotypes

Yesterday morning I received an e-mail from Suckerfish director José Lemus with a link to an article in the SLO Tribune called: "Next Step In Ending Homeless Problem Is Hiring Consultant."

The article spoke about how the County of San Luis Obispo had hired HomeBase, a non-profit agency located in San Francisco as a consultant. The purpose: to help come up with a comprehensive 10 year plan for ending homelessness in San Luis Obispo County.  

While I applaud this move by the County, I’m a bit disappointed with them for waiting so long in the first place. I’m worried that it may be a case of too little too late. Still better late than never – as the saying goes.

One of the other things that disappoints me about this decision is that the County really didn’t choose to come up with a 10 year plan to end homeless in SLO County on it’s own. It is doing it in order to adhere and comply with legislative mandates at the Federal level.

The way it works is this: unless SLO County produces a 10 year plan to end homelessness, the county stands to lose quite a bit of Federal funding. And since local politicians don’t want to have to do with less Federal funding – and would actually like to get more of it – they’ve decided that it would be in their best interest to toe the line.

So, after reading the article I did what I usually do when something like this is brought to my attention: I started researching the issue – and in this instance I also did some background research into HomeBase. What I came up with gave me a sliver of hope for the future of my community’s homeless.

HomeBase, as it turns out, has been around for quite some time. A number of other cities in California have already turned to them to seek council on how to address the needs of local area homeless. Also, it turns out that those cities who have been wise enough to follow the guidelines that HomeBase has helped create have been able to make some headway at finding ways to help those homeless who genuinely want to find a way out of life on the streets and getting them back into housing.

I’m actually hoping that SLO County’s elected officials, as well as those at the "local" levels, will be willing to accept whatever constructive criticism’s HomeBase may have but, more importantly I’m hoping that they will be willing to implement any and all productive solutions that HomeBase may bring to the table.

One thing I like about HomeBase’s approach is that it DOES NOT believe that ending homelessness is done through the passage of ordinances and laws that penalize the homeless for being homeless or for performing life sustaining activities in public. I like that they advocate the use of educating communities on the realities of homelessness: its causes and effects.

In addition, I like that HomeBase sees the homeless for what they are: persons who don’t have a home, but persons nonetheless. They recognize that, although there are times when "tough love" is required, there are times when it’s better to hold the hand rather than slap it.

Sadly though, I believe that it’s going to be an uphill battle all the way. Based on the track records of this area’s local politicians and the types of solutions they usually come up with combined with the misconceptions that most in this community have regarding homelessness – not to mention the stigmas associated with homelessness – it’s going to be a hard row to hoe.

Another thing that gives me cause for concern is how will this community will react when the 10 year plan is finally made public. Based on some of the comments that I’ve read regarding just the article itself, there are those who already think that funding such a project is nothing more than a waste of money. Others view it as a way for some to further take advantage of "fleecing the system."

I must admit that there are those homeless who have learned how to "work the system" but there are just as many homeless who are just folks who have found themselves down on their luck and have been unable to get adequate help at getting out of life on the streets because they "fall between the cracks" of the system that is currently in place.

These "fallen between the cracks" homeless have no disabilities, they aren’t drunks or alcoholics, they aren’t lazy. They are folks who have hit a bump in the road. They are willing to work, but find that their homelessness is its own disability when it comes to finding gainful employment in our community. Some of them have jobs, but because of the high price of rent, the low number of affordable housing units and because there is no way they can come up with enough of a down payment to buy – not to mention the high improbability of being able to get financing in the first place – are forced to continue living life on the streets.

One thing is absolutely certain – unless we take drastic measures to help those homeless who truly want to be helped and, unless we find ways of trying to prevent homelessness before it occurs – or at least reducing the disruption that homelessness causes, not only to the individual experiencing it but to the community as well – the overall cost may be too much for us to handle because it will entail a price that will cost us more than just money. It could cost us the very society that we treasure.

Unless we act soon, the numbers of homeless will just continue to increase by leaps and bounds.

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Comments
  1. tbearly says:

    Michael,

    As with every community in America that is hopeful (desperate?) to keep its federal funding dollars, we have the same “End Homelessness in 10 Years” game plan going on here in King County (the greater Seattle area). I’ve gotten on the mailing list of one of the organizations leading the fight, especially in the legislative arena (WA. State Coalition for the Homeless), but was dismayed when I Googled them and one of the first returns linked to the BoD’s bio page; somewhat akin to a “committee to oversee the committee” sort of deal.

    So then I wrote directly to their contact person regarding my particular interest in the issue of veteran homelessness, asking him if they had any specific efforts in place to address that segment of the population since, as I pointed out in my e-mail, male veterans make up a disproportionate number of the male homeless population. He responded to my query and is a decent guy, to be sure, but naturally insisted that they have nothing targeting veterans per se, as their mission is to assist ALL homeless (okay – fair enough). I was placed on the list, though. Yeah, cool.

    He then forwarded on my e-mail to the organization’s executive director (a classy move). She did indeed get back to me, referring me to Senator Patty Murray’s office – because, you know, I wouldn’t have yet understood that one of our two senators serves on the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

    As Daffy Duck once observed, “What a way to run a railroad…”.

    I have the distinct and sinking feeling that by 2018, there may yet be a few homeless people living in our respective communities. Call me crazy.

    Will continue being a thorn in their side. I’ll increase my efforts in that, actually, throughout 2008.

    Hope you are feeling better!

    -Tracy

  2. AnAmerican says:

    The fact that there is actually attention being brought to the issue of homelessness is quite hopeful~even if federal funding is the carrot to do so.
    They way I see it is that we all stand to gain from having communities that address the need for all US citizens to have basic services.
    Somewhere in the mix of our abundance in this country we have lost site of the fact that there are basic human rights that should be assured for all Americans …food,shelter,clothing, healthcare.
    One of my beliefs about human nature is that we fear that which we do not understand…many people view the homeless with stereotypes and ignorance. Widespead education about the homeless situation in this country will only serve to let people know about a problem that we as a nation have the ability to address. Thanks for getting the word out and for sharing your insights.

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