Many Questions. One Answer.

Posted: April 11, 2008 in Employment, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Money

I’m not necessarily a math wizard, but I thoroughly enjoyed math class when I was in school. I’m not sure if it’s because of my own peculiar sense of order or what, but math was fun. I even liked doing fractions. I must admit though, that I had problems remembering to always convert everything down to its lowest common denominator.

I know that there are folks who have a strong distaste for anything that even begins to smack of mathematics. The truth is, however, that we all use it in one form or another everyday of our lives, whether it’s remembering that we have someplace to be in ten or fifteen minutes; or whether it’s just keeping track of how much money we have in our pockets.

Speaking of numbers…  

I get a numerous emails as a result of this blog. Some are from folks who are simply looking for additional information about homelessness – which I’m happy to supply them with. Over the course of the 13 or 14 months that I’ve been maintaining this site, I began to notice that quite often the questions being asked are questions that I’d been asked many times before.

So, in no particular order, here’s a quick list of some of the questions I get asked the most:

  • Why do people become homeless?
  • Whose fault is homelessness?
  • Why do the homeless panhandle?
  • Why do the homeless dig through trash cans/dumpsters?
  • Why don’t the homeless do more to help themselves?
  • Why don’t the homeless get jobs?
  • Why don’t the homeless go to shelters instead of sleeping outside?
  • Why don’t homeless shelters do more to help the homeless?
  • How can I help the homeless?

This afternoon, while I was standing in line to get a cup of iced coffee at McDonald’s, it dawned on me that I had been answering all of those questions using the same basic answer. I had brought everything down to its lowest common denominator.

The answer: economics. Homelessness – and the inability to reduce the numbers of homeless – is all due to a lack of funds. It’s just that simple.

People become homeless because they lack the finances to maintain housing. To be sure, there are instances when this lack of money is brought about at their own hands. On the other hand, more and more people nowadays are finding themselves without finances because so many jobs have been cut, because of medical emergencies or other such circumstances beyond their control. No money; no place to live.

Why do the homeless panhandle or dig through trash cans and dumpsters? Again, it’s about money.

We live in a society where the barter system is extinct. Money is the medium of exchange. Everyone needs it to pay for goods and services – even the homeless. And, although there are indeed homeless support service agencies, these organizations provide for only the most basic of human needs – which is usually in the form of shelter and a meal. There’s just not enough funding available for them to provide the homeless with much more.

Why don’t the homeless do more to help themselves; or why don’t they just go out and get jobs? Once again, it has to do with economics.

Businesses all across the country are feeling the economic crunch. So many jobs are being cut. There are just not enough employment openings to go around. What new jobs are being created seldom pay enough to provide a "livable wage." So even, with a job, there are many folks who can’t afford to rent – never mind, trying to buy – a place to live.

As for why there are so many homeless who are forced to out of doors: there just aren’t enough shelter beds to go around. Homeless shelters are operating with limited budgets. Government isn’t providing adequate funding, and local communities aren’t stepping up to fill the gap. Operational costs are skyrocketing as the price of utilities, food and other such things continue to rise.

As operational costs go up and as the amount of funding isn’t increased to keep up with inflation, the amount of financial resources that can be allocated for providing services to the homeless decreases. This significantly impacts the potential effectiveness that homeless support service agencies can have at reducing the numbers of homeless in their community.

So… what can you do to help the homeless?

Forgive me for saying this once again, but it has to do with economics.

Making donations of clothing, food and other such items to your local homeless shelter is fine. Those donations will most certainly be appreciated. But it isn’t enough. It requires one additional step: making a financial contribution.

Individually, our contributions may not appear to be overly significant. Collectively however – well, have you ever heard the saying about there being strength in numbers?

Those little $5 and $10 donations can – and do – add up. And, they can mean the difference between one homeless person having a meal to eat and a bed to sleep in tonight, or having to go hungry and sleep under bush or in a doorway.

I realize that most folks don’t have much "disposable" income. Nor am I saying that you have to give an arm and a leg. But perhaps you could do without watching a DVD or video tonight. Possibly you could do without that second cup of coffee tomorrow. You might even find that you could set aside some change in a jar every so often.

Eventually, it all adds up.

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