An Exercise In Futility

Posted: May 12, 2008 in Children, Government, Homelessness, Poverty

There are a number of recurrent themes that thread their way throughout my posts.

The one theme I’ve always felt the strongest about, however, is the need for the types of programs which can effectively provide a method for the homeless to become re-integrated back into the main stream of society. Chief among these types of programs is the need for providing a stable living environment – something which is not generally available through regular homeless support services.  

For those of you who are regular readers this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I personally don’t believe that homeless shelters and day centers for the homeless are up to the task of providing the types of assistance that the homeless need. For the most part, they provide a meal and a bed – and if they happen to have received a donation, clothing – which is still pretty much just emergency type services.

However, most of today’s homeless aren’t remaining so for just a few days at a time. The numbers of homeless who find themselves needing homeless support services for extended periods of time is growing – particularly with the economy in as sad a shape as it currently is. The lack of long term homeless support services is painfully apparent.

I’m not saying that all homeless support service agencies provide only those types services, but they certainly are limited in the forms of assistance they can offer. But, that isn’t their fault alone. A lack of adequate funding from both the government and private sector precludes their ability to evolve and "upgrade" so that they can offer more of the types of services that this generation of homeless require.

One of the most primary needs that a person requires as a means to re-establishing themselves back into the community is a stable living environment. We expect the homeless to go out and get a job and make something of their lives. Yet, we continue in not providing them with the means for them to do so.

It is nearly impossible to find employment when you have to carry all of your worldly possessions around with your everywhere you go. It certainly doesn’t make a good first impression if you walk into some business seeking a job when you’re wearing a backpack that contains everything except a bathroom sink.

Homeless shelters and day centers generally do not allow you to leave your belonging on their premises unattended. Moreover, those that provide some form of storage are still severely limited by available space. And, because there are some unscrupulous persons in the world, a homeless person knows that if they leave their personal belonging out somewhere – even if they’re hidden – there is a risk that when they return, their things might be gone.

But adult homeless aren’t the only ones who find it difficult to transition back into the community without some form of stable living environment. It turns out that homeless youth are far more vulnerable to the effects of not having stability in their lives than many adults are.

This morning, while I was checking various news sites on the Internet, I came across an article on the ScienceDaily website that was posted just today.

The article, Homeless Youth Need More Than Treatment For Substance Abuse, Study Says, cites a study conducted by Ohio State University.

The study, which took place from 2001 to 2005, focused on youth aged between 14 and 22. It concluded that youths who had more "social stability" in their lives, were more likely to find a way off of the streets than those youth who lacked any form of stability.

The article quotes OSU Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Science, Natasha Slesnick, who stated,

"It looks like the predictors of homelessness might be different than the predictors of exiting homelessness. So that means prevention targets should be different from intervention targets."

"When you’re homeless and you’re entrenched in the homeless lifestyle, without housing and without stabilization, it’s hard to get out of it. It’s hard to get homeless youth off of alcohol and drugs when they’re still trying to get their basic needs met. And a lot of the kids use alcohol and drugs as a way to cope with being homeless."

In SLO County, government officials are busy preparing their 10 Year Plan to end homeless, but have no plans to expanded current services. They believe they can combat homeless through preventative measures – nipping it in the bud, as it were.

It would be nice if all future homelessness could be prevented through proactive measures, but it’s unrealistic to believe so. There are just too many variables involved and not enough money. Heck, there is barely enough funding being provided for the local homeless shelter to keep its doors open. And, they’re actually a pretty small operation. So how the county expects to prevent additional persons from becoming homeless in the future is beyond me.

The reality is that the only way of reducing the numbers of homeless, not only in my community, but throughout the rest of the nation, is for lawmakers to begin allocating the necessary funding to provide the types of programs and services needed to help the homeless transition back into society. Additionally, lawmakers need to understand that the only effective way of reducing the numbers of homeless is by turning them back into people who are employed and housed.

Anything less than that is just an exercise in futility.


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