Take Two Aspirin…

Posted: May 28, 2008 in Bureauacracy, Government, Homelessness, Morality

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a Ms. Robin Donovan, who is responsible for writing and maintaining the Center for Respite Care (CRC) blog. The reason for the email was to inquire if I might be interested in writing a "guest post" for their blog.

Although I’d read a few of the posts on the blog, I didn’t really know all that much about CRC, so I did what I normally do: I did an Internet search to see if they had a homepage (which they do) and also to see if there were any news articles about them.

The CRC’s Mission Statement was enough to convince me to write the guest post: Starve A Cold. Feed A Fever – which was about the difficulties that many homeless have at receiving adequate health care services, which in turn started me thinking about remedies. That in turn started me thinking about the types of "remedies" that many local governments use when trying to address homelessness in their communities.  

The majority of local governments generally view homelessness as a nuisance rather than as an opportunity to engage in humanitarian actions. If and when local governments take notice of the homeless, it is usually because a number of citizens have filed complaints against the homeless. The resulting "remedy" generally is in the form of creating and adopting ordinances to "curtail" the activities of the homeless.

For example –

Over the last few months, I’ve read numerous new stories from all around the nation where charitable organizations are being prohibited from feeding the homeless in public locations. Those organizations that are "caught" feeding the homeless in such places as public parks are subject to large fines. Multiple violations of the "anti-feeding" laws have also resulted in members of some of these charitable organizations being jailed.

In southern SLO County, The People’s Kitchen had been told that they could no longer serve meals for the homeless at a church because – according to the local government there – they were operating similar to a "restaurant" and didn’t have the appropriate permits to do so. Moreover, since they were operating what the local government considered a "commercial venture" in a residential area, the issuance of a permit would not be possible.

Other cities have strengthened pre-existing "anti-loitering" ordinances in an attempt to prevent their area’s homeless from remaining within the downtown areas.

Numerous cities have begun stepping up "sweeps" in areas where the homeless are known to sleep. In many instances, the personal belongings of the homeless has been confiscated or destroyed straightaway.

Law enforcement officials, in some cities, ticket and – in some cases – arrest the homeless for sleeping in public places at night despite the noticeable lack of available shelter beds.

And the list of "remedies" goes on.

Yet, none of these "remedies" actually provide for true remedial solutions to homelessness. They are nothing more than a "take two aspirin and call me in the morning" solution. They do nothing to significantly alleviate or reduce the numbers of homeless. At best, what they do is hide the homeless. Consequently, the numbers of homeless continues to rise.

Although many cities nationwide are beginning to adopt 10 year plans to end homelessness, these programs will not make a significant impact on reducing the numbers of homeless since they are geared toward one specific segment of the homeless population: the chronically homeless.

Because of the federal definition of who is considered chronically homeless, the vast majority of the homeless will not benefit from these programs. Furthermore, the chronically homeless only represent approximately 17 percent of the overall homeless population. In comparison, the numbers of people who are newly becoming homeless has risen by 22 percent. It is clear therefore, that the numbers of homeless who are taken off the streets will be outpaced by those who are becoming homeless. We will, in essence, be taking two steps back for every one step forward.

Unless we are willing to admit that the "take two aspirin and call me in the morning" methodology of trying to remedy homelessness in our communities simply isn’t working, the numbers will continue to rise. If we continue to tolerate the ineffectual remedies that our elected leaders habitually use in trying to rid our communities of the homeless, instead of trying to re-integrate the homeless back into the community as productive and self sustaining member of society, we may find that homelessness has become a social wound that cannot be healed.

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