Make A Difference Here And Now

Posted: June 2, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

Right now, as I sit here, I’m having a bit of a hard time gathering my thoughts. There are several reasons: a telephone call I received late this afternoon from a friend of mine who is going through a rough patch in his life; several comments to my post Homelessness: The Social Impact; and an email I found waiting in my Inbox this morning.

I guess the best place to start is with the email.  

The sender of the email – as far as I can gather – has been reading my posts for some time now and felt that she needed to respond. Why she didn’t do that via a comment, I don’t know. I’m going to call her "Fran" (although as you can tell by the quotes that isn’t her real name).

Fran pointed out that I often mention that the public in general have misconceptions about the homeless, but she was also quick to point out that I might be guilty of the same thing – except in reverse; that I might be to all too ready to "… believe that the community don’t care about the homeless" and that if the homeless really wanted help they would "… go to the homeless shelter."

It’s possible that I am assuming certain things about the view that most people have about the homeless – however, I don’t think so. For one thing, I have been homeless. I know the types of discrimination that the homeless encounter. As the saying goes: "Been there; done that; have the tee-shirt (and the souvenir program)."

But, neither do I believe that everyone is uncaring about the homeless. The very fact that I don’t have to sleep out in the cold or at a local homeless shelter is tribute to the compassionate nature of many people. That there are folks out there that do care about the homeless is a given.

On the other hand, I don’t see the validity in the statement that if the homeless REALLY wanted help they would "… go to the homeless shelter."

Homeless shelters are not the cure all for homelessness. Because they lack adequate funding, they simply cannot provide the types of services that are effective at helping a homeless person become a "housed" member of the community. Generally, they are unable to provide more than a meal and a bed. That’s just the hardcore reality. Additionally, approximately 15 percent of the nation’s homeless have full time employment and are still unable to raise their standard of living.

Even "grass roots" movements and functions are hard pressed to find ways of helping the homeless find a way off of the streets.

Chris, a gentleman from Richmond, Virginia left this comment to my post:

Myself and a few others have been doing a few things for homeless in the area but am wondering where to go next. Currently we’ve only been collecting basic needs items (clothing/shoes/backpacks/toiletries/sometimes food) but recognize that this isn’t doing much beyond the day-to-day…

Suckerfish director, José Lemus, also left a comment to that specific post stating:

Many times the word "sustainability" is thrown out there as the word of the year, but many are not willing to really look at the various levels of implementing the concept.

My contention has always been that, while homeless shelters do provide a vital service to any community, it’s just not enough. What is needed, are programs that find a way to place the homeless into stable living environments, whether through some from of transitional housing or through low cost, affordable housing programs; and that some mechanism must be set into place for helping the homeless find gainful employment so that they can indeed becoming self-sustaining.

These are the types of program which are so noticeably lacking, but are the ones which could help us make the most significant strides in reducing the numbers of homeless in our communities. Even the so-called 10 Year Plans to end homelessness, which so many cities across the nation are beginning to implement, will have little impact on the numbers of homeless since they target only those who are chronically homeless. And, because of the federal definition of who can be classified as chronically homelessness, the vast majority of homeless will be precluded from being able to benefit from such programs.

Harmony, who was once a homeless woman and now hosts an online forum about homelessness, left this comment,

All in all, providing sufficient affordable housing and living wages is costing society far less than (for example) emergency trips to the hospital, etc. When homeless people have roofs over their heads, that means they’re off the sidewalks, folks. Speaking as one who’s been twice homeless.

Fran, it’s quite possible that I am making certain assumptions. But, as I said earlier – I don’t think so.

I know that there are plenty of folks out there who do indeed care about the homeless. However, I also know that there are, at the very least, an equal number of folks – if not more – who would rather that the homeless just left town. It’s the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) mentality.

If we don’t want the homeless "in our backyard," then it’s in our best interest to find a way to help them become housed members of the community.

The 10 year plans may or may not work. Personally, after the amount of research I’ve done regarding these 10 year plans, I don’t think they will make that much of a difference. But, do we have that much time to wait and see if they do?

What we need are solutions that make a difference in the here and now.

P.S. – Fran, I apologize for not answering your email, but perhaps this post will suffice as a suitable response.

  1. Chris says:

    Yeah – we have the 10 yr plan in Richmond and as part of that they have goals in it that aim for what you’re saying: goal 1 is to “Transform the homeless services delivery system to focus on housing stability…”.

    Great to see the link to that forum – I really look forward to going through it and ideas in there!

    Per your response regarding some sort of political grass roots movement, that would be quite a stretch for me as I really don’t get into that much, but I’m guessing not many do, huh? Therein might lie the issue…

    The county I live in is so totally one of the burbs for Richmond, and the NIMBY mentality couldn’t be more the case in my area. We’ve asked cops – homeless are totally run out of the area. If they’re found, they’re told to move along. I’ve talked to homeless that say this is the case in the city of Richmond as well, but apparently it’s much less the case there (one could speculate reasons for that).

    The particular public park where many homeless congregate at is quite well-known to be “the spot” for homeless, but that park has plans to renovate it and I find it *very* hard to believe if/when that happens, the homeless will not be implicitly allowed to congregate there anymore – you know it will be too nice for “those people” to be visible… but that’s just a guess.

  2. AnAmerican says:

    Homeless is not an issue that we can simply place a bandaid on with a warm bed & hot meal through local shelters and then say we have “addressed” the issue of homelessness in this country. Homelessness rarely happens as an isolated event for people…it is usually the result of a decline of financial means resulting in placing a person out on the streets. Offering financial “crisis” assistance to those who are at risk of homelessness & accessible services that are availible for ALL the homeless require a continuum of services…just not shelter for a night.

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