I love dispelling myths.

For example –

There are a lot of people who believe that when an ostrich becomes frightened they bury their head in the sand.

We can all visualize the scene: an extremely large bird who’s been scared, standing there with its head buried in the ground while its hindquarters are sticking way up in the air. The whole premise is "what you can’t see won’t hurt you."

Contrary to popular belief though, ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand.

The symbolism however it pretty apropos when it comes to the way most municipalities address the issue of homelessness in their communities.  

For the most part, local governments do not think in terms of expanding homeless support services. What they usually do is either ignore the situation, or enact ordinances and laws that make it harder for their area’s homeless.

The logic is that by making things harder on the homeless, the homeless will pack up and move to some other town. It’s a type of leaf-blower mentality: blow the leaves from in front of your house onto your neighbor’s walkway. However these types of tactics do not work because they don’t reduce homelessness. It simply moves it somewhere else – and generally it move the homeless "out of town," only to some another area of town.

Moreover, since the methodology that most municipalities employ when it comes to their homeless doesn’t reduce the numbers of people living on their city streets, as more people become homeless, the puts a greater burden on the rest of the community. Homeless support services, which seem to be always operating with limited budgets, find that what resources they have available don’t go as far.

Think of it this way: a pizza will only feed so many people. If the number of people eating increases and you don’t get more pizzas, the slices have to be made smaller so that everyone gets a piece. Yet, this is exactly the way so many local governments operate: cut funding to those services that cater to those who need the most help.

Yesterday evening I read an article on Forbes Online titled, Record foreclosures strain social services.

Toward the end of the article it stated,

The foreclosure crisis is increasing homelessness throughout the U.S., and the National Coalition for the Homeless is advocating that Congress should provide an infusion of $300 million in new allocations for the federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program to help communities deal with the problem.

In this current fiscal year, the program received $153 million, but the President’s budget request for fiscal 2009 proposes a $53 million reduction in the program to $100 million.

If the number of the homeless is increasing, does it make sense to reduce the amount of funding?

I may not be a great math wizard, but my trick knee tells me that decreasing the amount of funding is only going to make things worse – not only for the homeless, but for the local communities.

I find it extremely absurd that government – at every level – somehow manages to find the funding for every manner of "pet project" (a.k.a. – pork barrel spending) which really does nothing to enhance the lives of the regular folk. Yet, they somehow are unable to figure out how to provide funding to those programs which actually can do some good.

The harsh reality is this: if we genuinely want to reduce the numbers of homeless on our city streets, then we must increase funding for homeless support services. But, those agencies which provide those services, must also adapt. The days of providing only a meal and a bed are long gone. They must implement programs that help the homeless acquire job re-training if necessary; programs which help the homeless find gainful employment; they must provide services which are relevant to the needs of today’s homeless demographics.

If we want to have an impact at reducing the numbers of homeless in our communities, then we must pressure our elected leaders into increasing funding for homeless services; we must also require – and hold to account – local homeless support service agencies to beginning implementing the types of programs that will genuinely help the homeless find a way out of life on the streets.

If we don’t then we’re the ones who are burying our heads in the sand. We’ll be the ones with our hindquarters sticking up in the air. And sooner or later someone is going to come along and give us a swift kick in the "you-know-where."


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