Early yesterday afternoon, I ran into a couple who I met just a few months ago. Nice couple. Early thirties. One child. Socially conscious.
As we sat and chatted, they mentioned a post I’d written earlier this month. They weren’t able to recall the title of the post, but did remember that its main topic had been about what the community could do to help end homelessness. They also recalled that I had stated that homeless support services organizations were not the "cure all" to ending homelessness.
With the number of posts I’ve written, it isn’t easy for me to remember the title of each one – even when I remember the basic content. So when I returned home, I did a quick check and discovered that the post they had mentioned was, The Next Step: Getting Involved.
Getting back to the conversation though…
At one point, the husband asked me what could be done by the community to prevent homelessness.
It’s a rarity for me to be at a loss for words. In this instance however, I was. I had to pause for several moments to let the question sink in. Then I realized that I spend quite a bit of time thinking about how to reduce homelessness – which is an "after the fact" response. On the other hand, I seldom think in terms of how to prevent homelessness in the first place.
Finally when I offered my response, I had to admit that I don’t think it is possible to actually prevent homelessness. There are just too many variables that would need to be taken into account; too many potential reasons for why folks become homeless.
There are, for example, folks who choose to become homeless. Why someone would deliberately choose homelessness as a preferred lifestyle surpasses my understanding. Nonetheless, there are those who do. That in itself precludes the ability to prevent homelessness.
There are also those who find themselves homeless through mismanagement of their personal resources. Some may become homeless as a result of an addiction disorder. Others may become homeless because of a gambling addiction.
Many women with children find themselves becoming homeless through fleeing relationships filled with domestic violence.
Some teens – male and female – become homeless runaways trying to escape an environment riddled with sexual abuse.
For others, homelessness occurs as a result of economic factors beyond their control. They lose their job or face a medical emergency; find they can’t pay their rent or mortgage and find themselves without a place to live. Some might be able to avoid becoming "street homeless" by finding housing with family or friends. However, if this "doubling up" lasts for an extended period of time, or if the situation becomes "uncomfortable" some will find themselves out on the streets.
Senior citizens on fixed incomes find that even the slightest increase in their rents is enough to push them into homelessness. And, because of the shrinking affordable housing market, are unable to find replacement housing.
Divorce is another factor which can cause a person to experience homelessness.
Women with dependant children discover that the child support and/or alimony payments they receive are not enough to allow them to find housing. Even if they qualify for government subsidized housing, there is no guarantee that they will be able to find a low income housing unit.
Men who are required to pay alimony and child support find that they are unable to meet their court ordered obligations and still have enough left over to maintain housing for themselves.
It may be true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It may also be possible to prevent some instances of homelessness from occurring. But preventing homelessness altogether? I could be wrong, but I personally don’t believe it’s possible.
All the more reason for us to put forth a greater effort at seeking ways to reduce the numbers of homeless in an "after the fact" manner.