After The Fact

Posted: June 30, 2008 in Goals, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness

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.

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Comments
  1. wanderingvet says:

    There are many pathways into homelessness and very few pathways out it seems.

    -W-

  2. michael says:

    WanderingVet,

    Because of the way the current “system” is set up, there are indeed very few pathways out of homelessness.

    I always have – and still do – maintain the opinion that “Homelessness Can Afflict Anyone.”

    The diversity of today’s homeless demographic is just as diverse as the American public. It is sad that more folks do not recognize this reality. Perhaps if they did, they would be more ready to offer a hand of compassion and aid, instead of the the “cold shoulder.”

    – m –

  3. Marie says:

    When I became homeless, I was working as a Research Analyst at a software company, had surgery near my back and woke up ‘disabled’. But no one who looks at me would guess. I had already been diagnosed with PTSD and carpel tunnel and this was the last straw. Thankfully, my two children were already in college so I did not drag them down with me.

    Your blog post about “services” not being the answer is on point — if there had been adequate disabled housing or even just affordable housing available to me I might never have been homeless for as long as I was.

  4. AnAmerican says:

    In some cases, prevention of homelessness can be accomplished by a strong community effort to help those who are teetering on financial hardships by offering “crisis” efforts to save folks who are one paycheck away from having to live on the streets. If homelessness can be avoided by simply assisting with a bill or two, supplying groceries & free medications for times of “crisis” some will be saved from falling into homelessness.

    Such crisis assistance benefits not only the recipient of these services, but also the communities that supply these emergency funds…prevention is always preferable over the financial and emotional cost that comes with being homeless.

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