Posted: August 14, 2008 in Acceptance, Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness

Of all the emails I receive from folks, the most frequently asked question is what I think they should do to help the homeless in their community. The second most asked request is from folks who want me to "meet" with them to discuss their plans for helping the homeless. And the third is from college students who want information about homelessness.

I’ve given up trying to answer most of those types of emails for numerous reasons. But primarily because I just don’t have the time.

So let me try it another way…  

I’ve written in excess of 450 posts. I have covered a wide range of issues regarding homelessness. I’ve expressed my opinions on what I believe are potential solutions for helping the homeless help themselves. I’ve also pointed out what I believe are flaws and incongruities with the way homeless support services operate throughout the nation.

There are new "programs" which are popping up nationwide. There is also this push – by way of federal mandate – for the implementation of 10 year plans to end homelessness. So cities all across the nation are scrambling to put together their 10 year plans. However, I personally feel that all of these new agencies and programs are destined to fail.


Because they all continue do the same thing. They copy their "standard operating procedures" from other agencies. The look to other cities for ideas on how to "deal" with homelessness. They bring in so called "experts" from other locales. They do everything except look at their immediate surroundings.

In order for homeless support service agencies to have a genuine impact at reducing the numbers of homeless in their communities, they must first recognize that homelessness – although it is a nationwide epidemic – must be remedied at that local level.

Second, every community must recognize that it takes far more than just providing a meal and a bed to help the homeless find a lasting alternative to living life on the street. Additionally, there are very few homeless support services agencies which actually seek out the input from those members of the community who were at one time homeless themselves.

The analogy I’ve used is this: if you want to learn how to make a million dollars, you speak with a person who has already made a million dollars – not to someone who is making minimum wage.

A person who has experienced homelessness and has managed to become a productive member of the community once again, probably has a far better insight into what it takes to help the homeless than 10,000 so called experts. It’s the "been there, done that" practical experience which give them the valid know how. And, I would suspect that they have a better understanding about how to help the homeless than all of the politicians and bureaucrats in the nation put together.

The problem is this: those folks who are in the position to make policy for homeless support services agencies are too rigid in their way of thinking. For the most part, they stubbornly maintain a "this is the way it’s always been done" mindset and are therefore unable to think outside of the box.

Do you genuinely want to know what you can do to help the homeless in your community?

First and foremost, try putting yourself in a homeless person’s shoes. Do you think that getting only a meal and a bed would be sufficient to help you get back into the mainstream of the community? Or, do you think that a program that might help you get re-employed and housed might be more appropriate?

What if you had to stand on a corner with a cardboard sign? Would you enjoy having folks just drive right past you as though you were worthless? Would it make you feel good inside to know that most of them would automatically think that you were trying to get money just so that you could get drunk or high? And, what if it were hot and humid and you were dying of thirst? Of if you were standing there hungry, watching folks drive past you while they were eating their burgers and fries?

What about if you had to carry every one of your worldly possessions around with you all day? What if you didn’t have access to clean clothing everyday? Or perhaps you didn’t have access to bathing facilities? Would you feel confident going in for a job interview?

Just recently, I read a friend’s blog. As I read through the comments, I noticed that most folks who had commented had pretty much said the same thing: we ought to follow the Golden Rule of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Since most people find it hard to love complete strangers, it occurred to me that perhaps the Golden Rule should be re-written to say:

"Tolerate others as you would have them tolerate you."

Maybe, through that tolerance we would learn to view our homeless as a part of the community. And, perhaps as a result, we’d be more willing to help them help themselves just the way we’d want to be helped if the roles were reversed.


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