Going Out Of Business

Posted: August 26, 2008 in Goals, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness

I’ve been thinking about my post from yesterday.

I was pondering whether or not homeless support services (HSS) agencies were genuinely interested in ending homelessness, or were they simply going through the motions.  

I’m still of the opinion, that for the most part, HSS agencies are just going through the motions. Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that every last HSS organization isn’t trying their best to address homelessness in their respective communities. However, based on the research I’ve done, homelessness is on the increase.

To be sure, there are a lot of current economic factors which are causing the increased surge in homelessness. But, neither can that increase be laid solely on the "shoulders" of a weak economy. The reality is that homelessness has been increasing steadily regardless of the nation’s economic strengths or weaknesses. This leads me to conclude that not enough is being done to help folks transition back into the mainstream community.

In fact, there are very few programs out there which are actually designed to help folk off of the streets once they find themselves homeless. Most of the types of services available to the homeless consist of providing on the bare essentials. And, that doesn’t prove to be adequate for the task.

I’ve used this quote by Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, but I’m going to use it again,

"We have come dangerously close to accepting the homeless situation as a problem that we just can’t solve."

I’m wondering if perhaps that’s part of the problem with why we haven’t made significant strides in reducing the overall numbers of homeless. Could it be we think there’s nothing we can do to provide effective means to help the homeless and so we simply don’t try?

Most folks don’t think that enough is being done to address homelessness in our nation. However, local governments have a tendency not to pass legislation that provides the funding necessary to remedy homelessness. Instead they pass laws and ordinances which penalize the homeless for not having a place to call home. And, of course, the excuses are always the same: the city’s budget isn’t adequate to provide additional funding to HSS agencies.

The thing is this: it would actually be less expensive in the long run for local governments to provide adequate funding to significantly reduce the numbers of homeless in their communities than it is to have to figure out how much they can spend this year – and next year and so on – just to maintain the homeless. The key word there is "maintain." And, I am beginning to think that cities and HSS agencies need to cease thinking along the lines of maintaining the homeless. What they should do is think about ways of putting HSS agencies out of business.

And before someone cries "foul" – let me explain my line of reasoning.

So long as local governments and HSS organizations continue to think only about maintaining services for the homeless, they are going to continue to operate using that same standard procedures – which is not a good thing, since those procedures have proven to be impotent at reducing the numbers of homeless.

Instead, HSS organizations should be asking themselves what it will take to make their services obsolete. Starting to get the picture?

Perhaps, if they began asking themselves what types of services they could provide to the homeless which would make it unnecessary for there to be a need for a homeless shelter or a day center for the homeless, they might possibly begin to find new and innovative methods for remedying homelessness in their community. That would actually be goal worth working toward: the day when there are no homeless and subsequently no need for homeless support services.

And really when you think about it, that should be the goal of HSS organizations: to put themselves out of business; to be so effective at helping the homeless transition back into the community that they can finally close their doors permanently.

Most homeless shelters think of themselves as a place which provides temporary housing. So, why not modify their way of thinking to include thinking of themselves as a "temporary business" – one which is intended to operate so long as there is a need for their services, but one which hopes to one day hang a "Gone Out Of Business" sign on their front doors?

Actually, the sooner these agencies begin realizing that they should be providing the types of services which will hasten their going out of business; the sooner there will be no homeless in our communities.

Which brings me back around to the original question: do homeless support service agencies truly want to end homelessness; or are they just going through the motions?

  1. Rev. Cynthia says:

    Bravo, Michael!

    This has been one of my major complaints concerning the “welfare machine” in general. There is no real motivation to help people who are poor to truly improve their lot, because then social workers will be out of work.

    Most of what seems necessary is for the cost of housing/living to be realistic compared to wages and for folks who are disabled and elderly and dependent on Social Security to be able to afford to live on their monthly checks. (By the way, the SSI disability monthly allotment in California just dropped from $907. to $870. a month – which is probably a little less than the monthy rent for a one bedroom apartment).

    Just today, I spoke with a 90 year old woman who is sleeping at the local homeless shelter. She did not appear to have any mental health or substance abuse issues and is certainly eligible for retirement benefits. Come on now folks, what is WRONG with this picture?! That could be our grandmother living in a homeless shelter. What on earth is going on with our society? Let’s wake up and stop walking around in a fog- people who are homeless are not invisible!

    Rev. Cynthia

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