Zero Impact

Posted: August 30, 2008 in Compassion, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Morality

A couple of mornings ago when I posted Guilty Consciences? I had the question in my mind if perhaps we avoid thinking about the homeless and potential solutions for helping them because it touches a nerve which reminds us that it wouldn’t take all that much to place us in the exact same situation. After all, not thinking about such unpleasant things is the path of least resistance.  

One reader left a comment wondering if, when it comes to helping the homeless, perhaps the "…complexities simply overwhelm those with mere minutes to spare in an average day."

Then she used a metaphor which I found extremely intriguing:

The last resort is often to just "close the door" on the "messy room" when there isn’t time to fully clean it.

I read and re-read the comment several times – and I wondered if perhaps she was right: we’re just too busy to make the time to do the right thing. When I paused to think about it, quite a number of folks do indeed rush around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. And quite a lot of folks are in "multitask" mode throughout most of the day.

But then another thought flashed into my mind: as busy a society as we seem to be, we don’t appear to be any more productive than before we made multitasking the norm. Besides, if we were as productive at multitasking as we like to pretend we are, then we should be able to find a way of tackling the finding of solutions to homelessness – without even breaking out in even a mild perspiration.

No. There has to be a deeper underlying reason for our seemingly inability to make the time to do what is necessary to find genuine and viable solutions to homelessness.

Perhaps it isn’t that we, as she wrote, "… ‘close the door’ on the ‘messy room’ when there isn’t time to fully clean it."

Maybe it’s just that we’ve become morally and socially lazy. That’s always a possibility. Let’s face it: trying to find solutions to homelessness in our communities requires effort. It certainly isn’t something that can be remedied overnight. Nor, is it something that comes without a willingness to invest something of ourselves. Yet, if we truly want to end homelessness in our communities that is exactly what will be required: investing of ourselves.

Although I ride the community pretty hard about the lack of effort being put forward to help the homeless help themselves, the truth is that I know there are plenty of folks who do indeed care about the homeless. And there are a good number of people who are willing to reach out to someone else less fortunate than themselves – even when they themselves are struggling to keep their own lives afloat.

Perhaps that is why I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why more isn’t being done to remedy homelessness.

Then again, maybe it isn’t about doing more as much as it is about doing what’s effective.

That’s probably a better way to phrase it, because what is currently being done to address homelessness in our communities isn’t being effective. It’s not having a significant impact at reducing the numbers of homeless. And that should be the goal: to reduce homelessness and not just maintain the homeless. But, that’s all we seem to really be doing: maintaining the homeless. That’s not a solution.

Let me give you an example –

A little over a year ago, I attended a meeting of the local Homeless Support Services Coordinating Committee. It is made up of representatives from all of the various homeless support service agencies and organizations. The purpose of this committee is to figure out the best method for providing assistance to the local area homeless, without the overlapping or doubling up of services. It makes sense. Optimize services to best utilize what little funding is available.

Yet, something within me said that despite the best "efforts" of this committee it would really be nothing more than a lot of talk with a non-existent amount of action behind the words.

Several days before that meeting, I published a post called, Brown Shoes, in which I wrote:

"So what do I expect to come out of this? Do I expect some great surge of aid for the homeless? Do I believe that, at the very least, some of the homeless will actually be helped in a constructive way by the meeting on Wednesday? Sadly, no."

What makes it all the more sad is that I was correct.

Nothing of any actual impact came from that meeting. And one year later, very little has been done to reduce the numbers of homeless. If anything, the numbers of homeless in the community have increased. That, more than anything else, is a clear indication that the methodology currently being used by homeless support service agencies is ineffective. It has to be, since it only addresses the maintaining of the homeless without providing a way for the homeless to become housed members of the community.

To be sure, there have been some changes. There have been a few new "programs" implemented by both the local homeless shelter and the homeless day center. But those "programs" are nothing more than cosmetic; geared toward the maintaining of the homeless. They do nothing address the issue of finding ways of helping the homeless help themselves find a way off of the streets.

The reader, who left her comment to my post of a couple of days ago, ended with this:

I wonder about how we rush to aid victims of natural disasters and yet can be oblivious to those who have slid into the same tragic circumstance for reasons we simply do not know. Do we expect people to "earn" our compassion?

Her last question really stirred up an uncomfortable sensation deep within me.

I certainly hope she wasn’t correct about expecting others to "earn" our compassion. Because if that is indeed the case, homelessness will never be a thing of the past.


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