No Perfect Solutions

Posted: September 11, 2008 in Compassion, Goals, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing

This blog generates its share of email. The majority of that email comes from folks who just want to drop me a line thanking me for something I’ve written because it’s made them see things in a new light and to encourage me to continue "…telling it like it is." The lesser percentage of it is angry email from folks who think I’ve lost my mind, or that I’m full of… well, I’ll let your own imagination fill in the blanks.  

Then, there are those emails I receive from folks who are wondering if I would be willing to meet with them "… for about an hour or so over a cup of coffee" to discuss their possible plans for this project or that idea which they might have to help the homeless. I seldom respond to those types of emails anymore, let alone attempt to make arrangements to meet with any of them, because in the past when I’ve pressed these folks to give me some details regarding their ideas, it invariably turns out they aren’t sure what they themselves have in mind. In essence, they’re looking to me to provide them with ideas.

Lately however, I seem to be getting a bit more email from folks who believe (and in some cases, even insist) they have the perfect solution to ending homelessness. The "solutions" postulated range from giving the homeless one-way bus tickets out of town, to making the homeless work for the city cleaning up public parks and other such public areas of town, to "labor camps" which the homeless should be moved onto.

In addition to that, there are those folks who come up with some… well… "creative" ideas for helping the homeless – all of which are well meaning I’m sure, but none which are practicable or realistic. And, if we genuinely desire to have an impact on reducing homelessness, it will require a realistic approach. Nothing less will suffice.

I’ve been authoring this blog now for nearly a year and a half. I’ve done quite a bit of research regarding homelessness: why it happens; who it can happen to; the various "solutions" which are currently in place; the "solutions" which many cities are implementing to try and deal with homelessness in their communities, and so forth. I also was homeless for a period of twenty-six months of my life. And, while I may not know everything about homelessness (nor do I claim to), I am nonetheless going to be so bold as to suggest that I might perhaps have just a bit of insight as to what it may take to reduce the numbers of homeless.

To be quite honest, I personally do not believe that homelessness will ever be a thing of the past; or that there will ever be a time when there will be no more homeless. There are just too many variables involved. Those variables are people. And, some of those people deliberately choose to remain homeless.

Yet – and despite that – I do believe that our goal as a society should be to try and end homelessness completely. We should not use half measures in our attempts to reduce the numbers of folk who are living on the streets of our nation’s city’s. Moreover, we must recognize that it will take numerous "plans" working in concert to have a significant impact on homelessness. The moment we allow ourselves to believe that there is one perfect solution we have limited our potential effectiveness at providing assistance to the homeless in our communities.

The reality is that homelessness is a complex issue. There is no one perfect solution. Different people require different types of assistance. Yet, this is something which is seldom recognized by most cities and/or homeless support services agencies and organizations. Or, if they do recognize it, they are doing little or nothing to provide those types of assistance.

I realize that providing "custom" assistance to any one homeless person in particular isn’t financially feasible. However, I’m certain that there must be some way which we can create a system of "transitioning programs and services" to help the homeless become housed. And ultimately, that should be the goal: to help the homeless become housed members of the community.

While I feel that there should be an expansion of homeless support services by way of increasing the number of shelter beds and other such services, these are only temporary solutions at best, as they deal with the "here and now" only. What are needed are services which look toward the future; plans to help the homeless become non-homeless. And the only effective method of helping a homeless person become non-homeless is by providing services which assist them in obtaining stable and permanent housing.

Several weeks ago, I was speaking with Kathy Johnston, a journalist at the SLO New Times. We were discussing homeless children and youth and the numerous barriers they face with regards to having their educational needs met. At some point in the conversation, I said the one thing which so many folks fail to recognize is that every homeless person, at one time or another in their life had a place to call home.

Shouldn’t that be our goal? To do the best we can to provide an opportunity for the homeless to once again have a place to call home?

Providing temporary or transitional shelter for the homeless is all fine and dandy. It does not, however, address the deeper issue: the need for our nation’s homeless to become self-sustaining, productive member of society once again.

I’m not saying that we need to provide the homeless with everything on the proverbial silver platter. Nor should the homeless expect society to do. We should expect them to put forth an effort on their own behalf. However, providing that they are willing to help themselves, we should – in turn – be more than willing to lend a helping hand.

  1. Marce says:

    I know this blog is about homeless people but Im’ disappointed that all you did was just complained about the email you get and didn’t mention somethign about the people who died on 9/11.

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