Shortage of Compassion

Posted: September 14, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing

America’s gulf region seems to be taking an incredible beating this year – more so than usual. A week or so ago, the news was all about Hurricane Gustav. Over the past few days it’s been about Hurricane Ike. Hurricanes are just a part of nature, as are blizzards, flooding, and – out here on the American west coast – earthquakes.  

As human beings there just isn’t any way to escape what Mother Nature throws our way. Whatever she decides to do, that’s what is going to be done. All of the weather forecasters – er… excuse me – meteorologists in the world can’t change that one bit. In fact, most of the time, they aren’t even able to predict with any true measure of accuracy what She’s going to do. It’s pretty much speculation on their part.

Officially, it’s still summer. Autumn is just around the corner, and in just a few months comes the winter season.

Winter season, on California’s central coast, usually entails rain.

Over the last few years, there has been a shortage of rainfall in this region. So this state is technically experiencing drought conditions. How long the level of rainfall will be below average, really is anyone’s guess. As I’ve already stated, Mother Nature will have her way regardless of what us lowly human beings think we can do about it.

For the homeless in this area, winter will be about doing whatever is necessary to stay as dry and warm as possible. In other parts of the country – particularly those areas that get snow – I imagine the rigors of survival will be much worse. I also wonder how many homeless will end up dying due to exposure.

Our nation’s homeless are a part of our communities. We can accept that or not.

Just because we may not want to accept the fact that the homeless are indeed a part of our communities and should be treated with – at the very least – human dignity, doesn’t change the reality. On the other hand, if we do accept the fact that the homeless are a part of our communities, then why aren’t we doing more to help them help themselves?

It’s easy to believe that the homeless should be able to get ahead with minimal effort, but that’s not the way life works. In the "real world" being homeless is its own form of social disability. What makes it worse, is that the longer a person is homeless, the more difficult a struggle it is to find a way off of the streets. Self-esteem takes a brutal beating. Hope is all but extinguished in some. For others, despair takes its final toll. And there are even some who become "institutionalized" by the experience. They become so co-dependant on homeless support services that they eventually are unable to function apart from those services.

I’m not saying that homeless support service agencies and organizations aren’t good things to have in place. However, since the types of services they generally provide are geared primarily as a "temporary" means of survival, it seems to me that all of their efforts are ineffective at actually helping the homeless become housed member of the community once again. The types of programs that are required to truly help the homeless raise their standards of living simply don’t exist.

Even all the hoopla regarding so many cities efforts to implement their 10 plans to end chronic homelessness do not address the needs of helping folks escape homelessness, since it only helps a narrow segment of the overall homeless population. It will not address the situation for the overwhelming majority of homeless.

Simply providing services which maintain the homeless isn’t the answer. It’s naive to believe that it is.

What are required are remedial solutions; program which assist advancement out of homelessness and back into the mainstream of the community. Without these types of programs it doesn’t matter how much funding is spent on homeless support services. It won’t make a bit of difference. And it certainly will not alleviate the suffering of the millions of our fellow citizens who will have to endure life on the streets each year.

As I said up top – California has had a shortage of rainfall over the last number of years. That’s not a good thing.

It would be nice if, as a society, we refused to have a shortage of compassion.

That would be worse.

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