Close To Home

Posted: September 16, 2008 in Bureauacracy, Compassion, Homelessness, Housing, Misconceptions

Probably because of the length of time I’ve been authoring this blog, I get quite a number of requests for information regarding homelessness. I’m sure part of it has to do with the fact that I’ve always been diligent about including links to any statistical numbers, fact sheets, enumeration reports, new articles and so forth. So most folks, by now realize that I’m not throwing statistical numbers or other data out just out of thin air.  

About a week ago, I received an email from Colin Rigley, one of the staff writers at the SLO New Times. Mr. Rigley has been doing some research into SLO County’s soon to be unveiling of their 10 year plan to end homelessness for an upcoming article that he is writing.

During the roughly forty-five minute telephone conversation I shared with him my opinions regarding my personal belief as to the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of SLO County’s 10 year plan. I came right out and stated that I did not believe that homelessness would ever reach zero homeless, yet despite that, I also shared with him what I felt might prove to be effective methods for reducing homelessness.

It is a sad certainty that there just aren’t enough homeless support services being offered to the homeless. Moreover, those services which are being offered do not provide any true means for the homeless to transition back into the mainstream community, much less, the ability to become self-sustaining members of society. And helping the homeless become productive members of the community is vital. Without that, very few homeless will be able to permanently escape the throes of homelessness.

Please don’t misunderstand me. While I applaud the efforts of each and every city which has either already implemented their 10 year plans, or are currently readying themselves to do so, I believe that there are several inadequacies in these plans. Much of it has to do with the word "chronic." You see, all of these 10 year plans are set up to help only the chronic homeless – which are the smallest segment of homeless. The remaining 80 to 90 percent of the homeless will not qualify for services.

In addition, the overwhelming majority of cities which have 10 year plans have not provided for the expansion of existing services. This, I feel, is the 10 year plan’s biggest shortcoming.

I’m not entirely sure if it is those within the bureaucracy who are precluding the expansion of those services, or if it is the general public. More likely it is a combination of the two. However, I have some ideas as to why there is a resistance to provide additional and better services.

Most folks have a tendency to believe that if they provide "new and improved" homeless support services that it will draw more homeless from outside of the area into their communities. It’s a type of "if you build they will come" mentality. And, most folks do not want an increase of homeless in their communities. They are under the impression that adding to current services will make it "too easy on the homeless" – which, when you apply good old fashioned common sense to the issue – is nothing more than a bunch of rubbish. There is nothing easy about being homeless. And, the vast majority of homeless are still going to want to have a place of their own to call home, regardless of how extensive homeless support services are.

All of that aside… let me quote directly from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty fact sheet, Myths and Facts about Homelessness,

The Magnet Theory

Myth: Setting up services for homeless people will cause homeless people from all around to migrate to a city.

Fact: Studies have shown that homeless people do not migrate for services. To the extent they do move to new areas, it is because they are searching for work, have family in the area, or other reasons not related to services.

A recent study found that 75% of homeless people are still living in the city in which they became homeless.

It is unfortunate that so many folks do not understand that 3 out 4 of their community’s homeless are in all reality former fellow citizens: folks who, for whatever reasons, have found themselves without a place to call home. In addition, only about 6 percent of those individuals actually choose to be homeless. The rest of them might easily just be victims of circumstances.

Yet, due to misconceptions and social stigmas regarding homelessness, the homeless are then further victimized, discriminated against and alienated by the very community of which they were once a part of. As a result, when it comes to providing assistance to the homeless all common sense – and with it, compassion – are seemingly cast aside.

More’s the pity.

If we are so readily able and willing to extend compassion to folks in distant lands, how is it that we don’t seem willing to show it to those within our own communities?

If we can find it in our hearts to send all manner of aid to folks suffering of poverty in far away countries, why aren’t we able to do the same to our fellow citizens – who are right here, in "our own backyards"?

It’s perfectly fine for us to want to reach out in aid and compassion world wide. We should do that. It shows our capacity to behave humanely. But we shouldn’t ignore the needs of those who are "close to home."

We need to stop expressing selective compassion. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to reduce the numbers of homeless "right here at home."

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