Failed Established Methods

Posted: October 19, 2008 in Bureauacracy, Compassion, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Morality

I’ve always wondered about the "established methods" which society has used when trying to address homelessness. I’ve never viewed those methods are being effective. And, it’s hard for me to understand how anyone could ever believe that those methods could be effective. If they were, you would think that the numbers of homeless would be decreasing. Instead, the numbers have continued to rise.  

Most communities address homelessness from two sides: the private and the public.

On the private side are those organizations and groups which maintain homeless shelters and, in some cities, drop in day centers for the homeless.

On the public side are those government agencies which are supposed to provide assistance to their homeless citizens.

In theory, these services are supposed to provide persons who are homeless with a way to re-enter society; a way of rebuilding their lives. But, in all reality, they seldom do anything of true substance to help a homeless person "get ahead in life."

Privately managed homeless support services agencies and organizations generally do not have the funding to provide any types of assistance other than a meal and a bed. That’s a far cry from providing step up. In some instances, it can even cause a person to become co-dependant on "the system" and, in essence, trapping them in homelessness.

Government run agencies also do not provide adequate means for a homeless person to get of the streets. Even, with all of the 10 year plans to end homelessness popping up all across the nation, there is really very little which will be offered through these plans that will make a difference in the lives of the majority of homeless persons.

Unfortunately, the majority of people in "regular" society do not have even a basic understanding regarding homelessness; what causes it; who can become homeless; or what it will take to reduce it. Instead, they blindly rely on local non-profit organizations or the government to take care of the "problem." As a result, when many folks interact with a homeless person will ask that person if they know about the local homeless shelter – as if the homeless shelter itself were the remedy. Most folks simply do not realize that there is an enormous lack of available shelter beds.

In SLO County – according to the official 2006 Homeless Enumeration Report – there were 2408 persons who were positively identified as being homeless. Yet, for the entire county there are less than 200 available shelter beds. Subsequently, less than 1 in 10 of the county’s homeless population do not have any chance of getting bed to sleep in on any given night of the year.

Almost all municipalities across the country have the same problem: not enough available shelter beds to accommodate their local homeless population. Because there is this lack of beds, the majority of homeless are forced into sleep in "public" places. And, that’s where the local governments come into the picture.

Local governments do not appreciate having the homeless setting up "camp" in public places. It’s understandable that they do not want the homeless sleeping in parks, on downtown benches, in alleyways, or in the doorways of businesses. However, instead of providing more funding to increase the numbers of shelter beds, their solution is to have local law enforcement officers issue tickets to those homeless who are caught engaging in "urban camping."

The irony is that the federal courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional for cities and towns to ticket, fine or arrest the homeless for sleeping in public when there aren’t enough shelter beds to accommodate the numbers of homeless. So, these cities, instead of ticketing the homeless for sleeping in public, will ticket them by citing anti-trespassing or anti-loitering ordinances. What it comes down to is this: the homeless are being harassed and penalized for not having a place to live.

This may sound like a radical idea – but it seems to me that the best way to reduce the numbers of homeless in our communities would be to find ways to help the homeless help themselves become self-sustaining and housed members of the community.

Considering that the numbers of persons who are homeless is on the increase, it pretty much shows that the types of assistance currently being offered by homeless support services organization isn’t sufficient. The increase in homelessness also shows that the approach which is used by local governments isn’t working.

Homelessness isn’t something which can be "legislated" away because homelessness isn’t a crime. It is a social and economic condition. As a result, anytime local governments attempt to create legislation to limit or prohibit those persons who are homeless from performing life sustaining activities in public, they are turning an entire segment of the community into criminals.

I’m not sure who coined this phrase,

Never kick a man while he’s down…

Yet, isn’t that what we, as a society, are doing to our homeless citizens? Aren’t we just kicking them while they’re down?

After all, if we were really doing what was necessary to help the homeless, wouldn’t there be fewer homeless? Wouldn’t the numbers be going down and not up?

If we expect to have an impact and reduce the numbers of homeless in our communities, we are going to have to abandon failed established methods. We can’t keep doing things the same old way simply because that’s the way it’s always been done. We are going to have to find a compassionate alternative to our current mindset.

  1. AnAmerican says:

    I think it all comes down to placing value on humanity instead of providing monetary support for such things as bailouts for fianancial corporations millions or millions on campign funding. It also rests in community and national leaders to stand up for the ALL citizens of the US and not just special interest groups or the mainstream.
    One of the keys is educating the public at large about the very real and expanding problem of homelessness in the US. Thanks you for being one such voice of social conscienous !

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