Time and again I’ve mentioned my personal belief that not enough is being done to help the homeless transition back into society. I’ve also mentioned that I believe that those agencies and organizations which provide services to the homeless need to update their methodology for working with the homeless. And, I’ve gone as far as to say that it will take more than just providing then with a meal and a bed to help them regain enough of a foothold which would allow them to become self-sustaining members of the community.
Now it seems that I’m not the only one who is making those assertions.
This past week I came across a new article on the Australian Broadcasting Company’s website which declared in its headline: ‘More than a bed’: Rudd launches homeless learning centre.
In Sydney, Australia the Ozanam Learning Centre for Homeless People was officially opened. Its purpose?
"…the new centre aims to break the cycle of homelessness through education and training, ranging from reading and computing to the arts and cooking."
Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said that the center,
"… is a recognition that the time for just providing a hot meal and a bed is well and truly over.
The mark of any great society is how it treats its weakest members… If we have an aspiration still, as we could and we should, to be such a great society, the continuing test is how we treat our weakest members."
I like his sentiment that the greatness of a society is evident in "… how it treats its weakest members."
But I wonder if that sentiment could be taken a bit further?
It could easily be said that the greatness of a person’s moral character can be determined by how they treat those less fortunate than themselves – or in this case, how they personally treat the homeless.
With that in mind, what if we took it even a step further and rated the greatness of a person’s moral character on a scale from one to ten based on that criteria? Additionally, what if each person had to wear their "rating" in public?
I also wonder – what if each agency or organization which provides services to their community’s local homeless were rated the same way – except their rating would be determined by how many people they’ve actually helped transition back into the community, compared to how many homeless still remain on the streets? Moreover, what if they had to present that "rating" to the public each time they went before their local governments seeking funding, or each time they began asking the community for donations? And, what if they amount of government funding or donations were based on that rating – the higher the rating, the greater the amount of funding?
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating such a rating system. Still, it does make me wonder. How many of us personally would have a "passing" grade? And, how many homeless support services organizations would have to shut their doors for lack of funding due to a low rating for being ineffective at reducing the numbers of homeless in their communities?
In most communities across the U.S., there is a lack of those types of services which are geared specifically toward helping the homeless get ahead. Yet, while most communities want something to be done to reduce the numbers of homeless, there is – in all reality – only minimal community support or involvement with homeless support services organizations. This is because most folks tend to believe that these agencies receive adequate funding through their local governments. However, most local governments allocate barely enough funding to keep the doors of their community’s homeless shelters open. This lack of financial resources prevents local shelters from being able to implement and maintain programs which can provide the homeless with the potential to get off of the streets.
Even when these agencies and organizations are able to help some of the homeless transition back into the community, they are unable to make a significant impact at reducing the numbers of homeless. This is due to the current economic climate where folks are becoming homeless faster than those who are being helped back into the community.
All of this leads me to conclude that before we can expect to have a chance at reducing the numbers of homeless in our communities, there are several things which must occur.
First, we must be willing to be re-educated about homeless. We have to be willing to look beyond the misconceptions and stereotypes and see the persons beneath the homeless exteriors. And, we must be willing to actively participate in addressing and remedying homelessness.
Second, we must adequately fund those organizations which provide services to the homeless. We cannot expect them to implement and maintain programs which effectively address homelessness if they barely have the financial resources to keep their doors open.
Third, these agencies and organizations must "update" and modify the methodologies they currently use to "help" the homeless. The demographics of homelessness have changed dramatically over the last two decades, but homeless services have not adapted to keep up or meet the needs of this generation of homeless.
Finally, we must hold ourselves accountable to do the right thing. We can no longer just turn our backs and pretend that someone, somewhere will do something to help the homeless. If we wait for someone else to do the right thing, we may find ourselves waiting forever.
The consequence of doing nothing is that those homeless who want to get off the streets will be barred from doing so and the numbers of homeless will increase. And, the only assistance they will continue to be offered will be a meal and a bed – neither of which is a gateway out of homelessness.