Routines

Posted: November 25, 2008 in Acceptance, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions

For quite some time now, part of my daily morning routine involves placing food out for the sparrows. The thing is that it has become part of their daily routine as well. Some of them seem to be just waiting about for me to put the food out. Others are perched somewhere nearby waiting for me to "show up" – and as soon as I do, they fly in to partake in their share of the free meal.  

On a few occasions I’ve waited until "everybody" shows up before I actually place their food out – something which they don’t seem to have been too pleased about. Some of them have been so bold as to start chirping at me as if to say: "Hey! What are you waiting for? We’re hungry."

The amazing thing is that they don’t seem to mind anymore if I stand there watching them eat – something which they didn’t do when I first started feeding them. At first, if I stood there, they’d wait until I "backed off" a certain distance before they’d start eating. And, if I made a sudden move they’d all flutter away. It’s different now. They have become aware that I’m not a threat to them. They’ve come to recognize that I’m there to feed them. A few of them will even come near and chirp up at me then head off the join the others at their meal.

While it gives me a certain amount of joy to see them as they hop about eating, I wonder if perhaps I’ve done them a disservice by feeding them. They are after all undomesticated creatures. And, although I wouldn’t do anything to harm them, I have to ask myself if by feeding them I have created a type of co-dependence. It’s even possible that with their having grown accustomed to my presence that their natural wariness of other creatures has become repressed in some way – which could potentially put them at risk of being harmed.

The thing about routines is that they can often times become habit and subsequently, difficult to be free of.

Many communities have homeless support service organizations of one type or another. Most of the time, they come in the form of homeless shelters or drop-in day centers for the homeless.

The homeless shelters generally provide a meal and a bed, while the day centers may provide a noontime meal and a place for the homeless to "hang out" during the day. Very few of them actually provide the homeless with the types of services which can pave the way for the homeless to get off the streets. And while it’s a good thing that these organizations do exist, I wonder if by only providing the homeless with "a meal and a bed" if they are doing a disservice, not only to the homeless, but to the community as well.

Let me explain –

The homeless, as a result of basic human instinct, are going to do what it takes to continue to stay alive. This means making visits to the local homeless shelter or day center for their meals. And because there are set times when meals are served, the homeless need to be there at those times or go hungry. Additionally, the homeless are generally not allowed to be on facility property except during the hours which these organizations operate – this means that the homeless have to be elsewhere when these agencies are not "open." As a result, the homeless find themselves moving from location to location around the city throughout the day.

After a while, the homeless person begins to settles into a routine: go to one location for lunch; go to a different location for dinner. If this pattern continues to repeat itself for a period of time, it can become habitual. In the end, that person is caught up in a cycle which can keep them trapped in homelessness for a long time. In some instances, the person may even become "institutionalized" by homelessness.

On the other hand, it’s not only the homeless who get caught up in this vicious cycle. Staff and volunteers of these organizations also become trapped in routines. Day in and day out they see the same faces. They grow accustomed to their "clients" showing up for meals and forget to encourage them to seek a way out of homelessness.

Moreover, many homeless support services organizations have become so accustomed to being a "soup kitchen" that they fail to seek ways of implementing programs to help the homeless become self-sustaining, housed members of the community.

But it doesn’t end there.

The overall community itself also has its pattern of behavior when it comes to their local homeless. Unfortunately, this pattern of behavior is generally based on stereotypes and misconceptions about the homelessness. Consequently, those organizations which provide services to the homeless have very little community support – either by way of folks who are willing to volunteer their time, or those who are willing to make financial donations.

I’ve made this statement before, but it bears repeating: homelessness is a community issue. It takes all of us – homeless and non-homeless – working together in concert, to address it.

If we expect to reduce homelessness in our communities, we’re all going to have to break out of our usual routines.

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