Temporary Fixes

Posted: December 22, 2008 in Children, Compassion, Family, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Misconceptions

Over the weekend I saw a vehicle being driven with one of the old "compact spares."

Of all of the ideas automobile manufacturers ever introduced, that is the one which I thought to be the most ridiculous. I know the reasoning behind these types of spare tires: to reduce overall vehicle weight and allow for more room in the trunk. But, if misused, they could also be potentially dangerous.  

It isn’t that the spare itself was dangerous. If used the way they were intended, they served their purpose: get you from where you got your flat to the nearest service station, where you’d be able to get your regular tire repaired and then continue on your way.

Two of the most important cautions about the compact spare are: not to exceed speeds of 50 miles per hour and, not to drive more than 60 miles distance on one.

Some folks however, aren’t all that bright.

Consider, for example, this statement from the eHow website’s article, How to Drive on a Compact Spare Tire:

"Limit your total mileage on a small spare to 50 miles unless absolutely necessary. Driving on a spare hurts your gas mileage, wears out your other tires at an accelerated rate and can even send your car out of alignment with extended use."

Yet, despite manufacturer warnings on misuse of the spare, some folks drive around with those things on their vehicle for as long as possible – just as if it were a "real" tire. They were unwisely using a temporary fix as a long term solution. In the process, they were potentially creating other problems for themselves and their vehicles.

In many ways, society’s traditional approach for dealing with homelessness has also been one of trying to make a temporary fix do the work of a long term solution. And, in my opinion, this is why the numbers of homeless have continued to rise steadily.

One segment of America’s homeless population which has been gaining more notice in the headlines lately, have been families. Most of these headlines have similar themes. They routinely label homelessness among families as a "new" type of phenomena.

Yet, according to the report, Special Populations of Homeless Americans, on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website, it states,

"Not since the Great Depression have significant numbers of families and children been on the streets. Beginning in the early 1980’s, families with young children in tow have become one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population and now comprise approximately 36 percent of the overall numbers."

This is a clear indication that homelessness among families is a decades old issue. However, little or nothing has been done by government to effectively address it. At best, funding to help these folks has been piece meal. Even at present, there seems to be no effort on the part of government to create programs which could potentially help these families transition back into the mainstream community.

As a consequence, these families are forced to seek assistance through the shelter system.

Unfortunately, the shelter system is designed to primarily cater to the needs of single adult males. And, since they lack adequate public and private funding, they are unable to "update" their services to meet the special needs of families.

The National Coalition for the Homeless fact sheet, Homeless Families with Children states,

"While the average number of emergency shelter beds for homeless families with children increased by 8% in 2005, an average of 32% of requests for shelter by homeless families were denied in 2005 due to lack of resources."

To give credit with credit is due: I applaud the fact that there has been an increase of shelter beds for homeless families. However, since nearly one-third of those families are still being turned away, it clearly shows that not enough is being done.

Let’s say, however, that there were enough shelter beds available to accommodate every homeless family – it would still be only a temporary fix. Providing these families with only a bed and a meal does not constitute a permanent solution. Nor does it actually create the potential for them to move ahead in life.

Perhaps it has to do with the erroneous beliefs which most American’s have regarding the shelter system. We have failed to recognize that homeless shelters are not the panacea for homelessness. They provide "emergency" shelter only. They are nothing more than a field dressing on a gaping wound.

The reality is this: even if we built enough shelters to house every homeless person in America, it would still do nothing to reduce their numbers.


Because we’re still only dealing with temporary fixes.

If we have a genuine desire to reduce homelessness in our communities, we have to move beyond square one. We must to be willing to fund and implement programs which assist the homeless in becoming "housed."

These types of programs however, require long term vision and commitment.

For too long now, we’ve been using a "compact spare" mentality in trying to address homelessness. It’s time for us to pull into the service station and pay the price to get ourselves rolling on four good tires again.

When it comes to reducing homelessness, temporary fixes don’t work.

  1. Skye says:

    The more blogs of yours I read, the more I learn. I didn’t realize that there has been an increase in homeless families since the 80’s. I thought it was a more recent trouble. About 25 years of this growing problem and they’re still not addressing it adequately? What will it take?

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