"Sin Of Omission"

Posted: January 13, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Children, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Money, Politics

There is an adage which states that "… all politics are local." The same could be said for homelessness. The way most citizens view the issue is based directly on how it impacts their communities. Seldom do they recognize it as a national problem.  

When I first began authoring this blog nearly two years ago, I had a similar outlook. I wrote mostly about homelessness within the city limits of San Luis Obispo, California – hence the blog’s name: SLO Homeless. Somewhere along the way, however, that changed. The blog pretty much took on its on course. Subsequently, for me homelessness was no longer just a local issue and I began monitoring news articles from all around the nation.

A couple of days ago in my post, Bureaucratic Ivory Towers, I mentioned a news article I had come across in the Colorado Spring Gazette. One gentleman’s quote in the article seemed to imply that he couldn’t understand how homelessness was on the rise in his community despite HUD’s claim, in late July of last year, that there had been a reduction in the numbers of homeless. It must have seemed an aberration to him, because he stated that his city was using "… the same techniques as other cities to help the homeless."

In my post, I pointed out that Colorado Springs wasn’t the only municipality which was experiencing an increase in homelessness. In fact, the rise in homelessness is taking place in almost every city across the U.S. – especially among families.

In response to that post, I received a comment from a gentleman named Phil Rydman. He is part of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, and was the one who "… collected the data" from over 130 missions throughout North America. The result of that data was presented in the AGRM’s 20th annual Snapshot Survey of the Homeless.

One part of his comment did catch my attention,

"Although I am not inclined to defend bureaucrats, I feel I must at least try to bring some clarity to the discussion of the number of homeless people in the U.S. During the last eight years, the administration has encouraged communities to develop 10-year plans to end ‘chronic’ homelessness. By their definition, a chronic homeless person is one who has been homeless three or more times previously, or has been homeless more than 12 months continuously. The HUD claims from the past year have primarily been regarding a decrease in chronic homelessness. Those statements may actually be true."

To tell the truth, I don’t know anyone who is "inclined to defend bureaucrats."

Actually, Mr. Rydman is correct. The numbers which HUD is referencing are those who are chronically homeless. However, it is an issue which I have addressed in a number of other posts – most recently in: Absurdity Of The Bureaucratic Mindset.

In that post, I pointed out that the chronic homeless represent only 10 percent of America’s homeless population. In addition, I mentioned that due to the federal definition of chronic homelessness, the remaining 90 percent would be left out in the cold – literally. And, it is for this reason that I do not see any 10-year plan to end homelessness as a success story. Even the title given to these plans is misleading: "10-year plan to end homelessness."

While Mr. Rydman did correctly identify them for what they are – plans to end chronic homelessness – the majority of the time when you read the headlines, they are touted as plans to "end homelessness" – not end "chronic" homelessness.

Where government has missed the boat with their "Chronic Homeless Initiative" (or as it is sometimes referred to, The "Housing First" initiative) continues to be that it addresses ONLY chronic homelessness. Considering that within the chronic homeless are folks who have deliberately chosen homelessness as their preferred lifestyle, the government will be spending taxpayer dollars on folks who don’t want help. That, in itself, makes the program doomed to failure.

Even staunch proponents of the initiative admit (albeit reluctantly) that it has no potential for actually ending homelessness in our nation.

Now consider this: for fiscal year 2009 in the federal budget, there has been an overall increase of funding aimed at helping the homeless. However, the majority part of that funding will be going toward the "Housing First" initiative. At the same time, funding for emergency shelters and food has been decreased by 35 percent – more than one third.

I’m not sure if I’m able to follow the logic of Washington.

Why spend the majority of funding on 10 percent of the homeless – including those who want to remain homeless – while completely ignoring families with children? Why this disproportionate distribution of funding?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe that we have an obligation to provide assistance to all of out nation’s homeless – including those who are chronically homeless. However, I personally feel that we have a higher moral obligation to provide funding to help our nation’s homeless families because of the children.

Mr. Rydman, in his comment noted,

"In 2007, 55 percent of the families coming to rescue missions for assistance were headed by women. In 2008, that figure jumped to 66 percent of the families served."

By specifically targeting the chronically homeless, the federal government has sentenced families with children to prolonged life on the streets. And it will have dire consequences.

While the experience of homelessness is traumatic for any person, it is even more so for children.

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s report, Facts on Trauma and Homeless Children,

"Families now make up 40 percent of the country’s homeless population."

In addition, it outlines the following facts:

Children bear the brunt of homelessness.

  • Homeless children are sick at twice the rate of other children. They suffer twice as many ear infections, have four times the rate of asthma, and have five times more diarrhea and stomach problems.
  • Homeless children go hungry twice as often as non-homeless children.
  • More than one-fifth of homeless preschoolers have emotional problems serious enough to require professional care, but less than one-third receive any treatment.
  • Homeless children are twice as likely to repeat a grade compared to non-homeless children.
  • Homeless children have twice the rate of learning disabilities and three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems of non-homeless children.
  • Half of school-age homeless children experience anxiety, depression, or withdrawal compared to 18 percent of non-homeless children.
  • By the time homeless children are eight years old, one in three has a major mental disorder. These are not only challenges in themselves but may act as "secondary adversities," putting a child at greater risk for trauma reactions and making recovery difficult.

Children are this nation’s future. If we continue to ignore the plight of America’s homeless children, aren’t we, as a nation, at least partially responsible for the emotional and psychological scars inflicted on them by their experience?

By focusing the majority of funding on the chronically homeless and ignoring the needs of homeless families our government has committed its own "sin of omission."

And before long, that "sin" is going to come back around and bite us on the collective behind.

  1. Nadine says:

    Very well said. I’ve done volunteer work for the homeless shelter in my town. I’m not saying that all of them are like this, but a lot of the chronic homeless don’t really want to do anything for themselves. The remain homeless because they don’t want to have responsibilities. But, you’re right about us needing to give more money to help the homeless families with children. It breaks my heart to see them out there.

  2. Skye says:

    Homeless families with children should be at the FRONT of the line, not swept under the rug. I live pretty far south and it’s been so cold here. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have to sleep outside.

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