Accomplished With Excellence

Posted: January 23, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Children, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Money, Morality, Politics

Every so often I end up writing a post which I know is going to ruffle someone’s feathers. While it’s not what I set out to do, it does happen nonetheless. It’s therefore no surprise to me when I get either comments or emails from folks who feel compelled to point out the error of my ways.  

Several days ago, I published a post titled "Ceremonies."

In that post I cited the article "What Recession? The $170 Million Inauguration" from the MSNBC website. For me, the opening sentence said it all:

"The country is in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, which isn’t stopping rich donors and the government from spending $170 million, or more, on the inauguration of Barack Obama."

My line of reasoning was that it seemed frivolous – at least to me – that so much money was being spent on the Presidential Inauguration, especially since by comparison, only $158 million is going to be spent this year to help the nation’s nearly 400,000 homeless Veterans.

As a result, I ended up with quite a number of emails rebuking me. Most of those folks felt that the amount spent was justified due to the historic nature of this specific Inauguration. Others pointed out that, since the entire world was watching, it was imperative that "… things be done right." And, a few of those folks even went so far as to call me unpatriotic.

It was the same with the majority of comments folks tried submitting. In fact, most of the comments were merely personal attacks against me. Subsequently, since they did nothing to further any constructive dialogue about homelessness – which is, after all, what this blog is about – they ended up in the big recycle bin of cyberspace.

One of the comments which I did allow came from a gentleman called Wayne.

There were two distinct sentences in his comment which caught my attention straightaway. The first was:

"I think the care of folks like Major Egan and the inauguration [of] President Obama should both be accomplished with excellence."

And the second:

"… but I would hope that you would have peace about the costs of other critical activities that take place on far larger scales."

Let me address them in reverse order.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Inauguration of President Obama was of immense historic importance – not only here in the U.S., but world wide. However, let me qualify that. The Inauguration itself is what was of historic importance. As for all of the parties and galas afterward: I, for one, would not classify those events as "… critical activities that take place on far larger scales."

I realize that they were part of the celebrations. However, the price tag for those events accounted for quite a sizeable portion of the $170 million spent overall. It seems to me that there was no need to have quite as many parties by half. Of course, that’s my personal opinion.

But moving on…

In particular, there were three words in his comment which jumped out at me: "… accomplished with excellence."

When it comes to how this nation has addressed remedying homelessness, it has yet to be "accomplished with excellence."

If anything, the plight of this nation’s homeless has been severely overlooked. It could even be said that this issue has been ignored with almost deliberate indifference.

To be sure, there are both public and private agencies which provide services to the homeless. And yes, there is government funding made available for those organizations. That funding however is primarily allocated to provide supportive services. There is little or no funding made available for remedial services. Consequently, no genuine headway is being made in significantly reducing the numbers of homeless in our communities.

At first glance, when compared to offering remedial services, providing supportive services appears to be the most economic method of addressing homelessness. It is therefore no surprise that this is approach most often used. However, studies have shown that it is more cost effective to re-house the homeless as quickly as possible. Yet, many communities are still reluctant to use re-housing as a way of addressing homelessness.

Even among those cities which have adopted 10-year plans to end homelessness, supportive services are still the prevalent form of assistance. Admittedly, the 10-year plans themselves are remedial. However, they are primarily aimed at ending chronic homelessness. Unfortunately, nearly 90 percent of the nation’s homeless do not meet the criteria to receive assistance under those plans. They will therefore "fall between the cracks."

Earlier this month, the National Alliance to End Homelessness issued a report, Homelessness Looms as Potential Outcome of Recession.

I found the following statement in the report to be quite alarming:

"Based on estimates of the depth likely to be reached by the current recession, 1.5 million additional Americans are likely to experience homelessness over the next two years, over and above the number who usually become homeless. This means more trauma for children and adults, more dislocation from schools and communities, and more expenses for local shelter systems. It means more people disconnected from the mainstream of America."

Even without the additional 1.5 million Americans who may become homeless, the nation’s shelter systems are already being stretched past their limits. Most of them turn folks away every night.

Men; women; children: none are immune from being informed that there are no beds available for them.

There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever: the Inauguration of President Obama was of enormous historic importance.

That being said however, the day that we’ve done everything necessary to insure that there isn’t one single homeless child in our nation; that will be the day that we can collectively maintain that we’ve accomplished something with excellence.

  1. Skye says:

    Even in the midst of our current economic crisis, we are the richest nation in the world. (or very close to it) I constantly read about downtown areas needing to be revitalized, that there are more and more empty buildings as businesses in the urban areas put harder to access shops, etc. out of business. Now, it seems even major retailers are in trouble. So what are we going to do with all those empty buildings?

    Two and two always make four. Folk do NOT have to be homeless. Or at least they don’t have to be without shelter. As communities we need to step up and use resources and manpower that we already have. Employ the homeless to fix and maintain these buildings, that can become community living centers. Heck… employ veterans… they’d be glad to work and have a place to stay.

    We got where we are as a nation by being resourceful and smart and innovative. We’ve just put our first African-American in office. We are capable of changing and growing. Let the same folk who gave the money for the inaugural festivities give to the betterment of our community and soon there will be a lot fewer homeless on the streets. The workforce is there… they ARE the workforce.

    If we all work together, we can accomplish many things with excellence.

  2. AnAmerican says:

    There is nothing remotely excellent about the way we are addressing homelessness in our country.
    Change is something President Obama seems intent on in many areas. I do hope that the way we care for our homeless can one day be done with excellence ..but for the millions without a home,without food, their needs are immediate.

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