Drawing Conclusions

Posted: February 13, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Compassion, Goals, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Money, Morality

I love it when I’ve put forth an idea or premise and then someone else eventually comes to the same conclusion.

Case in point…

Almost since I began authoring this blog, I’ve been expressing my opinion that homeless shelters are not the panacea for homelessness. My reasoning has been that the shelter systems in this nation operate primarily using "soup kitchen" methodologies – and therefore do not provide the types of assistance needed to escape homelessness. In addition, I’ve maintained that the only effective remedy for helping folks off the streets is to assist them with becoming housed members of the community. Moreover, I’ve made assertions that it is far more cost effective to help provide permanent housing for the homeless than it is to offer only "emergency" or "supportive" services.  

Having said all that, I was thrilled to read an article in The St. Augustine Record yesterday which had the title: Council: Shelters not the answer for homeless.

The first sentence pretty much said it all:

"A committee of St. Johns County’s business, community, law enforcement and social service leaders met Tuesday and agreed to attempt a new way to diminish the number of homeless people here — give them a place to live."

What I thought was great about it is that it involved everyone – not just one or two homeless advocacy groups. Members from every segment of that Floridian community were represented: businesses, private citizens, local law enforcement, and so on.

What was the most telling, however, is that they had come to the agreement that they needed a "new way" of trying to remedy homelessness in their community. Such an agreement could only have been drawn from one inescapable conclusion: the traditional approach to dealing with homelessness wasn’t working.

Quoting Michael German, a Regional Coordinator Team Leader at the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the article pointed out that:

"… shelters are more expensive than just building or buying a place for homeless individuals to live.

The key is not building more shelters but more housing, even just small apartments or rooms, and hooking them up with available state and federal services such as Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps, veteran’s benefits or veteran’s health care.

The homeless don’t want a pill or a program. They want a place to stay."

During times of national economic prosperity, getting the most value for each taxpayer dollar spent just makes good business sense. Right now, however, with our nation in a recession, getting the absolute best value for taxpayer dollars is more than just being fiscally responsible – it’s a necessity.

Back in December 2007, I published a post called: A Steep Price. Toward the end of it I wrote these words:

"Unless we change our focus, we’re going to wake up some morning and find that the numbers of homeless in our country have grown to beyond the ability for us to make a difference. At which point, it will actually cost us more, not only in time and money, but in social conscience and moral integrity.

One way or another we’re going to find that homelessness is going to cost us: we can pay now – while we can afford it, or wait until sometime in the future when it may cost us everything as a nation."

Thankfully, St. Augustine, FL has been able to shift its focus away from the "old school" method of addressing homelessness. The willingness to think "outside the box" gives them a greater potential for success. Equally important is that the community – rather than just a select few – is working together to find an effective solution.

In the long run, their investment in programs to help house their homeless will be more cost effective, not only in terms of taxpayer dollars, but in terms of human suffering as well. But, perhaps most importantly, it will provide for the social healing of their community.

I wish them success.

  1. Skye says:

    I pray that other communities will also catch on to this.

  2. Pete says:

    Where I live, the city has started helping homeless find a place to live. Mostly they’re old hotel type of buildings but its working. I think that there’s even plans to put up some one room apartments for them.

  3. mary says:

    I am at library and just spoke to a homeless guy who is staying at Long Beach’s Winter Shelter. He said the lines are so long “140 people” get turned away. The city is redeveloping, tearing down what were once affordable apartment buildings and replacing them with expense tall tower condos. I like Pete’s city’s solution.

  4. I would caution against an approach that focuses only on housing (e.g., just throwing someone into an apartment with no skills to maintain it, pay bills, etc.), but I wholeheartedly agree that our current system still allows far too many individuals to be turned away. Housing is a hugely important piece of the equation.

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