Toward the end of February I wrote a post titled, Homelessness Doesn’t Define A Person’s Character."
In it, I pointed out that homelessness is a socio-economic condition and not a character trait – and occurs when a person can no longer afford to maintain housing.
Furthermore, despite what some of the general population believe, just because a person is homeless, it doesn’t necessarily make them a "bum." Nor does it make them a person of base moral character.
Unfortunately the homeless are among the most marginalized of this nation’s citizens. Consequently, they are also among the most victimized by some of the so-called "pillars of the community."
Yesterday while reading through the news online, I came across an article in the Washington Post. It was about a homeless shelter for families in Washington D.C. that is administered by an organization called Family Forward. And what the story reported left me with the most disgusting, gut-wrenching feeling I’ve had in quite some time. It made me extremely angry, as well.
According the article,
"… several employees of the nonprofit agency solicited and had sex with female residents."
Please note the use of the word "solicited" in that sentence because it indicates a deliberate act of victimization.
In an e-mail sent to D.C. Mayor, Adrian M. Fenty, by a resident of the shelter, along with her three daughters, said that,
"… she rebuffed the advances of a Families Forward employee who invited her to a club and said she could stay overnight at his home. Other men on the staff offered small favors in exchange for sex with homeless female residents."
That type of egregious and predatory behavior – particularly when demonstrated by those who are supposed to be providing a safe haven for the homeless – is utterly indefensible.
It is a terrible thing to be homeless, living out on the streets, and having to be concerned for one’s well-being. It is equally terrible to have to worry about one’s safety within a shelter. Worse yet, is the having to choose between the perceived lesser of two evils.
Let me make this absolutely clear: I am not attributing the actions of a handful of staff members of Family Forward to every person who works or volunteers for a homeless support services organization.
I am more than well aware that the overwhelming majority of folks who help provide services to the homeless are basically decent and caring people. They are sincerely trying to make a positive change in the lives of those who are without housing. Day in and day out, they are the ones who are on the front lines, fighting an uphill battle. And I, for one, applaud their efforts.
Nonetheless, it is the actions of a select few – like those Family Forward staff members who committed those despicable acts of sexual misconduct – that make the headlines, giving homeless support services organizations the proverbial black eye. What is more, it is those kinds of headlines that lead to the types of "horror stories" which, in turn, cause many of the homeless to recoil from wanting to stay in shelters, preferring rather to take their chances out on the streets.
I’m realistic enough to know that homelessness is a complex social issue for which there are no quick or easy solutions. Still, that doesn’t exempt us from the moral obligation of providing our nation’s homeless with effective – and safe – assistive services.
Shelters may offer temporary and immediate relief for those who find themselves on the streets. However, the only true remedy is to provide the types of services which lead to permanent re-housing as quickly as possible.
Not only is rapid re-housing of the homeless the most fiscally responsible way of addressing the issue (as shown by a recent report released by HUD this past week), it is the more humane approach as well. Furthermore, it also reduces the potential of the continued predation and victimization of the homeless.