I knew it was going to happen.
Even as I was writing my post, The ‘System’ isn’t broken…, I knew it would cause some folks associated with the Homeless Support Services (HSS) industry to become upset with me. That displeasure manifested itself in the numerous e-mails I received within days after the post was published to the blog.
In that post, I wrote:
"We have to face the facts: the traditional HSS approach doesn’t work.
It didn’t work in the past. It most certainly is not working in the present. And it is highly improbable that it will work in the future."
As a defense, those who e-mailed me cited a list of reasons for their lack of success.
The most common excuse… er… reason cited for their lack of success was a lack of funding. The second was a lack of personnel. And four of the e-mailers went so far as to sickeningly blame their lack of success on the homeless themselves.
Not surprisingly, none of the e-mailers’ were willing to even concede the possibility that their lack of success might perhaps have something to do with HSS methodology.
I sent each one the same reply:
"Thank you for your e-mail.
While I applaud your sincerity, and that of your organization, there is only one true measure of success regarding this social issue: the reduction of homelessness.
As such, I must ask: By what percentage has homelessness been reduced in your community through the efforts of your organization? In other words, are there less homeless in your community; or are their more despite all of your good works?"
I also pointed out that if they made claims of having reduced homelessness in their respective communities, I would do my best to verify the validity of their claims.
As of yet I have not received any return responses. Nor do I expect any.
The reality is that all of the sincerity in the world will not reduce the numbers of homeless if the types of services being offered do not directly lead to helping the homeless become re-housed and attain some level of self-sustainability. And, this is where the traditional HSS method falls short because their primary focus has historically been one of providing only meals and temporary shelter.
But, the blame for this short-coming cannot be place solely on the shoulder of HSS organizations alone. Society shares in that blame because we have continued to fund HSS without requiring any true accountability. We have not sought a return on our investment.
We have been content to allow government to fund these agencies and we have given them our private donations. But we have never really pushed them to implement policies which actually reduce homelessness in our communities. Instead, we have been satisfied with reducing the visibility of homelessness on our city streets.
Then, as the numbers of homeless grows and their visibility increases, we lash out at our city councils, demanding that something be done about "those people."
Local governments, in turn, respond to our complaints by enacting ordinances which prohibit or severely curtail the homeless from performing life-sustaining activities in public places, or by increasing the number of available shelter beds. But this also, does nothing more than reduce the visibility of homelessness until such a time when the numbers increase and there are more homeless then shelter beds – and subsequently the homeless become visible again.
And the vicious cycle continues.
Not only is this financially wasteful, it is inhumane treatment of those members of our communities who are the most vulnerable.
Feeding the homeless and offering them temporary shelter may be a good thing. And it shows that our hearts in are in the right place.
But offering the homeless a "meal and a bed" is diametrically different than providing them with services which actually empower them to become re-housed – and subsequently end their homelessness.
Until such a time that we, as a society, recognize that hiding the homeless is not the same as helping the homeless, homelessness will continue to increase – despite our sincerity.