Is it just me? Or does it seem paradoxical to anyone else that there are those who are employed and have housing only because there are folks who are homeless?
Even more staggering to me is that homeless support services (HSS) in the U.S. — something which started out with altruistic, well-meaning intentions — has become little more than big business. It is a multi-billion dollar industry annually. Sadly, it has also become quite bureaucratic in its own right.
I have yet to come across any definitive numbers regarding how many people are directly employed by the HSS industry nationwide. But it could easily reach into the tens-of-thousands or more. Then there are all of the people and companies who do business with HSS in any given community.
To put it bluntly: there is an entire micro-economy that revolves around the HSS industry. And for me, that raises a number of questions. Chief among them is: Is the HSS industry genuinely interested in solving homelessness?
It may seem unfair of me to ask that question. Nonetheless it has occurred to me that solving homelessness sets up a conflict of interest for the HSS industry. After all, if there were no homeless there would be no need for HSS to exist. It follows then, if HSS did manage to end homelessness, they would be putting themselves out of business. And let’s face it, no sane person wants to be so successful at what they do that they put themselves out of a job — especially during harsh economic times such as our nation is currently experiencing.
Don’t misunderstand me. I certainly do not believe — nor am I making allusions — that the average HSS employee is making money hand over fist. I have a number of friends who work in the HSS industry and they’re struggling to make ends meet like everyone else. Also, please take note: I am not asserting that HSS employees are refraining from solving homelessness as a matter of self-interest. Again, I point to those of my friends who work for HSS. They are caring, compassionate people who would dearly love to see the numbers of homeless be significantly reduced in their community. But their hands are tied as far as what they are able to do.
And why is this?
Because of the "head honchos" of the HSS industry.
You know who I’m talking about. They are the top of the proverbial food-chain. They are the ones who have the final say as to what types of services are offered to the homeless and to what extent. They are the ones who make and implement HSS policy — which, as a consequence, has created the ensuing bureaucracy. And, unlike the average HSS employee, they aren’t earning minimum wage. In fact, based on the some of the research I’ve done, some of them are making rather hefty annual salaries.
Unfortunately, as is so often true, they are also the ones who are the furthest removed from knowing what is happening at "ground level." As a result, they are more concerned with the overall aggregate numbers of people fed and sheltered than they are with how many folks their organizations assist escaping homelessness and becoming re-housed.
What it comes down to is this: they are overly focused on the quantity of services they offer than they are with the quality of solutions they provide.
Their typical reaction to the homeless situation in their communities is invariably the same: increasing the numbers of beds and meals served. For some odd reason, seldom do they think along the lines of implementing programs that genuinely help the homeless attain some measure of self-sustainability. As such, the final outcome turns out to be nothing more than "business as usual" — except on a larger, more expensive scale.
But ultimately what happens is the lack of progress at reducing the numbers of homeless across the nation.
Over the last few years, most of Americans have grown weary hearing about stimulus packages and/or the need to bailout big businesses at taxpayer’s expense — especially when we hear about top executives of those same businesses receiving millions of dollars in bonuses while the rest of us are living hand to mouth. The usual excuse given to the American people for bailing these corporations out is that they are "too big to fail."
It’s an interesting turn of phrase: too big to fail.
But, as that phrase pertains to the HSS industry, I don’t think it’s become "too big to fail."
Instead, I think it may have become too big to succeed.