with our intricate and often redundant data gathering and analysis of the homeless i have to ask why we haven't been able to reduce homelessness. why after forty or more years do we still have the issue of homelessness confronting us? i wish i could take you with me for an extended period of time to be among the homeless. i wish you could witness firsthand what i have witnessed. i would like for you to be able to speak with the homeless as one of them. i would like for you to be able to walk among them and listen and watch. i think if you did and then read the articles, debates, discussions and reports the homeless agencies put forth, you'd know the answer to the question...why?
we haven't reduced homelessness because our advocacy system and the agencies responsible for assisting and aiding the homeless are not being honest. they are not being honest with themselves, with you or with the homeless. we have not successfully reduced homelesssness. we may have been successful in segmenting the homeless into different groups and then spending an inordinate amount of money to reduce that very small <often as small as 1% of the total homeless population> and then declaring that we have reduced homelessness and now know how to end it. a good example of this very faulty logic is the group they have named the chronically homeless veterans.
in order to reduce homelessness and effectively end it, we have to very blunt about what we're dealing with. while the media and some advocates have spent alot of time writing stories and putting forth pictures that make it seem the homeless are normal people going thru a difficult time and they are just like you, that is not the case. these same advocates and well meaning people have been successful enough with the media push to convince you that the homeless are just you and me on a bad day, that we have almost become immune to homelessness and the cold reality of exactly what it is, what it entails, what caused it and what continues to baffle any effort to successfully reduce it. there are some people that are homeless due to no fault of their own. the mentally ill are in this category. this is one group of the homeless that i will say should be given a home. an exerted effort should be made to rescue the mentally ill from the streets, from missions and shelters that are ill equipped to deal with them and they should be given housing. having said that....the remainder of the homeless are usually homeless for a reason. and it's probably not the reason that you see over and over again in todays homeless news feeds, on websites and on other homeless advocacy pages.
drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling and other vices and addictions usually are at the core of the reasons that people experience homelessness. while it may have not been the catalyst that actually caused the person to become homeless on any given day, it is usually the root cause that led up to that catalyst. causes and catalysts are quite different. the disabled, if they're homeless, also are victims of one or more of these. if not, they probably wouldn't be homeless since the disabled are entitled to and usually have a disability check and could get section 8 or supportive housing. if they have been homeless for an extended period of time, you can almost be assured that a drinking, a drug, or a gambling problem is part of the reason. the unemployed who have become homeless usually transition out fairly quickly. during the recession it was abit more difficult, but they still transition out of homelessness. if they remain unemployed or if they are working and are still homeless, then again, you can almost be assured one or more of the problems exist with them also. women who become victims of domestic abuse or their spouses have left them, usually are indirect victims of the same alcoholism, drug addictions or other pathologies. i think we should rehouse these women, especially those with children until their situation can become stable and they find a new direction to follow.
so now we come to this....what do you do with 600-800 thousand homeless people? what do you do with that many people who live in missions, shelters or on the streets. do we give them all free housing? if you speak of the chronically homeless, you have to speak of this amount of people because that is the number that remains constant thru the years when dealing with the homeless. do we say to 700 thousand people, here...we will give you houses with no strings attached. you really don't have to do anything except live there. if you do drugs...it's ok....continue on. if you drink...go ahead...stock your fridge up. if you gamble....good luck. if you do two or more of these....bless you...at least you can do it in your own apartment. i know this sounds ridiculous, but that is exactly what free housing says and exactly what free housing with no strings attached is. i think it is a very, very faulty and dangerous program.
i think it's faulty because very few people will actually end up with free housing. let's face it, we are not going to house 700 thousand homeless people in free housing at a cost of 8-10 billion dollars annually. and if you do, what do you do with the "new' homeless that come along every year. do you continue to give them free housing also, further ballooning the cost? you see, free housing is an open ended program that will continue to grow in costs and in units needed to house the homeless. it's a no win program that cannot be sustained. it is a noble and a very compassionate program, but a program that is doomed to fail. and that is where it becomes dangerous. when it does fail and is recognized as such, it will be defunded, as it has been in the past. it will fail because of the very, very low number of people that will actually transition out, due to their addictions or alcoholism. when the lack of transition successes is noticed, then you will have a funding problem. it's inevitable. then you are faced with telling a formerly homeless person that his free housing has been taken away and he or she is about to become homeless again. can you imagine what that would be like?
so if housing first, free housing or whatever name you want to tag it with isn't the answer, then what is? bluntly....there is no answer. the homeless are here to stay. we can reduce it significantly with employment and treatment for their addictions. yes...absolutely you have to get them to get treatment for their addictions. if not, they will become homeless again. but employment is the answer. self sufficiency and a sense of responsibility for one's self is the answer to ending homelessness. just as welfare and other social programs have not been the answer to ending poverty, neither will it be the answer to ending homelessness. only when we stop accepting homelessness, the homeless and attempting to "normalize" it will it become an issue we can all work to end. only then can we all head in the right direction and reintegrate and retrain and reemploy the homeless and set them on a path back into society. only then can we all target our resources and our efforts into something that will not only reduce homelessness but it will do what is the ultimate goal in the fight against homelessness. it will renew the individual and cause them to regain a place in life. the missions have known this all along. that's why the more successful missions are reluctant to take any state or federal money, if they do at all, because they know what that means. at that point they have to stop fighting the good fight and the only real successful fight against homelessness, and be hijacked by a system that insists on following programs that they know won't work in the long term.
at this time last year, i was reading how homelessness among vets would be ended by this year. i was also reading how the chronically homeless would be housed in short order. i was also reading how homelessness was being successfully reduced and the answer had been found. today....i am reading that chronic homelessness will be ended NEXT year. homelessness among vets is now going to be ended by 2015...or maybe 2016. homelessness....well....it has increased and is spiraling out of control in cities like new york, washington dc, the state of indiana, san diego, san francisco, chicago, detroit and many, many, many more. all this while another brutal winter by all accounts is bearing down on us.
it's time to face realities and recognize who the homeless are. it's time to be honest with what we're dealing with and exactly what kind of battle we are fighting. we must keep our compassion and our willingness to help, but we also must keep our common sense and sense of reality. if we lose any of these, we will continue to get the results we have in the past....which haven't been much.
god bless the homeless this winter. i hope the missions and shelters are prepared again this winter. i hope noone dies in the cold because we have been ineffective at dealing with the issues. i hope next winter we aren't still having this conversation.
see you around town