free housing advocates state that they have the answer. they advocate giving housing to the homeless with no strings attached. they want the homeless to be able to have an apartment, free and simply move in. they contend that all the other problems associated with homelessness could be and probably would be addressed by the homeless themselves if they could only acquire a home. that's an admirable idea and very optimistic to the point of being utopian in nature. but they insist that we only have to create a perpetual welfare state, or maybe i should say greatly expand the one we already have, by allowing the homeless to live in an apartment completely paid for and furnished...by someone. they don't address the problems of alcoholism, drug addiction, lack of employment or any of the other issues that caused the homelessness and will continue after receiving this free apartment. they also don't address the issues and facts surrounding this free housing such as lack of affordable housing, funding for the program or the issue that open ended housing with no exit strategy isn't sustainable. but nevermind those relevant problems, let's just house everyone for free and then we'll work out the details at a later date.
on the other end of the spectrum we have some very respectable organizations that advocate the reverse of that. they state that the problems associated with the homeless such as addiction, alcoholism and other sociological and pathological problems have to addressed first. then they are willing to give supportive housing to those who successfully address these issues. but what they don't state is that the programs associated with addressing those problems are so regimented and so militaristic in alot of cases that an already fragile psyche cannot begin to deal with the programs required. they very sternly take the homeless and the addicted and immediately begin to drill them with the philosophy of religion, clean living, how deviant and low the lifestyle they've been living is to the point of bordering psychological abuse.
somewhere in the middle is everyone else. social service agencies, advocacies and missions and shelters. they too have their own set of answers and their direction they believe will end homelessness. they look into the current mood of politicians, the opinions of the public thru news articles and social media feeds and begin to formulate which direction the winds of public viewpoints are blowing today. they translate their answers and solutions to ending homelessness into dollars and cents and climb on board with the latest popular programs. often their solution to ending homelessness isn't about housing the homeless thru effective, sustainable means but simply acquiring more money, more employees and more resources. that principle translates into business...which usually does not mix well with a social issue as difficult as homelessness.
while i question the accuracy of this statement, a widely accepted dollar amount to house one homeless person in the united states is somewhere around 10 thousand dollars. assuming that's true and accepting the estimate of 650 thousand homeless individuals in the united states, the total cost of housing every homeless person in the united states is approximately 6 to 7 billion dollars. now please consider the fact that the total dollars will grow exponentially under any of the current popular programs because few if any of them address an exit strategy or actually ending the causes of homelessness. however, 7 billion dollars pales in comparison the total expenditure that we have annually on homeless services and social service programs. that number could be conservatively estimated to be at one trillion dollars. think about that for just a second. one trillion dollars and we haven't reduced homelessness in decades.
on the outside looking in are the rest of us. the other 99% of the population. we read the articles and see the social media blips about homelessness. we see the pictures of the homeless and read about their plight in the freezing temperatures during the winter and the scorching heat of the summer. we look for a moment or two at the photo of the homeless child on the streets of our cities, feel a twinge of sympathy, then move on to the next headline. we read the articles about how the homeless are just like you and i and that they're simply normal people down on their luck. every now and then something so outrageous happens that we pause and take note. when a homeless child is murdered in a shelter, when a homeless camper is gunned down by police or when a well known homeless person dies from an overdose, freezes to death on a park bench or is beaten to death by a group of people for no other reason than they are homeless and an easy target, we pause...then move on. we move on to our daily routine of living. we move on to our jobs, plans for the weekend, texting on our iphones, surfing the internet on our laptops, planning our vacations or considering what we will have for dinner tonite with our family. we pop in to starbucks or panera bread in the morning, stop at our favorite spot for lunch and then begin our commute home. while we do this, we pass these homeless people on the street. very often we see these homeless people with our very own eyes, look away...and move on.
i think the answer to the question of why we haven't ended homelessness isn't so much an indictment of any of the programs i mentioned above, but it's more of an indictment of america. i don't think its a coincidence that the tremendous increase in homelessness occurred at the same time we begin to have the great economic, racial, ethnic and opportunity divide in america. the reason that we haven't ended homelessness and allowed it to become such an enormous social problem in this country in reality is quite simple. it's because you and i allow it to happen. we no longer care about our fellow man in this country. we have lost our sense of obligation and compassion to our fellow man and replaced it with a survivalist individualistic type of society. we have lost, not our ability but our willingness to forego others opinions and expert commentaries and help our fellow men and women. like so many aspects of our society we have conceded to the very flawed theory or thought process that there's nothing i can do, or someone, somewhere will help them.
perhaps the more compelling question isn't why we haven't made progress in ending homelessness so much as it is how can i help end homelessness? why is that man homeless? why is that woman sleeping on the street tonite? why is that five year old child without a home? why did that young girl die last nite, alone on the streets of my city?
the more important question i think each of us has to ask is...how can i help you?
see you around town
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