that's the technical definition of homelessness. but if you read the articles, reports, data and debates about the homeless you know that we can't come to a consensus on exactly what homelessness is and what it means. we can't decide who is homeless and who's not. so not having a proper and final consensus on who the homeless are, our estimates of how many homeless people there are in america vary greatly. the estimates swing wildly between 650 thousand and five million people who are homeless in this country depending on what definition you are referring to. i'd like to add alittle more description to it but i'd really start going into an in depth entry about the conditions of the homeless and some of the unacceptable circumstances they exist in. i'd also have to comment on the number of homeless children in this country and the deplorable choices we make by not making them our first priority in housing programs. so i'll defer on that.
besides not having a consensus definition of homeless, we can't even agree on what the best method<S> of combating homelessness is. our system of advocating for the poor and the homeless has given in to the whims of political bickering and party platforms of a very dysfunctional congress and senate. the result is a malfunctioning advocacy system that is complacent enough to go along with programs set down from washington, whether or not they're in the best interest of those that they advocate for. they are so eager and desperate for funding that they will accept and implement programs that are destined to fail, targeted at the wrong individuals or are just not feasible to implement over a protracted period of time. there is a bill pending now in the senate to expand the definition of homelessness for our children. while i do believe this is needed to properly serve and ensure our children have adequate housing, the bill contains no additional funding while adding approximately three million more people to our homeless numbers.
so what exactly defines success when we talk about serving and housing our homeless in this country? how do we quantify or describe or put a meaning to the word success when we are speaking of housing our homeless citizens? i think success isn't defined by our grandiose homeless agencies like usich or hud. i don't think it is personified by the heads of these two agencies. i don't think it is relegated to the grand reports, news articles or speeches by the employees of these agencies and the data they present that states what a wonderful and effective job they are doing serving the homeless and if only they had hundreds of millions of additional dollars how much more effective they would be.
it takes a special kind of person to work with and for the homeless. it takes a particular kind of person to do it for no benefit of their own. there are some extraordinarily good people who work on behalf of the homeless and with the homeless on a volunteer basis. they are the front line, top shelf warriors in the fight against homelessness and they eventually will be one of the major factors that bring about that common goal we all share. their motives, agendas and actions are free from any political, economic, or employment gains or opportunities. they do it out of the goodness of their heart and to help and benefit their fellow man. it also takes a special sort of person to work at a mission or shelter. they have to deal with people under extremely difficult circumstances who are facing the toughest challenge of their life. they are dealing with people being homeless, people with alcohol and drug addiction, anger issues, mental illness, abuse, abandonment and other various issues....under one roof....at one time. for the most part most of the employees at the missions and shelters i'm aware of do a good job providing the relief and help that they should without damaging the fragile emotional state that most homeless people are in at any one given time. that in itself is an accomplishment. the employees and associates of local grass roots organizations do the most effective job with the least amount of money of any of the homeless agencies. they very efficiently and very cost effectively house and serve the homeless with very limited resources. dollar for dollar they are the most valuable piece of the puzzle when it comes to solving homelessness.
what defines success when it comes to serving our homeless? i think more than anything it's individuals who work for these missions, shelters and local organizations and the effort they have put forth today in a very quiet and sincere effort to house the homeless. they don't have to write fancy graphs or charts. they don't have to write an economic policy or long winded entry for review by washington or the politicians who reside there. to them success is the person they assisted today in finding housing and the help they need to overcome whatever issue they are facing that caused their homelessness initially. no extrapolated or skewed figures and a small overhead. no bloated agency and little waste... and yes...it's really that simple. our missions,shelters and local organizations are absolutely critical to the well being of the homeless. without them many homeless would die. women and children would have no place to go. the problems that the homeless need assistance with would not be addressed. the homeless would have noone to turn to on a daily basis. they would be left to fend for themselves.
defining success in helping the homeless is also about you and i and the citizens of our own community. it's an obligation...one that we have to each other as citizens of this country and as fellow human beings. it can only be done by compassion and understanding the basic instilled knowledge that we should indeed bend down to help our fellow man. it can only be done by you and by me and yes...even by those who criticize the poor and homeless. it can only be done by acts of kindness and generosity and by the helping hands of people like you. if we wait for the senate and congress to do it, in another fifty years someone else will be writing about it and arguing the issue, all while the poor continue to suffer and bear the consequences of a nation whose priorities are not focused on their fellow human beings. we have to look beyond the names and political agendas and popular trends and get back to the very basics of human understanding and caring principles that made our country great to begin with.
the american people can be fickle. they can have a very short memory. they can also be very unemotional and unforgiving when they see what they perceive as someone getting something for nothing. when they see something draining money from the tax system, especially during hard economic times, they can be very judgmental and they can begin to question the validity of the programs, especially those created to help the poor and the homeless. success would mean that we all stay vigilant and hold homeless agencies accountable for their lofty promises and the goals that just never seem to be met. we need to hold them accountable for the money they spend versus the number of homeless they house. we also to make sure of something else....we need to make sure we hold them accountable for the homeless that are still on the street despite their self serving reports of how much progress they have made. we need to make sure they hear that quiet voice of someone in need, whether it be the homeless, those struggling with keeping their families fed or the young girl or boy who live in poverty and watch their parents struggle to feed them every day.
we are surrounded with people less fortunate than us every day. we could help, but often are too busy with our own thoughts and our own day to day living. we need to help in defining the word success and stop and be aware and become actively involved in helping the homeless. whether it be a direct action or supporting your local mission, shelter, grassroots homeless agency or a food pantry, we all need to become part of the collective definition of what success in fighting homelessness is. by doing this, we will also help the homeless to once again recognize what success is and what meaning it can have for them
see you around town