Thursday, March 10, 2016

Society and the End of Homelessness

In many cities of the US, the homeless are obvious.  They can’t be hidden, there aren’t enough services or shelters to keep them from the public eye.  They are a part of our landscape.  However, this is unacceptable.  It might be upsetting because it stirs one’s pity, perhaps because it is a display of the failure of our society.  Or it might be upsetting because these homeless are failures to themselves and to their society and they are now littering up the landscape with their own persons.
In determining what, as a city or a society, we are to do with the homeless, we need to remember a few things. 

·         First, that no homeless person chose homelessness as a long term lifestyle.  Some people like camping, but a lifestyle of camping, especially in winter, is only for a few rugged individuals that the far majority of homeless do have the resources or temperament to endure.   

·         The term “transient” is a misnomer. Most homeless do not move around, but they stay in the place where they were living when they became homeless, especially if it is their hometown where they grew up.

·         Addiction, criminal behavior and severe mental illness among the homeless is, more often than not, a result of chronic homelessness, not a cause of it.  Most homelessness is caused by the loss of a job, eviction, abuse or broken relationships.

The “homeless problem” is not the homeless themselves.  The problem is that society is of multiple mindsets about the homeless, and so the solution to homeless individuals evades us.   The general attitude that the homeless need to pick themselves up and solve their own problem is impractical, especially as long as society increases punishment on people for being without a space to live.  If camping is made illegal, if the homeless are forced to regularly move, if they are forced to have police contact multiple times a week for just being in a space, if they are ticketed for sleeping, then they are living as if they are in an abusive relationship with society.  They will never succeed to escaping their place, even if they will want to.  And why would they want to?  To accept their place in society is to admit that their treatment in society is correct. 

What can we as society agree on?  That we want the homeless to live inside, have a job, pull their own weight.  Why hasn’t this happened?  Because for every hand offered out to the homeless to help them, there are five that slap them down through bureaucracy, tickets, high rent, background checks and stress that leads to depression and despair.

There is no one step paths out of homelessness.  One can’t just “get a job” and so escape their economic collapse.  To get the homeless off the street is a complex set of opportunities, helps and encouragement to self-sustainability that requires a society’s will to be focused clearly on this accomplishment.  This is especially when society as a whole is constantly affirming their own self-fulfilling prophecy that the homeless are failures who can never amount to anything when they see program after program fail on their own without support from other programs.

After helping the homeless get off the street through a variety of means the last twenty years, I have seen that there is a minimum of programs that must be offered in order for the homeless to successfully get off the street.

1.       A political voice
Before any solutions are made for a minority group (whether racial or economic), that group must be listened to for any solution to be successful.  Every group must take ownership of any solution for them to buy into the solution.  The easiest way for a group to buy into a solution is to be the main part of forming the solution.  In every level of political solutions to homelessness, the homeless must be involved.

2.       Safety
The major issue that a homeless person has to endure everyday are issues that most housed people consider only briefly—How will I eat?  How will I keep my possessions secure?  How will I keep my person safe?   How will I be able to sleep without being disturbed?  These questions, focused on survival, cause the homeless person to not thrive.  If they are solved, they can then focus on the next economic levels.  Some solutions for this are 24-hour shelters, community living (like organized camps), or a combination of day shelters and overnight shelters.

3.       Self-reliant relief
To help the homeless deal with their survival issues, community centers can be provided to help.  However, the community centers don’t have to be giving centers.  Instead of providing cooked food, a center can provide a kitchen for one to cook food obtained from EBT cards.   Instead of giving sleeping bags or clothes, there can be an exchange program or work-for-help.   Homeless camps can be provided with trash bags and pick ups to keep their camps clean.

4.       Support network
Even if a homeless person obtains a job and a home, they need a network of people to assist them when crises happen.  If a person lives in their car a hundred dollar car repair can cause a person to lose their home.  If a person has a tent stolen from them, they are in crisis.  Support groups, especially over social media, can be developed to assist the homeless in moments of crisis.  They can also provide necessary transportation, contacts and relationships to survival.

5.       Crisis management/counselling
The homeless, by necessity, develop a moment-by-moment focus.  However, to thrive in our society we must be more forward thinking, planning for the inevitabilities of the future and setting goals and plans in place.  To be assisted to switch one’s focus, trusted counselors, possibly of the ranks or formerly of the ranks of the homeless, are necessary to help one survive in this world.

6.       Flexible housing
Housing, of course, is a main component to escape homelessness.  It could be an apartment, a shelter or a transitional housing.  But the housing must be flexible enough to actually survive in real-life society.   When one gets a job, it will often be outside normal shelter hours, often legitimate survival activity cannot be limited to certain hours and curfews.  Any housing, to be successful must take the needs of the individual into account.

7.       Job opportunities
A person without an address is not offered a job which would be enough for them to survive.  To obtain a job, one must have an address, a resume, a work history, and references.  The best programs provide these for the homeless so they can get a job, which is the best means to economic survival in our society.

A multi-faceted approach must be seriously established if homelessness is to be seen as a means to a solution, and not just the end of one’s economic life.


Trena Sutton said...

This is so needed! People having to live on the streets and in camps are having to endure often loud insensitive people both living on the streets and in housing. Restful sleep is a luxury and very rare. Sleep deprivation is a killer in more ways than one. A homeless person feels trapped with no other place to go. Solutions must be found and quickly!

lonevet said...

Well said my friend, I look forward to us working together some way.