A Practical Look At Homelessness

 I’ve come perilously close to being homeless on more than one occasion. It’s a terrifying prospect.
The problem is that there are so many different and sometimes dissimilar reasons that people are homeless. Homelessness rises and falls with fluctuations in the economic conditions of nations and often with political and social changes such as war and the weakening of family and community bonds. That being said, homelessness increases are often an indicator of marginal living as even the poorest families that do not suffer from wasteful living can usually weather economic and social problems without their members becoming homeless.

 No one is to blame and no one gets a pass

I think that the first thing one has to do when contemplating reasons and actions to remedy homelessness is to forget dividing people into those who have themselves to blame and those who are victims of someone, something, or some circumstance. Reducing all seeming problems to their lowest element will invariably lead to the conclusion that, “no one is to blame for being homeless or for anything else really”. We are all a product of the only two shapers of fortune known to mankind, genetics and environment. Given the same mix of both, anyone would be homeless and anyone would be well appointed. This means the victim allowance has to go and the ‘they brought it on themselves’ judgment has to go.

 TYPES OF HOMELESSNESS

Now why are people homeless, and is it something that can be eradicated? First a very basic division of homeless people could be those who are chronically homeless, those who are periodically homeless, and those who are very occasionally homeless.

CHRONICALLY HOMELESS

Chronic homeless people would be people who have been homeless for a long period of time or who, after being helped to regain housing are quickly homeless again.

 Periodically Homeless

The ‘Periodically Homeless’ are folks who have shelter most of the time (such as rent by the week hotels) but one missed check, one broken vehicle, one emergency expense, one mugging will put them back on the street till more funds can be raised.

 Occasionally Homeless

‘Occasionally Homeless’ folks are those that are generally able to fend for themselves but lack the acquired ability or the familial support system to safeguard against the extreme ‘outrageous arrows of fortune’.

 Reasons and outlooks

The Chronically homeless seem to me to be the biggest challenge and probably have the least chance of being remedied of the condition of homelessness. They include people damaged severely by some event or a compilation of events, complicated by addiction or long term mental illness, who on their own will never regain housing or maintain same without support. In essence being homeless is not the real problem but a dangerous symptom. Oddly, worldwide the percentages of chronically homeless do not vary a lot between nations with the same approximate per capita GDP. Regardless of whether they are an extensive social welfare state or a free wheeling capitalistic society with little or no governmental social safety net, the percentage of people homeless is remarkably similar. Even though the statement, ‘they choose homelessness’ raises the hackles of homeless ‘advocates’ the very real possibility that many choose homelessness over doing the things that prevent homelessness can not be discounted. In an age in which most of the industrial world’s population has a permanent roof over their heads and an address many of these homeless appear doomed and tragic. In a world in which instability is the norm (maybe the future here) then this same segment of the population could well be the mentors and the leaders due to their ability to survive off the grid (so to speak) and on the streets. The chronic homeless have so many varying needs and such a varying hierarchy of needs that I don’t know that they can be dealt with in a group basis. Temporary shelters, day shelters, addiction treatment programs, mental health services, soup kitchens, mass shelters all help alleviate the suffering but I doubt that they have much impact on eliminating chronic homelessness. That doesn’t mean that such programs and structures should not exist but simply that such programs and structures should probably be discounted as means of preventing homelessness as the main objective and instead concentrate on mitigating the suffering. Priming the pump is a good strategy for getting water when the well isn’t dry but when it is the water is best used to quench the thirst of those depending on the well.
The periodically homeless seem to me to be those that stand the better chance of being helped out of the cycle of poverty into which they find themselves. Like any group they are not monolithic and can not all be treated as one group. I think the best way to assist folks like this is to determine the root cause of their net income ‘marginality’.Why don’t they have money to get into an inexpensive housing situation and keep the rent paid or the mortgage paid?
Is it an addiction severe enough to reduce their ability to work to below the margin that is needed to maintain a steady income?
Is it very bad money management fueled by instant gratification?
Are they ill or feeble in body?
Is it attitude?
Have they created a family with more children than which the working adults in that family can possibly care?
Have they been dealt a severe emotional or physical trauma which would require some time to heal but not had that time afforded to them?
I think again a case by case understanding has to develop and I think that different folks can help with different kinds of needs. Maybe we should make an inventory of what we have to offer short term, long term, and even indefinitely to assist and then look for those folks who could benefit from one or all of our offerings. However the logistics of doing this are monstrous. Who will do the intake? How do we mesh our resources with others? Then there is the huge issue of safety and liability. Helping someone in any manner carries great risk in both a physical and legal way.
Then the category of the occasional homeless. These are people that seem to self-destruct or fall below the margin a few times in their lives. They could often benefit from better life habits but sometimes circumstance wipes the slate clean completely. I think that the numbers of these folks are climbing due to the disintegration of the American family. At one time relatives could bridge the gap between one phase of life now gone and the new one. More families are stressed to the max by the burdens of consumer needs and/or wants. There is a general lessened familial pride and less of the harsh ‘in house’ course correction that once characterized the family unit. Familial support, fiscal and emotional, is hampered by the unstable family conditions. Sometimes other people in the similar predicament can help each other in lieu of family. Often the Church can serve as an extended family and help out. While this homeless group is probably the easiest to assist it is also the group least likely to require assistance to recover and the group most likely to ‘self cure’.

 SO AFTER ALL IS SAID, WHAT CAN WE DO?

I have some ideas if you are interested. However in short I think that any help has to be on a one to one basis and has to be a long term commitment. Helping mitigate the suffering is also a good thing but one should not expect to help ‘solve the problem’ of homelessness by doing so.
I will put forth my primary suggestion to mitigate homelessness and that is to help prevent homelessness from happening.
 1 – Try to help people develop strong families and healthy friendships.
Stress that they need to stay in touch with their family. Stress that they need to help their own family as sometimes being needed is a great aid for being self sufficient. (don’t ask me why or how that works, I just know it does)Help them be better friends to others and build stronger real friendship ties that include checking on friends, assisting friends with tasks and not just having friends for common recreational events.
 2 – Watch for developing signs of future homeless incidents…
…and be the bastard or b*tch that interferes and makes suggestions such as , “You gotta stop spending all your money on entertainment…let’s do something together cheap”. “Why are you drinking so much? STOP IT or you will lose friends, family, job etc”
 3 – Help people out of the poverty trap after they get caught in it.
If they are living in a rent by the week place for $250.00 a week and you know they make $500.00 a week help them raise the money to get into an apartment for $500.00 a month and get their power turned on. Loan them the money if you can. Call on other friends to help if you can. Going from a week to week living arrangement to a month to month with a lease arrangement is a huge step towards shelter security.
 4 – If they require a vehicle to work and have no credit then help them find a ‘beater car’ to buy for cash and help them get it legal.
Keep an eye and ear out for people who have cheap vehicles for sale. Try to talk them out of “Buy here, Pay Here” lots. They sell vehicles that are ready for the scrap heap and WILL require extensive repairs (well likely will) and still charge as much or more than a regular car note. Keep a list of shade tree mechanics, places that sell good used tires or have periodic new tire sales. Get em mobile without breaking them.
 5 – When someone is on the verge of losing the roof over their heads, maybe let them.
 Then help them find a place to crash while they rebuild or adjust.
If they are ashamed to turn to family then do it for them. Make contact for them (sure you may be hated for not minding your own business but be brave and step in if you can) Help smooth out family differences and stay on the person afterwards to make repayment to their family if requested and to stay in touch.
 6 – Prime the pump when someone is going through tough times and on the verge
…BUT know you will likely never get the money back. HOWEVER try to get it back and reinvest it in someone else. It is said that the surest way to lose a friend is to loan them money. Even if you forgive the debt then the friend to whom you loaned the money will feel ashamed, lessened in your eyes and very possibly withdraw from the friendship. If you can prevent this then you can keep a friend and help that friend maintain much needed connection to society.
 7 – Government is NOT the answer, we are.
None of the above suggestions involve government or social services. They involve just plain folks. Some of them are quite difficult and, I grant you, in some cases a little dangerous. I don’t think government programs or social service programs are very effective in solving the problem of unwilling homelessness. I do think private charitable programs are worth our financial contribution because they alleviate suffering, albeit temporarily. The real solution to homelessness involves individuals doing difficult tasks and giving of their own resources when they can.

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