Might as well get this particular ugly truth out of the way right at the beginning. There are some homeless people, a very few homeless people, who have never needed help from a homeless service provider. They lived in their car for a couple weeks, hung out with friends who gave them food, money, a job connection, etc, and they were back off the streets in short order. With such people I question whether their stint as a homeless person was even necessary. I’m not even sure they qualify for the moniker “homeless.” But, I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about truly homeless, homeless people. Hanging out with homeless people does not make you homeless.
Eventually, all homeless people will need help from homeless service providers. And all service providers insist on qualifying a person before giving him/her any services. And that’s the rub. You can’t just walk up to the front desk at a shelter, tell them what you need, and expect them to just hand it over. That’s not how they operate.
When you approach a service provider for help for the first time, and often every time, you will be grilled on a set of questions supposedly designed to determine your actual need. At some places, they can talk to you right away, but often you will have to set an appointment with an assessment team member. That means you’ll have to wait anywhere from a half a day, to a couple days for a meeting.
Now, about those qualifications. Organizations, especially those receiving government funding, are under a lot of pressure to be good stewards of the resources they have. So, they have many committee and board meetings to decide how they will decide what kind of help they will give to the homeless, and just who will get that help. Sadly, these meetings usually focus more on what the people in these organizations want to give the homeless, and what they think the homeless deserve, and less on what the homeless actually need to survive, and escape, homelessness. Added to this problem is the fact that there is no comprehensive service available. Homeless people have to go to one place for one service, to another place for something else. And, this forces homeless people to play one organization against another.
What the many different organizations come up with as qualifications for services do not jive with the qualifications set by other organizations. And no attempt is made to synchronize them. What may qualify a person for services at one organization may disqualify him/her at another.
So, it happens, that to get all the services a person needs to survive homelessness, a person must first determine what all the different qualifications for services are at the different homeless service providers, and provide the expected answers, and not necessarily the truth. And that goes for everything, shelter, food, clothing, medical care, job training, job referal, etc.
Finding out all this information about each service provider takes time and effort, and the ability to tell a lie. So, please, for those of you who offer advice to homeless people about where to get help, (cause you don’t want to give to their panhandling request) please know that there is more to receiving help than just asking for it.