The Problem With Homelessness Is Clear

Don Worrell, director of the Nashville Rescue Mission makes it clear, although unknowingly, what the problem is, why we can’t ever seem to find a solution to homelessness in Nashville.

Nashville Public Radio did a piece recently on Housing First.

Housing First is the HUD developed and sponsored program that gets people out of homelessness better, and faster and more successfully than anything tried previously. Housing First turns the tables on traditional thinking about ending homelessness. Instead of waiting until a homeless person fixes all the problems of his life before allowing him into a home, Housing First gets homeless people into small apartments immediately. The great and obvious benefit is that by having a place off the streets in which to live, the homeless person can better address the problems of his life. It’s nearly impossible to take care of all the issues a homeless person has, while they are still on the streets. But, this is how the director of the “rescue” mission here puts it:

“I don’t believe housing is a right. I believe housing is a privilege.”

That’s great, Don is entitled to his opinion, except for one small thing. Homelessness is NOT an issue of rights and privileges, it is an issue of people suffering. And the industry set up to help the homeless should address, and work towards alleviating, that suffering. The homelessness industry should help people who are on the streets to achieve some normalcy in life. There is nothing “normal” about life at a rescue mission. By adopting a philosophy that even the most nominal housing is a “privilege,” they are needlessly prolonging homeless people’s suffering. It is implied in the policies of the rescue mission, that they would rather a person stay homeless and attending their mandatory religious services, than to find a way off the streets without converting to Christianity.

Having lived homeless and at the rescue mission for many years, and knowing Don personally for nearly as long, I can attest to the fact that the rescue mission isn’t focused on ending homelessness, but on making religious converts. Policies at the rescue mission dictate that any rehab program that does not focus on Christianity as the cure-all for people’s problems, should be discouraged if not completely disallowed.

People’s response to homeless people should not be based on a judgement of “priviledge,” but on finding cures to what ails homeless people. Truly, for the leader of a supposed “Christian” organization to pass so much judgement on others is perplexing. Yes, the rescue mission has a “program” for helping people. It consists primarily of religious indoctrination. Of the 1000 people the mission beds each night, and of perhaps 6 or 7 thousand different souls who seek out help from that rescue mission during any given year, only a very small fraction of those people actually attend and complete the mission’s rehab program. It should also be noted that the majority of those people who attend that rehab program fall back into homelessness in a very short time. After allowing rescue missions to shelter and preach to the homeless for all these years, people should be expecting rescue missions to do more than be a place to store the homeless during the night. Rescue missions should be held accountable to the cities for which they say they serve.

Don Worrell has a lot of influence in Nashville, politically and otherwise. I’m certain that much of the reason why Housing First has not caught on in Nashville is because he has poo-pooed on it.

Rescue missions have been around for many many decades, and they have been proven effective at getting people food and a bed for the night, but they have failed miserably at actually ending homelessness. It’s time to try some new and proven techniques. Housing First is one.

Lastly, Don Worrell was quoted in the article as saying: “I have a problem when I’m subsidizing your addiction, when I’m subsidizing your alcoholism.”

Know this, most rescue missions in the country have a strict policy against allowing intoxicated people into their shelters. But, the Nashville Rescue Mission has no restrictions against intoxicated people staying at the facility. Also, most rescue missions have a time limit on how long a person can stay. Limits usually run from around 6 months to as little as 3 days. At the Nashville Rescue Mission there is no time limit. Some homeless people have been living there for 20 to 30 years. I would say that these policies are in essence “subsidizing addictions and alcoholism.” If any thing was truly “enabling” homelessness, it would be the Nashville Rescue Mission.

Another WPLN article about Housing First at Housing First


About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless
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