Things are most definitely changing in the homeless service provider industry. Even those who are reluctant to change are reconsidering how they provide their services. Evidence is mounting that some approaches to homelessness are better than others. There is new hope for homeless people.
Of course many obstacles still remain in the way, obstacles that slowly but surely will be removed, or lessened, as progress continues to be made. Public sentiment is perhaps the biggest obstacle, considering that, as the public thinks, so do politicians act. And most often it is the politicians who control the purse strings of the city. Making changes to social services is expensive and requires significant funding. Of course the investment in the new programs for the homeless will pay off great dividends, mostly with a large reduction of the homeless population. As for public sentiment, there is still much anger, mistrust, and fear directed at homeless people. And because of this, the public in general believes that homeless people are not deserving of any help. This mindset towards the homeless must be challenged, must change. Much of the hate and fear of homeless people is undeserved. But even if it was, the hate filled response by the public is unproductive.
Although homelessness has been a part of the American landscape for a hundred years or so, it has only been in the past decade that serious examination of homeless services, and their effectiveness, has been studied in earnest. Data is now being collected in a nation wide computer program most often referred to as HMIS (Homeless Management Information Systems). And it is from analyzing the data in this system that scientists are able to determine, AND PROVE, which types of services for the homeless work best.
Of course, (I say, “of course” a lot, I know) – but of course in determining what works best, we must decide what the actual goals of homeless services should be. And there is some disagreement among service providers as to what those goals are. That too is a big obstacle to overcome. The biggest and most prolific type of service provider is that which is faith based – churches mostly – conservative fundamentalist churches mainly. In the faith based homeless service industry, often the primary goal is not to end homelessness, but to create converts to their particular version of faith. As the recently retired director of the Nashville Rescue Mission was often quoted as saying, ‘my job is not to end homelessness but to lead the lost to Christ.’ Don’t get me wrong, leading people to a soul saving and personal relationship with Jesus is a noble cause, but it does seem to conflict with the process of ending homelessness. The majority of homeless people can overcome their homelessness on their own in less than 6 months time, but most faith based rescue missions require a commitment to their rehabilitation programs of a year or more. When homeless people sign on to such programs, these rescue missions are affectively extending the person’s homelessness for a much longer period than it needs to be. And thus seems to be doing a disservice to the homeless and the rest of the community. Many people will say and do things under duress, that they wouldn’t normally do. But the stress of being homeless, as well as the coercion that often takes place within rescue missions, causes many homeless people to accept the offer of a mission’s rehab program. (Wouldn’t it be more Christ-like to get homeless people out of homelessness first, and then try to convert them to the faith? At least then you’d know if there was an honest conversion and not just seeds throw on rocky soil.)`
It has been proven that the faith based rescue mission approach to homelessness, for all the good work that it does do, (feeding, clothing, and sheltering the homeless), it has almost no affect on actually ending homelessness.
It is time for everyone to get on the same page regarding ending homelessness. Harassing the homeless, either by way of the general population berating the homeless, or by way of law enforcement’s excessive ticketing and jailing homeless people for minor offenses such as trespassing, has been proven to be ineffective. It would benefit everyone if all that time, energy, and funding, was redirected towards supporting those methods and services that have actually been proven to reduce homelessness. If we all get on the “let’s reduce the homeless population” bandwagon, eventually homelessness will be eradicated.