Healing Homelessness

When we go to the doctor because we are not well, we expect two things to happen.  First, we want the doctor to cure of our ailment.  And second, we want the doctor to alleviate our suffering while we wait for the cure to take effect.  That means addressing the symptoms that accompany the ailment.  Homeless people need the exact same thing.  Not only do they need to be cured of their homelessness, they also need relief from the symptoms of homelessness until the cure is achieved.

Programs like Housing First and Rapid Rehousing are designed to end homelessness, but they do nothing for the suffering that homeless people experience while being homeless.

It strikes me as peculiar that many of the proponents of Housing First and the other new programs designed to end homelessness, are also promoting the idea that all other services to the homeless should end.  I understand that most of this comes from the notion that homelessness can be stopped without creating an increase in the cost of taking care of the homeless.  But is that really such a wise approach?  Think about it.  Would you really want your doctor to ignore your pain while he tries to cure your illness?  Imagine dentists working under the notion that since your tooth will be fixed soon enough that there is no need for giving you Novocaine.

Across the country nearly every city, big and small, are now working towards ending homelessness through these new programs (programs created by and supported by HUD)  And every city is having a difficult time getting their programs off the ground and functioning as designed.  (Some cities have had success, but only on a limited scale.  A couple cities have all but eliminated Veteran homelessness, but truth is Veterans are only about 20 percent of the total homeless population.) Still every city is experiencing push back from their communities.  These communities either don’t want to adequately fund the programs or they support the programs so long as they are implemented somewhere else.  And so nearly every city has had to put their programs to end homelessness on hold, or to work them on a very limited scale.  For this, the great promise of these programs are not being realized, and homeless people are as homeless as ever, and are suffering from their homelessness as ever before.

Homeless people still need long term, low barrier, shelters, daily food services, health clinics, mental health therapy, etc.  Sadly, as the march started towards ending homelessness, the service providers who addressed the symptoms of homelessness and the suffering of the homeless, started changing how they provided services, thinking they were about to become obsolete.  They geared down and reduced services.  We still have the same amount of human suffering on the streets as before, but with less services to address the need.  Cities are still trying to outlaw feeding the homeless, outlaw sleeping outside, etc.   All of this is doing nothing but making homeless people’s situation worse, and making it more difficult for the homeless to actually leave homelessness.

Compassion is still the best medicine for homeless people.  It leads to the best results.  As we work towarded ending homelessness lets not forget that people are still suffering while homeless.

The city of San Diego decided recently to permanently close their only winter shelter in hopes that a new and untried program was going to remove the need for those extra winter beds.  Before San Diego had the winter shelter program there were people dying every year from exposure.  And it looks like we’ll have to experience those types of deaths again, before the city admits it really needs those shelters.

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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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