There will come a day, not long from now, when the Housing First and Rapid Rehousing systems will be the standard for returning homeless people back to normal lives. When that happens, no one’s homelessness will last more than a month.
But, we have a ways to go before this new way of doing things is fully implimented. Current services for the homeless, rescue missions and other shelters, will have to change how they do business or go out of business. They will have to move from long term care focused on religious conversion and work rehabilitation to short term programs focused only on rehousing people. The industry built around homelessness will no longer be needed and will have to shut down.
It will be a great day when that happens. And though things are moving in that direction, it hasn’t happened yet. People are still suffering on America’s streets. In the mean time, what should we do? Do we ignore their suffering?
To hear some people talk, such as Downtown Business Partnerships, that’s exactly what they think should happen – it’s what they want to happen. They operate under the false notion that if people would just ignore the homeless, the homeless will somehow disappear. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. Ignoring the plight of the homeless only increases their suffering. Still, all around the country these Downtown Partnerships, motivated by greed and selfishness, are pressuring charitable groups and churches to abandon the homeless. They have used their considerable influence to have city governments criminalize nearly every aspect of being homeless, aspects of life that homeless people have no ability to avoid, like sleeping and eating and sitting.
Currently, these Downtown Business Partnerships are making the argument that feeding the homeless will not end homelessness, so they are declaring that groups bringing food to the homeless are a problem. Just don’t forget that businesses are only motivated by money and they operate under the unproven notion that the existence of homeless people jeopardizes their ability to maximize profits.
What these Partnerships don’t realize, or turn a blind eye toward, is the fact that these groups that feed the homeless provide a great deal more than food. Sure, the food is needed, but much more than that, the act of feeding the homeless shows the homeless that people do care about them. And that has a great psychological benefit. In shelters, the homeless are run through dining facilities like cattle, with no interaction with the people who provide it.
The thing is, people are homeless, not because they made bad decisions in life, but because they came to believe there is no longer a place for them in society, that they are unwanted and unneeded. When people mistreat the homeless it only reinforces these ideas. By treating homeless people with kindness and respect the homeless will begin to believe again that there is a place for them in community with the rest of society – a place where they belong, where they can participate, and be a part of the real world.
So, in the mean time, until the system of returning homeless people to good lives is perfected, these individual groups and churches are very much needed, bringing food, clothing, and other comforts to the homeless, and should continue helping those in need.