I overheard two politicians in a debate this morning. I was over in my corner knitting, Phillip had just woke and had turned on the television. He scans the morning news while sipping his coffee. I have long since given up on local news. It really is nothing more than a long police blotter. “Police are searching,” “Investigators are looking into,” “Authorities believe a suspect….” You catch my drift.
He happened to stop on a channel that was broadcasting a debate between two local politicians discussing the homeless problem in Orlando. And yes, Orlando’s homeless problem has accelerated in the last few years.. (The reason may surprise you: weather).
But, my ears perked up when I heard the question being posed. “What do we do to help the homeless population in Orlando?” And I could do nothing but roll my eyes and decry “FOWL!” when I heard one politician say, “Well, we need $80 million dollars, and here’s why….We need to build more affordable housing, we need more places for them to live.”
Are you for real? No, of course he isn’t, because like many people he doesn’t understand the homeless problem, no more than anyone of you might. I can’t speak on expertise on this field, but I can speak from experience, which carries a helluva lot more weight than philosophical theory.
The first mistake people make is thinking that homelessness is a situation. That is incorrect. Homelessness is the RESULT of a situation, and many can be categorized into three distinct groups Mentally ill, substance abusers, and just plain broke.
You will never EVER solve this problem. EVER. And you certainly won’t put a dent into the homeless problem as long as you take a “one size fits all” approach. We need $80 million dollars to build places for them to live. Two of those groups won’t even show up. You know there will be rules. No drinking. Boom. Substance abusers will not come. Most of the mentally are unaware they are even homeless. You’re asking people who do not have a handle on reality to find a moment of clarity and make sound decisions that will better their lives. If they could do that, then their issues of mental illness wouldn’t be such a problem. And I guarantee that these $80 million dollar places to live wouldn’t be equipped with mental health professionals. They may just be filled with social workers moving the “just plain broke” into more programs to help justify the reasoning behind such a ridiculous amount of money.
In truth, the only people that would show up WOULD be the “just plain broke,” granted they were given some respect. They just want work. And I do so love people that scream, “GET A JOB!” out of their windows as they drive by. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a job in the 21st century when you don’t have a valid license, a working phone, a permanent address, or even access to the internet? Do you know how many people apply for work these days to a potential job, in person, only to be told, “We only accept applications online???”
Yes, some of the more ambitious ones will head to a place like the library, will themselves to work through a computer, and make it work. They will survive, if only in the meantime, they have a place to get clean, to rest up, and cook some food before heading back to the library to hope someone has sent them an email requesting an interview. The rest? The ones who show up in person with a pen asking to fill out an application? God only knows how deeper and darker their lives will end up…or even worse, how much longer they will be alive. Desperation can kill a man quicker than hunger.
When I was homeless I never went to the shelter. Never. Because everyone I ever came into contact with said the same thing, “You’re safer going to jail.”
The sad thing is, I don’t have a solution. Better minds will come up with one. However, I will take an adamant stance and say we cannot, will never, come to a reasonable solution to the homeless situation as long as we group them as “the homeless population,” for each of those people, each of us, has a different story; until we realize that each person has a different situation. We have got to stop, STOP categorizing them as a “group” and start treating them as people, with names, with lives. These are people who, for usually one of those three reasons, is out there hungry, collectively shamed, and nameless.
So, let’s start there. Let us really, truly, start by understanding that each of them has a unique problem that needs to be addressed and assessed before they can get help. How they get help? I don’t know. But, I am quite certain that if we start recognizing the homeless as individuals rather than a group, then maybe we can find a definite, compassionate, reasonable solution that does not violate their humanity. Ask churches and missions that run shelters the truth, they’ll tell you it is exceptionally hard, and rules are put in place because each of them requires an individual approach to what hurts them.
I dismiss your need for $80 million dollars and here’s why: you obviously haven’t been homeless, nor have you met someone who is, or ever was. You might have the right intentions. Your heart may in the right place…..but, you made the same mistake so many people do. You saw the person in the problem, rather than the problem in the person. And until the homeless are thought of as individuals and not a “population,” we’ll never fix this.