On REALLY Helping the Homeless

This was a letter I sent in response to an Op-Ed piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Anthony Robinson argues that the solution for "homelessness" requires "public-private partnership to provide shelters, safe houses, transitional and permanent housing" as well as "job skills training and employment counseling, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health and other health care services" in order to "move as many people toward independent, self-supported living."

As a former HUD social worker, I can tell you that 1) such programs do exist and 2) most of them do not work. Has Mr. Robinson never heard of Housing and Urban Development, section eight housing, welfare, food stamps, aid to families with dependent children, state employment agencies, Medicare, community colleges, free legal aid, state-run mental health facilities, and last, but not least, 12-Step programs for dealing with drug and alcohol addiction? (As a side note, I am very strongly pro twelve-steps, but as they in AA: it works if you work it)

Yet we still have a "homeless" problem. From my experience, it comes down to this: most homeless people are homeless out of their own free will. What I saw as a common pattern with the homeless people I worked with, including mothers with children, is that they opted to indulge their drug and alcohol addictions, and other unhealthy behaviors, rather than abide by the standards required in most supported-living as well as private housing situations. The same went for most of the mentally ill clients that I dealt with.

As Rush Limbaugh has aptly put it, we have created a "dependency class" in this country that claims the right to indulge in any sort of self-destructive behavior but expects to be rescued through social programs time and again. The fact is, if you are sane and sober and have some common sense, you will not remain homeless very long. I can speak from personal experience on that as well.

I would suggest that a truer way to deal with the homeless is not to enable them in their worst behavior, however painful that might be to the sensibilities of publicly compassionate do-gooders like Mr. Robinson.

Click here to read a response to this piece from Elizabeth Brickhouse, Executive Director of FORkids, inc.