Recycling Homeless People

After spending over ten years working intensively with chronically homeless people and conducting research on the streets, I've noted that many longtime homeless people have been cycled repeatedly and for years among shelters, jails, prisons, hospitals, rehabs, group homes and the streets. Eventually they get to the point wherein they may refuse further "assistance." Their mental and physical health at this point decline steadily and precipitously and they become at high risk of premature death.

Given that most of these people accepted help in the first place, what this means is that they did want help. When the help becomes unhelpful, they become angry, disillusioned and give up.

What makes the help unhelpful: (1) far too many rules and regulations; (2) crowded environments that may also be unhealthy and/ or unsafe; (3) poorly trained but overly empowered case workers;(4) lack of federally mandated accommodation for emotional, cognitive and other disabling conditions; (5) oversimplifications regarding causes and interventions wirh respect to substance use, misuse or abuse.

A related factor, in my opinion, is the homeless housing economy. Homelessness is very big business. There may appear to be little financial upside to ending it from.the point of view of those employed in the field. This may result in resistance to innovation.

What workers in the field need to understand is that many jobs will still be there but they will be different kinds of jobs. Those following my recent posts have been able to read about what some of my days are like. One point of these posts is to show readers just how much work is involved in keeping formerly homeless people housed. This is the direction towards which I see homeless housing jobs transitioning: intensive supportive services. People need a great deal of support over long periods of time in order to remain successfully housed.

Let us all discard our stereotypes, stop blaming the victims and start transitioning to a better model for helping homeless people. Let us focus on achieving successful outcomes for this population that are compassionate and sustainable.

First we must commit to stopping the recycling. Instead of kicking someone back out to the streets, let us figure out a better and more workable option for each individual or family.

One size does not fit all.

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