I have served the homeless for 27 years and have lead many efforts training neighborhoods to connect with the homeless.
The Growing Problem of Homelessness
Homelessness has become a growing concern for many throughout the United States and throughout the world. I daily run into concerned home owners, business owners and various groups of citizens who are desperately seeking answers to the visual problem of seeing people in rows of tents along the streets of their city or town. While I can show proven approaches to seeing people get out of homelessness, often people want to default to a flawed thinking that the government can or is even willing to do anything about it. I have developed ways to bring citizens—including homeless citizens—together to make a real difference, not only with those experiencing homelessness, but also in their neighborhood.
The numbers of those ending up on the streets is growing rapidly in many cities and is now at a crisis point, though I believe that one person who has to sleep outside is a crisis. Many cities are becoming overwhelmed by the fact that it is not just those who are mentally ill or addicted to drugs that are homeless, but now we have families and educated working class people being forced to lived outside. Yet, the leaders of these cities “sweep” people down the road and take their possessions on a routine basis. Homelessness is becoming a national crisis and something needs to be done. However, our tendency to look to the government for answers does not work, and we need to think of a different approach to this problem.
Behold! The Neighborhood
My 25 years experience of working with the homeless and political leaders has taught me that the most effective strategies to dealing with the homeless problem must happen in the local neighborhood. There is nothing that anyone can do about city, state or national problems of homelessness. However, we can do something about people living on the streets in our neighborhood. The local neighborhood has many advantages. It allows homelessness to have a human face. Numbers and statistics cause us to lose site of the fact that the homeless are human beings who experience the same life that we do, but with a very different set of struggles. The neighborhood approach also allows us to measure success better and to see success not so much in numbers, but in real human progress. For example, I don‘t measure success in my work by how many people I get off the streets. Rather, I measure it by the daily progress that individuals are making in their lives. What I mean is that if an individual I am working with needs a job, I measure success by whether they put a resume together, whether they obtained their identification, and whether they showed up to an interview. The neighborhood approach allows us to see the homeless in much more humane terms such as these.
Other advantages to the neighborhood approach is that neighborhoods provide accountability to both the homeless individual and the politicians. People know that injustice happens to the homeless, but if neighbors are involved with the homeless who are sleeping in their area and they see injustice happen to them, then they are more likely to do something about it. This approach also causes something to happen that we all wish would happen- we see people coming together to make a real change in the lives of the most vulnerable. If neighborhoods took this approach across a city, then we would see much change happen with less effort as each neighborhood could focus on their part of the region.
One last advantage to the this approach is that society to gain a real knowledge of what actually needs to happen. As long as the homeless remain invisible to us then we are just guessing as to what needs to happen to deal with the problem of homelessness. But when we begin to be involved with just those sleeping in our area then we no longer have to guess, but we can actually know what they need and how to solve the problem.
Behold! The Individual
Just as the neighborhood is an effective tool in making progress with homelessness, the individual is also an effective resource. What I mean is that we often look on the homeless as uneducated, unwise and just plain weak. However, we have to realize that they too are human and therefore can understand how to make decisions. Now, maybe some of them have not made good decisions, but we are all guilty of that.
I have learned in my many years of work with the homeless is that they are more than capable of figuring out their way if we just give them permission and get out of the way. We often get in their way by judging them, calling the police on them for simply sleeping outside or by pushing them down in various ways.
Keep in mind that there are many laws in place that should be eliminated due to the fact that they keep people trapped in poverty. Too, there are many programs that do the same thing. If we would get out of the way and be a cheerleader for homeless individuals then experience tells me that they will thrive and do the right thing. The homeless often have enough negative voices in their head without us adding to it. Think of all the times where you failed to make progress because of the negative voices in your head. Now, imagine all of society being a negative voice.
Concrete Steps to Action
So, how do we take action within our neighborhood in dealing with the homeless problem that has now become a pandemic? Following are steps we can take and see great results.
1. Get together and listen.
Listening to each and swapping stories is a very effective means toward tackling the problem of homelessness in the neighborhood. Once we listen to each other and have casual conversation the next steps become very clear
2. Take out the garbage.
Let's face it, the garbage of misinformation and biases has cluttered the conversational landscape. If we can strip our neighborhoods of the hate and biases that have grown over time then we can hear each other clearly and more clearly see actions that need to be taken
3. Don't forget the main players.
Imagine a professional sports team having a meeting without the players involved in a major decision. It would create some issues to say the least. Yet, we often have meetings about homelessness without the homeless themselves being present or having a voice at the meeting. Let's make sure that we are involving the main players in homelessness, the homeless themselves
4. Be proactive.
Don't wait for someone else to take the lead. I encourage you to be the one to step up, take the lead and begin to make a difference. Even if you don't know what you are doing, if you just initiate a meeting, then those who do know what to do will rise to the surface and good things will begin to happen.
5. Don't make it complicated.
No one likes a simple thing that becomes complicated. Finding a solution to homelessness in your neighborhood is as simple as journeying together toward the solution. Discovering the solution together, whether you are a home owner, a renter, a business owner, homeless yourself, the journey comes with lots of adventures to be experienced together. Don't let the goal of finding a solution rob you of the experience of making memories together, and just maybe discovering a few friends along the way.
How One Neighborhood Is Doing Simple Things to Reach Their Homeless Neighbors
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.