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The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Assume you were a powerful local public figure. How would you handle the homeless problem in your area?

Asked by The_Compassionate_Heretic (14596points) April 20th, 2009

There’s a lot of debate worldwide about how to deal with the issue of homelessness. There are several factors to consider but primarily, one must consider individual rights.

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24 Answers

Jack79's avatar

In my area this would be fairly easy to solve. There are enough buildings to host them, the climate is not too cold (so heating is generally not necessary) and the people are rich enough to afford some extra food for them. The only problem would be organising everyone who wants to help. And rehabilitating the homeless eventually, rather than just dumping them in a ghetto. But it’s doable.

TylerM's avatar

Answering this quickly, I wouldn’t give them “handouts” or welfare checks. I would provide tiered housing for most cases. If an individual is actively applying for jobs and trying to get work then they would get free housing with clothing and showers, etc. When they begin receiving income, part of it would come to the government to provide this housing. The amount would depend on how much they are making. If they are making minimum wage, maybe $2 of every ~8 they make would go to the government and this would scale as their income grows. They can save their income to start taking classes to complete the education they need.

This would weed out those who are not willing to try to get themselves out of their situation and are looking for a “free ride” from the government. When they get back on their feet they can move on. Sadly some poor people refuse to try to get out of their situation, they have become accustomed to it or believe nothing will matter.

Likeradar's avatar

@TylerM I don’t have a good answer to the original question, but I have a question for you anyway. :) How does your plan take into account the mental illnesses that many (I don’t have numbers, I assume many? Maybe I’m wrong?) homeless people have?

nikipedia's avatar

Do I have unlimited resources? If so, I’d devise an institution that meets with each homeless person, determines the reasons contributing to his/her homelessness, and works to solve the problem that caused the homelessness in the first place—i.e., diagnose and treat psychiatric illnesses, help manage and treat addictions, teach job skills—whatever is relevant for that person. And in terms of the rest of the community, I’d provide incentives to hire people from this population. Financial incentives would be easiest, but maybe other ones would be applicable—some kind of zoning permits, access to government resources, etc.

With more limited resources, I would take a more intermediate problem-solving approach. I’d do everything I could to ensure that those people had access to food, shelter, clean water, education, and job training, but after that they’re kind of on their own to seek them out.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@nikipedia No, limited resources. Mostly taxpayer revenue.

Kiev749's avatar

build more libraries.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Create a new division of the IRS to provide even more jobs out of thin air.

GAMBIT's avatar

I would provide job training for those who are willing to work.
Detoxify those who want to be clean of substance abuse.
Give medical care to those who want and need psychiatric services.

People become homeless for different reasons but I do not believe in any program that is going to try to force an individual to do something about their status in life if they themselves are not invested in their own recovery. The reason being you can give some people a check every month and they will still choose to be homeless. This takes away their individual responsibility and your resources will be wasted.

If a person really wants to end their homelessness and better their lives I would have every service available to them but if they want to remain on the streets there is no system or program that can stop them and I find it sad that some young men in the inner cities have found ways to beat the system by receiving money from the government, pan handle for drinking money and get food from the soup kitchen and a bed every night at the shelter.

wundayatta's avatar

Free housing (gets them into a stable place, and makes it easy to find them), and a full set of services, especially mental health services. When they are mentally stable, they can start getting training and perhaps work. If they are disabled, get them on social security disability.

This is actually a fairly proven technique, perhaps pioneered in NYC.

YARNLADY's avatar

First I would stop this business of building new housing just for the homeless. There are so many facilities that are vacant and would be perfect for the ones who wanted houseing.

Second I would offer training/jobs for all who wanted them.

Third, I would provide proper care for the mentally ill, and those who needed de-tox.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Grants to nonprofits. I am working for St. Vincent De Paul right now. They have Several housing complexes in the county. I work at one of them. My job is to provide resources for the residents so that, if they are able, they can move up and out. I also provide community building activities. I work in the housing complex. I think it is a great program.
This allows people who need a place to live access to low-income housing units.

There also needs to be more mental health outreach and incentives for homeless to access these resources. Mental health professionals have access to TONS of resources and may also be able to help break down the barriers of some people who do not want to, or do not know how to, access resources.

And of course we need people to be able to get jobs.

I really think it is about supporting those resources who are already helping the homeless. There are TONS of organizations out there who want to expand and are GREAT at their jobs but just don’t have the money.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

In my area, the problem would be tough. I’d basically be at war with drug dealers who prey on the homeless while trying to get them cleaned up, trained for jobs and acclimated to housing and feeling part of a community again.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

in order to solve a problem with homelessness, it would probably be smart to deal with the psychological disorders so many homeless folks have. regardless of whether you give the homeless with (for instance) severe cases of schizophrenia job opportunities or not, this doesn’t rid them of a disorder that is preventing them from being able to get and keep the job. more mental facilities is not the answer, because i just don’t think it’s effective or ethical to throw people in a locked up building when we can’t figure out what to do with them. also, it’s really expensive, and these places are already quite congested.
honestly, i have no idea how i’d actually help the issue, but i do know that there are a lot of sub-problems to deal with first. i think my first action, however, would be banning the ridiculous rule that you can’t feed the homeless in parks without getting some fancy shmancy permit. a permit to do good?? really? i don’t know if this ‘law’ is in affect everywhere, but it is here.

wundayatta's avatar

First of all, we don’t want to encourage people to live in public parks. Second, feeding homeless in parks is not helping. Just the opposite. It is enabling them to continue to be homeless. If they can come in and get services, especially mental health services, they have a chance. Mental health is difficult to take care of. You have to make sure patients are taking their meds regularly and appearing at their appointments. You can’t do this if you can’t find them. If you give them a house, you know exactly where they are.

Homelessness can be seen as an addiction. It feeds a jones that mentally ill people feel to match exterior pain to interior pain. It is estimated that at least half of the homeless are mentally ill. If we can get them cared for, we could fairly easily reduce their numbers by half. It doesn’t take forcing them to get care. It just takes allowing them to get care in an appropriate way. With dignity, from a fixed address.

RedPowerLady's avatar


It is enabling them to continue to be homeless.

I agree with everything you said regarding the mental illness and how it needs to be treated. Especially with dignity and from a fixed address. However I must say that the statement above strikes me as untrue. Feeding people doesn’t enable them to be homeless. People need their basic needs met before they can move onto any higher needs. Shelter is one of these basic needs but so is hunger. For some hunger is higher on the list and they won’t pursue mental health help if they can’t meet their basic need of getting fed. I don’t see feeding people as enabling them in any way. It just meets their basic survival requirements so that they can pursue their higher needs.

Now the argument about not encouraging homeless people to live in public parks is a good one. I don ‘t know if I agree but I do find it a good argument.

wundayatta's avatar

@RedPowerLady I totally think we should be compassionate, and maybe in non-urban areas, your argument might work. However, in most urban areas, the homeless don’t have to go hungry, and they don’t have to be fed outside. There are plenty of inside places they can go to get food. In my town, there is a similar policy that people think is heartless. It discourages people from setting up feeding stations on the street. This drives some people nuts, because there are kids who think they are doing a very good thing by feeding the hungry. But it’s a short term fix, which delays the time that folks can get real help. If they are hungry, they are more likely to come in out of the cold. Fed, they can remain outside. That’s why I see it as enabling behavior.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@daloon I see what you mean now. Perhaps the youth could hand out brochures that list all the food sites and even give rides to those sites. Nice compromise.

YARNLADY's avatar

Here in Sacramento, there is one central feeding site, which also offers other services. Several churches also used to offer food until they were shut down. It is a major disaster, because homeless gather in every nook and cranny, and turn the surrounding neighborhood into their personal sleeping, toilet, trash dump, vomiting pit. There are over 1,000 cronically homeless and between 500 and 700 temporary homeless at any given time. When a “tent city” was established, the homeless population swelled to nearly double what they had previously counted.

wundayatta's avatar

@RedPowerLady—that seems like an excellent idea to me.

@YARNLADY—that shows the importance of providing housing for the homeless. A much better way to get them services. And also, counterintuitively, cheaper in the long run.

YARNLADY's avatar

@daloon The county here did something right recently, they turned an old, broken down motel into a nice temporary living space for homeless and the turnover is better than expectations. Which means they are being placed in permanent homes fast. There is always a waiting list, though.

wundayatta's avatar

@YARNLADY A little bit of good news is nice to hear!

Jeruba's avatar

Anything that involves meeting with and working with members of the homeless population is going to have to allow for the fact that they may not know what day it is or what time it is, may not show up for appointments, may not be able to receive messages or calls anywhere, may not have a way to hang onto and protect important documents, may not have records or information that the system considers necessary, may be obsessed with some problem and not able to focus on something else, may show up unwashed and smelly, possibly sick, and possibly crying, may not understand what they are told, may not accept the help that is offered, and may not have the same caseworker from one week to the next.

I’m basing this on stories told to me by a family member who once worked for a homeless advocacy project in a major city.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Jeruba Great point. Very true.

tigress3681's avatar

First, I would find out why they are homeless. In the past, many homelessness cases were caused by the mental health system booting people out of facilities. These people can be taken care of specifically to their needs. If they are homeless due to lack of work, provide temporary shelter and help them get back on their feet. Contrary to popular belief, most people have too much pride to stay on welfare for too long. If people are homeless for other reasons, find those reasons out and try to work with them to solve their problems. Food, clothing, shelter, health are human rights and should be treated thusly.

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