Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An 8 Point Plan to Curb Homelessness

If there is one thing I dread the most, more than I do failing grades, failing job expectations, and failing health, it's failing to have a stable roof over my head. Did you know that more than three-quarters of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, so any financial setback could cost them their home? I say the home above all else because it's practically the hub for everyday life. It's the place where people sleep, eat, get creative, pay bills, and be entertained. Without a home, you can't have a job nor a driver's license, two essential things to have in this day and age for there to be any forward progress. Some people don't know what this is like, either because they're financially successful or they have family nearby to shelter them when their money well dries up. But for most others, the threat of homelessness looms like a continuous black cloud over their head. It's a constant living with fear because the chances of planting a new life on hard ground are slim to none. Save a winning lottery ticket worth tens of millions of dollars, homeless people are stuck in a perpetual rut. But there is hope: you. The following are eight steps you can take to either treat or support the homeless with dignity and give them the resources they need to make something of their lives.

1. Be aware of what homeless shelters already exist your town
Depending on the size and accessibility of the town you live in, there may be no homeless shelters within miles, but there may be several clustered together. Where I live, for instance, there's only three such shelters, and the next closest ones are more than ten miles out. And of those three, I drive by one of them practically every day. Unfortunately, I had no idea I did so until I did a internet search recently. That's the main problem. Homeless shelters, ironically, have plenty of resources to give to people down on their luck, but they have little to offer for PR. Their limited visibility in the public eye, for the most part, is an impediment because these homeless shelters are benevolent, non-profit groups worthy of publicized exposure. If we, the citizens, don't know about their presence, how are we ever gonna help them?

To find the homeless shelters nearest you, go to this website, click your state, then find your town into the search engine or scroll down below.

2. Keep physical/mental defects at the forefront of dealing with the homeless
In more ways than one, many people who are homeless have additional crutches that prevent them from attaining adequate housing. The main culprits are alcohol, drugs, and mental health issues. Nearly half of the homeless have chronic health conditions and nearly two-fifths of the homeless have some psychological illness, according to PBS. It's difficult to say if one exclusively causes the other. I.e., do people turn to alcohol and drugs because they lost their home, or do they lose their home because of their addiction(s)? Either way, they need to sober up. For homeless shelters, embrace physically and/or mentally handicapped individuals who are now homeless, since their disease is typically out of control. I'm not saying their pain is not they're fault, but they need grace more than judgment. Preferential treatment is not necessary, but extra care must be taken to tend to the homeless with a handicap.

3. Maintain programs to make the homeless feel better about themselves
This is a fine line to walk across. Homeless shelters shouldn't be about waving the white flag, alerting those poor souls they've hit rock bottom. They already know that. Then again, the environment shouldn't be too extravagant, because people may then mooch off the organization like they were on welfare. The key here is moderation. Homeless shelters should supply services, such as computer access, laundry, and hot meals, because they go a long way to make those unfortunate to lose their homes feel dignified. But it's important only to provide the bare essentials. Homelessness is a vicious circle, and the only way to climb out of this perpetual state of living is to give the homeless necessary advantages they wouldn't normally get without the aid of homeless shelters.

4. Provide extra counseling to homeless people subjected to traumatic life events
Oftentimes, homeless people are the victim of their own situation. Seldom, if any, are homeless intentionally. Those who are homeless and have been through a traumatic experience, such as rape, natural disaster, or alcoholism, deserve extra counseling because that experience, usually, triggered a series of events to occur that made them homeless. Give them the support they need to rebuild a strong foundation in their life.

5. Educate the community on what it means to be homeless
Most U.S. citizens are indifferent about what exactly is homelessness. It affects us all closer than we give credit because we don't look deep into the issue. It's easy to brush aside homelessness as a non-issue when people live with deep pockets, or any depth of money as long as they are not out on the street, begging for help. Homeless people are also subject to heinous stereotypes, such as being labeled drunkards, immoral, uneducated, and dangerous, when most of them are not. This prejudice must be eradicated by informing the general public that homeless people are as much of an equal as is anybody with a home. By discussing homelessness openly, and not as a taboo subject, this country can become more forthright about this problem.

6. Host job fairs aimed at employing the homeless
A sizable percentage of the homeless actually have an earned income, including pay through Social Security, general assistance (i.e., welfare), and other sources. They just simply don't have enough money on a monthly basis to afford a mortgage or rent. If not already, there should be plenty of opportunities for employment aimed exclusively at homeless individuals. I think the homeless have the most to gain from job fairs with potential employers because they are willing to work, provide a "clean slate", are steadfast to overcome their current social status, and determined to climb out of poverty. After all, no one wants to live on the streets. All they need is an opening to climb out of homelessness.

7. Get to know a homeless person
Chances are, they're not as frightening as they appear on the outside. Really, they're not. Sure, they may look ragged and even smell, but you'd be the same way too if you hadn't touched a shower for days or weeks. Anyway, how do you meet a homeless person? The best way is to follow step 8. Making a tangible connection to a homeless individual will show just how narrow the social gap really is between the homeless and the rest of civilization. Or at the very least, between you and the homeless. Remember, the homeless are not an alien race; they are human and like companionship as much as anyone else. Even a few insignificant minutes of your time can prove invaluable to someone with nothing to lose.

8. Take time out to volunteer at a homeless shelter
Short of building a housing project or donating a steep financial gift, the best way you personally can appreciate the homeless and pitch a helping hand is by volunteering your free time. There are many volunteer opportunities offered at the various shelters. Serving food in a soup kitchen line, help organizing a clothes drive, or leading a Bible study are a fraction of tasks we can all do to aid our local shelters. Our altruistic efforts are very much appreciated by both the homeless and the shelter. By helping those less fortunate than us, we learn more about ourselves than we ever would surrounded by people of our own social ilk.

To quote Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror", "When you close your heart, you close your mind." Don't be ignorant about homelessness. Make that change today, for their sake and ours.

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