Just this past week a homeless encampment was told they have to leave the area in East Ft Worth or be arrested for trespassing. The unfortunate part of this particular scenario is that some of those in the encampment are just trying to get along. Instead they wound up being caught up near other homeless people who are just there for the drugs or to drink their alcohol. Personally I never went into that particular encampment because of safety issues.
Even though they are offered information about homeless services nearby, getting those services is another headache in and of itself. Why is that? Well for starters the three main shelters here are operating at capacity which is one of the reasons those folks are camping in the first place. Even then the shelters themselves have their own issues. They are much better today than they were during my homeless period but a shelter is not a real happy place. Secondly, while it is possible to find out about the other services available there is so much competition to receive those services that many people simply give up trying.
Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the available homeless services themselves. They try hard. There is just not enough to go around. Here is an example; the wait for a housing voucher can be as long as a year and then that person has to find an apartment that will take him. It's not the voucher that the landlord does not want to accept it is the fact that a homeless person probably has no credit history, bad credit, maybe a criminal background or has no work history. All those and other barriers prevent a homeless person from ever getting an apartment. There are few if any available housing units for those who need them most.
I too personally went though much of this when I was homeless. I literally spend 10 years camping and then hit all the barriers that prevent a homeless person from ever rising up out of that pit. Sure it can be done but look how it took me 10 years and much patience before I could get out of my camp. In fact, while I was getting some homeless services from the various service providers, not once did I rise to the top of any housing list, assistance list or got into a position where I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. What it took was a lady who works for a large institution who wanted to hire me. She literally paved the way with her superiors and I became employed again.
Those sorts of things are rare.
Now let's get back to the homeless service providers. They mean well and work extremely hard, but there are not only not enough funding or services available to go around, then there are all the other barriers ahead of the homeless person. On top of that, the service providers themselves have a real problem with following up on their clients to make sure they can make the transition from homelessness. It's not their fault because they only have enough resources to get the process started and the follow through can sometimes be non-existent. There is a reason why the homeless person became homeless in the first place.
This is another problem I ran into after I left my camp and went back to work. Just getting a job was not enough for me to get my problems resolved. In the end I ultimately got old enough to retire and did so. Then I started therapy to work through the underlying reasons I became homeless in the first place and were causing me some real problems with working and adjusting to life in the world again. In fact I might still be working and not retired right now if I had gotten the therapy at the very beginning. I didn't think I needed it nor was it really available. There aren't many therapists who have experience with the homeless community.
There is another side to all of this. Homelessness has been on the rise since the mid to late 1980's. There are plenty of reason's for this and those very reason's need to be addressed. Homeless prevention can be a lot cheaper for everyone involved than paying for the homeless services themselves after the damage is done. It's not just the homeless services costs either, there is a health-care component, a law enforcement component, a legal system and confinement component, not to mention long term mental health-care cost that results just from being homeless.
Today we are paying the price for ignoring the rise in the homeless population that began over 25 years ago. We could have prevented it or at least kept the ultimate costs and damage down. Because of ignoring the problems then letting them get out of control we now will have a huge cost just to get the current homeless people back into the community then there will be the longer term cost to resolve the damage done to the individual both mentally and physically from being homeless in the first place. Then on top of that, to actually prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place there must be a safety net to identify when a person is on his way to becoming homeless.
In the end we have a two part problem ahead of us if we are to make a dent in the homeless problem. The first part of the problem we need to find a reasonable way to get the people off the streets and reintegrated back into society. Then deal with the after-care involved while the homeless person goes through the reintegration process. That means affordable housing, living expenses, long-term health-care and mental health-care as well as a long-term plan of after-care to prevent a relapse back into homelessness. The second part of the problem to eliminate or at least drastically reduce the homeless population permanently is to identify the reasons that force people into becoming homeless in the first place. Prevention is the name of that game and prevention has to happen at the same time as getting people off the streets or the cycle will continue.
It's up to all of us to work on this.