Just Say No to homeless people & "continuium of care"? FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 20 Apr 1999 18:08:26 -0700 (PDT)

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To help homeless people, the director of D.C. Central Kitchen advises that
we need to JUST SAY NO to:

        Leaving the "mentally ill" on the streets.
        Warehouse shelters.
        New initiatives that are old programs in disguise.

He also implies that programs not defined by the above prohibitions are a
waste of funds.  Do you agree or disagree?  Why?

As people who've been homeless or are homeless now, what "help the
homeless" programs, if any, do you think are a wise use of public (or
private) funds?

FWD  Washington Post - Sunday, April 11, 1999; Page B08


     It's time we used our heads to help the homeless.

     By Robert L. E. Egger

At the D.C. Central Kitchen each year, more than 5,000 volunteers help
recycle donated food into balanced meals. We listen to these volunteers
voice concern that not enough is being done to help the homeless, and we
always tell them the same thing:

"If you want to help the homeless, use your heads, not your hearts, because
your hearts will get broken."

By that, we don't mean that the stories of homeless men and women will
break their hearts. We're talking about a system that inadvertently seems
designed to keep homeless people down.

Take the five-year, $30 million D.C. Initiative to stop homelessness that
recently came to an end. This initiative to provide a continuum of care for
the homeless sprang from genuine horror at the death of Yetta Adams, a
woman who died of exposure right outside the U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development. The idea behind the it was to leverage federal and city
funding to build a "continuum of care" to connect diverse programs and
prevent homelessness.

Yet for all the effort and money spent on the initiative, have the number
of people who panhandle on the D.C. streets, line up for food, or sleep
outside or in warehouse shelters visibly decreased? No. Why? Because we
haven't developed policies or outreach efforts beyond those that were
unsuccessful in helping Yetta Adams.

To turn the homeless situation around, we need to use our heads as well as
our hearts. To borrow a catch phrase, we need to just say no to:


Most men and women living on the streets of any city are mentally ill or
are chronic substance abusers or both. The four homeless people who died
recently in a fire in Fairfax were typical and tragic. They based their
lives around two daily routines: panhandling and drinking.

While some people may not want to accept help, we should not assist them in
continuing an existence that is bleak, destructive and ultimately

Leaving the mentally ill on the streets.

Nothing is more tragic than seeing men and women who are clearly mentally
ill wandering our streets. The subject is uncomfortable, and the solutions
will be difficult, yet until we address this problem, we will never have a
meaningful plan for decreasing homelessness. We must debate how to
encourage participation in programs that provide counseling, medication and
housing. But we also must have the courage to discuss involuntary
commitment for those whose illnesses lie beyond the capacity of outreach

Warehouse shelters.

Most of our shelter beds still are in trailers, old schools and large
buildings with only the most marginal case-management services provided.
Recently, many businesses in the District have begun working with
nonprofits to design programs to help people come in off the streets, but
if we don't invest in case management, support services and alternative
housing opportunities, it will be only a matter of time before business
leaders grow weary of spending money without results. And if they lose
faith, we will have squandered some of the greatest allies we ever had in
the fight against homelessness.

New initiatives that are old programs in disguise.

If a plan doesn't detail a series of attainable steps that lead from the
streets, to shelter, to treatment and transitional housing and, when
appropriate, to training, employment and independent living, then it won't
work. Any program worth funding also must detail support for those
reentering the work force so that they have the child care, transportation
and housing they need to keep moving forward, not turning back.

The D.C. Initiative, along with our "homeless care network," had many
positive results, but not commensurate with the time and funding devoted to
it. Tens of thousands of men, women and children have demonstrated their
concern for the homeless through volunteering. What we must do is harness
that concern and use community, business and federal and local government
resources to fight homelessness, hunger, substance abuse, mental illness
and poverty. To such a plan, executed with purpose and passion, we would
give a heartfelt and united "yes."

-- Robert L. E. Egger is director of the D.C. Central Kitchen.


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