Saturday, December 26, 2009

Unwelcome Mat Comments, Part VI

This comment, like the idea to spread homeless housing out in small developments near churches (see last Wednesday’s blog), makes a suggestion that sounds reasonable, but unfortunately has proved not to work:

A realistic idea might be to build this facility out of metropolitan area, into a community in a rural county that needs the jobs these facilities would bring. It would help the economy of these communities and it would remove homeless out of the city. It would reduce their options for returning to the streets and might force them into cooperating with efforts to rehabilitate them.

I suppose an unkind soul might suggest that this is the prison solution, since that’s just where we, as a society, have chosen to locate our prisons. It’s even more problematic for homeless facilities than for prisons.

Unlike prisons, permanent supportive housing projects aren’t locked facilities. Smaller towns aren’t likely to have the services needed by the formerly homeless; there aren’t going to be jobs; educational facilities; or, probably, any place to go.

The impact of bringing a large group of homeless people into a small town will be much more noticeable than in a city.

Finally, it may sound strange at first, but just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean they don’t have a hometown. Many homeless people are attached not just to a hometown, but to a specific neighborhood and if you want to successfully help them, then you have to go where they live.

There is a well-known story about a private person in Memphis who tried to solve homelessness on his own initiative. He owned a large farm located outside of town and on it he built a village of substantial tents (the semi-permanent type with furniture and stoves—sometimes you see them on old movies about African safaris) and provided three meals per day for people. Only a few homeless people ever came to his property and most of them soon left.

There was nothing for them to do. There was nowhere to go. There was very little social interaction. Apparently people decided that life was better on the streets of Memphis than in isolation on the farm. (I wonder if this isn’t a variation on the declining farm population, especially in the Great Plains states. As a society, we are no longer happy outside of the larger community).

I am afraid that the same fate would await homeless housing built in small communities.

[A final note—in spite of the rumors you may hear, homeless people don’t move in large numbers because of additional services. Over 80% of The Bridge’s clients are from Dallas County, and the two biggest groups from outside Dallas County are from Tarrant and Collin Counties.]

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