I agree that a lot of the services offered to homeless and impoverished people have the potential to foster dependency, but I don’t think that’s the only possible result [“Let’s Get Real: Homeless Need a Hand Up, Not a Handout,” Jan. 27, Xpress]. Giving homeless people the option of housing provides an opportunity to stabilize, recover or heal if that’s what they want and/or need. I don’t see how this is a bad thing.
Many homeless people are dealing with issues that would break most of us: mental illness, addiction, histories of intense and repeated physical, sexual or emotional abuse, the loss of multiple figures of social and family support, etc. It is often a combination of these things. On top of that, you have to watch your back constantly. Your physical safety is regularly in jeopardy, and it’s pretty much illegal for you to live outside of a shelter. While there are basic services in place, you are right in that they fall woefully short of addressing the level of need.
I think that [the writer is] totally on point with what [he is] saying about the lack of opportunity and how that it extends beyond the streets and into housing projects and poor neighborhoods/areas throughout the city and county.
This is poverty caused by a history of social, economic and racial inequality and injustice that persists today. Homelessness is very much tied into poverty, but there is often (but not always) something more than this that keeps someone homeless. There is a root issue that is exacerbated by being on the streets.
[The writer’s] idea of the city providing opportunity to disenfranchised people through a street cleanup is a way of chipping away at poverty by presenting an opportunity. That’s what Housing First is for homeless people whose suffering is such that they are unable to recover their own agency in the present moment.
If I lost my job, spent up my savings and lost my place, I’d go live with friends or family who would give me an opportunity to get back on my feet. For some (not enough) of those that aren’t privileged enough to have that opportunity, there are supportive housing programs.
Housing is not the solution for everyone, and it does not need to be the end of the road for anyone. Some people need that support and others do not. While some people choose to be homeless and some people choose to manipulate the system, a lot of people are truly stuck in homelessness and need assistance getting out.
That does not mean that they will always be dependent on the government. I agree that giving away housing doesn’t solve the underlying problems — not even a little bit. But what it does do, for those who need it, is create an opportunity for these problems to be successfully addressed. It provides a safe place to heal.
Our community needs to do a lot more to address the causes of poverty and to create opportunities out of it. But please acknowledge that for many people, social assistance programs, including housing, are an opportunity and not a permanent way of life.
— Derek Towle
AHOPE Program Director
Homeward Bound of WNC