By L.E. Hulse
I’m certainly not an economist, but I would think that if the unemployment numbers continue to stay high like they have and the government continues to cut where it can, the homeless population will increase accordingly, as will the demand for any resources that society can provide for the poor. I hope those at the top appreciate the sacrifices the rest of us have been forced to make on their behalf. I know it’s created a lot of stress for a lot of people whose incomes are limited or nonexistent; stress that will over time come around and play out on the streets and in the homeless shelters. On the streets the police are doing what they can to better serve the homeless, but what about the shelters?
Everyone seems to be watching the homeless, but who’s watching the shelters? Are they providing the kind of service they advertise, or is it something entirely different? And what about the people they employ? Are they up to the job? And don’t forget the homeless. Has anyone thought to ask them what they think?
I can tell you what I think. To start with, a lot of shelters work with a one-size-fits-all kind of mindset that is popular with their self-appointed experts, and it’s reinforced with policies that are designed to keep everyone in line. For those with a serious drug or alcohol problem this hard-line approach may provide some temporary support. Beyond that, it’s just more weight for the homeless to lug around, and for anyone with a disability – good luck.
As I understand it, ninety percent of business is management. So for me, the first order of business at a homeless shelter would be to make policies that are in line with the real world. After that, I would hire people who know what they’re doing or are willing to learn, and then stay out of their way. People who will listen and make an honest effort to understand what’s being said, people who know themselves, people who can think outside of the box and know how to bend the rules when it’s necessary. In other words, people who are competent. Unfortunately, when it comes to homeless shelters this is the exception rather than the rule, and it’s really sad because it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you’re serious about changing the way things are done at a homeless shelter, what better place to start then with the board of directors? The board can consist of a real cross-section of people and I must say that I’ve been impressed with the ones I’ve met. But it would be my guess that very few or none of these people have ever experienced homelessness in a direct way (as in being on the streets and homeless) so they probably depend a great deal on management to keep them informed about what is best for those staying at the shelter. That is, unless there are homeless people on the board and to do it right there needs to be at least four. Six would be better and eight would be better still. A wealth of information just waiting to be heard. So at the risk of running out of coffee and maybe a few four-letter words, it could over time prove to be a winning combination.
Who would better know what the homeless want than the homeless themselves? But most homeless people don’t like to write letters, fill out complaint forms, or wait in line to talk to someone unless they know they are going to be heard. And what better place to be heard than in a room full of homeless people? A place where everyone can go to once a month and speak out on issues related to the shelter. They would have two minutes to tell it like they see it and the meeting would be open to anyone that can conduct themselves in a responsible way.
So what do you do with someone that is homeless and has a job, or someone that is trying hard to get one? Someone that doesn’t have a drug or alcohol problem, a government check, or a trust fund? You would think that the shelters would throw open their doors and roll out the carpet. Well, think again. Believe it or not, there are shelters where anyone with a job would have a hard time getting even a little respect. Unless I’ve missed something along the way, most people have to go to work before they can pay rent. When someone with a job is staying at a shelter and they’re playing by the rules, management and staff need to get behind them and give them as much support as they possibly can. To me it’s just common sense.
L.E. Hulse is a homeless resident of Santa Barbara, a contributor to this blog, and an all around good guy.