The Crescent Report

October 25, 2007

More Compassion Needed

Filed under: Serving — Tags: , — Imam Mahdi Bray @ 12:51 pm

Larry James writes about the causes of homelessness in this post (h/t Street Prophets)

Roman laid out an interesting, brief historical overview of the problem of homelessness in the U. S. She pointed out that prior to 1983, homelessness wasn’t much of a problem in the nation. Her organization and, more recently, her plans emerged as a result of the growing national crisis.

She didn’t say, but I couldn’t help but wonder about causes for the rather sudden explosion of the number of homeless in America. Several things came to mind.

The Vietnam War and the thousands of veterans who returned unprepared for what greeted them. Side bar: a friend of mine who is a psychiatrist at Veteran’s Hospital here in Dallas told me that 85% of his homeless patients suffer from post traumatic syndrome due to events that occurred prior to their military service–the military being their place of escape until their tenures of service ended.

The Reagan Era and its more draconian social benefits and programs built on the theories of supply-side economics.

De-institutionalizing mental health treatment and services across the nation.

Ironically, the “war on drugs” that has resulted in the incarceration of millions of men and women who likely needed treatment instead of what they received. Upon release countless of these people ended up on our streets with few options for work or housing.

The forces that have created a growing gap between the wealthy and the impoverished have also fueled the growth in the homeless population. Outsourcing of millions of better paying American jobs would be included here.

The disappearance of the old “boarding houses” that existed everywhere until the mid to late 1960s.

Since the early 1980s, service providers have responded to the growing problem of homelessness. By the late 1990s there were over 40,000 programs in the U. S. designed to address the issues of homelessness.

Ironically, the homeless population doubled! The proliferation of services does not equal a solution to the problem.

In that vain, this comment from pastordan (of Street Prophets) says it all:

This is why charity alone will not address social problems. How could a soup kitchen or shelter address the inequalities of drug sentencing, mental health treatment, income distribution and housing? These are all things that require policy answers, and smart ones. And policy solutions require advocacy. What James is saying here is essentially that our society creates homelessness. To eradicate it will require a basic reworking of the drift of government over the past 40 years. That kind of change doesn’t happen by itself, and it requires more than small, isolated groups treating the symptoms.

Those who are working to eradicate homelessness via soup kitchens are certainly doing outstanding work, but the above is why we need to work to change policies to make sure that these people can pick themselves up and we can make lasting changes on peoples’ lives


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