In our on going communication with our readers, we have heard the criticism that we only complain about the problems and do not offer any solutions. So in an effort to address the concerns of our readers in 1998 we are featuring a series called Homeless Solutions in cooperation with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. The staff of the Coalition will take on this issue with the assistance of homeless people to put forth ideas that if implemented would show a reduction in the homeless population.
ISSUE 1 Stability First--Services Second.
This seems such a simple concept, but it is rarely followed in the current landscape of social services. No matter how many services are thrown at an individual they rarely stick if a person does not have a stable place to live. All local services need to establish a person in a long term stable place to live first and then treat them for their disability or health concern. As an American citizen, we should expect or demand a minimum level support. No matter if a person is lazy, rude, a criminal, smelly, ugly or dumb, they still have a right to life and other liberties outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If a person lives on the street they are being denied a right to life.
Therefore all services need to establish housing or long term shelter as their primary focus, and build support services around the housing. The housing must be a healthy environment that allows an individual to grow to independence. The housing cannot be contingent on the services. Stability should be the primary focus for the County, and services revolve around the housing.
Specifically, areas such as the Alcohol and Drug System need place people in stable housing then treat their addiction. Currently, the treatment is offered for a period of time, and then the person is released back into the world. If Alcoholism and Drug Addiction are truly a disease, then why don’t we treat it as a health issue. A policy of releasing an individual back onto the streets after treatment is a waste of resources, and bad public policy.
The same thing is applicable with the current health industry. It used to be that if a homeless person needed surgery they could stay in the hospital until they were fully recovered. In the new frontier of HMOs, there are a certain number of days that a person can stay in the hospital, and then they are released. If they still need bed rest and they are homeless, recovery will be nearly impossible. Our society wasted all that money on the surgery because that individual will soon be back in the hospital or will die because they did not have time to recover. Hospitals need to be involved in supporting long term care facilities for poor people.
Establishing stability first is important in the mental health community (even for those who are not certifiable but have a personality disorder), the AIDS community, the young, the elderly, and the poorly educated. There is no way to continue down the current path of such a fractured social service safety net.
We will bankrupt our society if we use the scattershot approach to distributing service assistance. I view this as offering triage on the battlefield with a cannon. Those of us in the social service system sit in our safe foxhole offices and fire treatment, medicine and services to wounded soldiers some of whom are constantly moving on the battlefield from a cannon. We hope that one of our efforts get through, but in reality we are wasting our time.
All of us need to demand from our government and from our society that stability and safe environments must be the first concern for treating our fallen soldiers.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published 1998 Issue 24