Saturday, November 17, 2007

Help the Homeless

Today, I walked in the Fannie Mae Foundation's Help the Homeless Walk. It's always held the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Some years are miserable. This year was chilly. I was glad I had a warm coat.

The purpose of the walk is to help end homelessness in the DC metro area. Each year, for 20 years, that has been the purpose of the walk. And each year we walk, vowing to end homelessness.

Sometimes, I think the walk is simply a gesture to make us feel like we're doing something to help the problem. In the midst of a Free Enterprise ideology that blames the poor for being poor, and the homeless for being homeless. I'm pretty sure that we'll be walking for a good many years. The ideology blinds our society to the problem's solutions.

I suggest the following solutions:

  • Low-cost and affordable housing for the employed homeless. Keep the employed in the jobs, and in their homes.
  • Substance abuse programs for whoever wants (and needs) them. De-criminalize substance abuse. Provide safe alternatives to the street scene. Fund needle exchanges.
  • Adequate mental health facilities, treatment, and care for the homeless. Releasing mentally ill people on the streets is a recipe for homelessness.
  • Active intervention programs for the chronic, homeless substance abusers - the ones that require the most emergency and police resources. Get them into apartments and into treatment.

While none of these programs would be cheap, in the long run, it's cheaper to seek solutions that will actually move people off of the streets into treatment and into housing. Over times, emergency medical care and policing should decrease. Of course, the real way to fight homelessness is to eliminate poverty. That's achievable, too, but only with a truly different ideology that is focused on the dignity and welfare of our fellows rather than the sanctity of our wallets.