December 28 at 4:40pm
Billion dollars for the homeless? There’s a better gift.
The San Diego Union Tribune: “Billion dollars for the homeless? There’s a better gift.”
Posted: December 24, 2016, 12:20 p.m.
By: Logan Jenkins
North County, it seems in this holiday season, is on the verge of getting serious about a growing social disaster. The outreach, particularly to veterans, is intense. Union-Tribune columnist Dan McSwain has written movingly about the problem. He’s our poet laureate on the hard-scrabble subject.
In early October, I sat down with Greg Anglea, Interfaith Community Service’s charismatic young director, to get some idea of what it would take to end homelessness once and for all.
Could a billion dollars perform the miracle? I asked.
Anglea smiled at the wild premise of the question.
“I don’t think you could eradicate homelessness to the point where no one is sleeping on the street or in a car,” he said. “We’ll never get to true zero. We can, however, get to the point where everyone who’s interested in housing can get housing. That’s the vast majority. Very few people want to be in the streets.”
And yet, despite the fact that very few want to live in the urban wild, the numbers keep growing.
As organizations like Escondido-based Interfaith, Solutions for Change in Vista, Alpha Project, Father Joe’s Villages and others can attest, more refugees keep showing up looking for a place to flop at an inn that often has no place for them.
At Interfaith’s year-round shelter, for example, 50 men and women sleep safely with walls around them, but 200 are on the waiting list.
Whatever’s being tried is clearly helping, but it’s not fixing. Drugs, illness, crime, poverty — it’s a witch’s brew.
I asked Anglea about the countywide affordable housing shortage, one of the oft-cited causes of the recent spike in homelessness.
In his view, the lack of housing makes homelessness worse, but it’s not the cause.
More telling, he suggests, is the mental fragility of those on the streets. Some 60 percent of those interviewed while receiving services report some manifestation of mental illness, from hearing voices to previous psychiatric holds or prescribed medication.
Reintegrating these people requires more than a home or a hot meal or canned goods, as essential as those are.
Helping, really helping, the poorest among us requires a village of support.
In a recent commentary for the Voice of San Diego, Anglea encourages people like you and me to volunteer and donate money, clothes, bedding and household furnishings to help people, even those with drug or alcohol problems, move into an apartment. (Hard to get sober if you’re on the street, he says.)
“We haven’t made it easy for people to help,” Anglea told me in October.
Dropping off canned goods and serving soup are valuable, he said.
But what’s priceless is the landlord who has his choice of tenants and yet goes with the person with the bad credit report, history of evictions, and reliance on Interfaith to keep him from back-sliding into homelessness.
Or the employer who goes with the applicant who hasn’t worked for a while and has just found an address thanks to Interfaith, an organization representing some 350 faith communities, from Anglicans to Buddhists.
At this point, I have a confession.
In the holiday season, my family’s giving has been confined to the Heifer Foundation, a cuddly charity that provides farm animals to needy families in the Third World.
Well, I have to ask myself: What about the people living in Third World conditions in my world?
Yes, the homeless are often dirty, they can stink, they might act strangely.
All the more reason to help, I can hear a certain Someone saying in the New Testament.
In his op-ed piece, Anglea recommends a simple gesture toward the homeless that seems especially right on Christmas Day.
“Talk to them,” he urges. “Ask them how they are doing. Ask them about their lives. Everyone is different, we all know that, but when was the last time you sat down and heard the story of that person you usually just pass by on the streets? The time you take to visit with a person in crisis can make a real difference. Let them know just by listening that you care.”
My original question, I realize, was stupidly misguided.
The real issue is not what a billion dollars could do.
Money and manpower would help. Regional coordination, sure. More housing, you bet. Better health care, obviously.
But nothing short of a societal shift takes you to statistical zero.
You only get there if every San Diegan cared enough to stop, look the homeless in the eye and ask if they need some help.
Contact Logan Jenkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.