Jobs aren’t the so­lu­tion to home­less­ness. The first step is get­ting peo­ple off the streets.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - AMY FREE­MAN BETHESDA

As part of my work with peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness, I fre­quently speak to groups around Bethesda on the sub­ject. I al­ways ask the same ques­tion: “How can we end peo­ple’s home­less­ness?” And I pretty much in­vari­ably get the same re­sponse: “We should help them get jobs!”

That an­swer, im­plic­itly ad­vo­cat­ing for self­suf­fi­ciency, sounds rea­son­able . . . un­til you think about what it’s like to live on the street. That I con­sis­tently en­counter this mis­per­cep­tion makes me think there’s an eas­ily re­solved in­for­ma­tion gap be­tween peo­ple work­ing to solve home­less­ness and peo­ple in the gen­eral com­mu­nity.

Per­haps the eas­i­est way I can fill that gap is by jux­ta­pos­ing my own job-search­ing me­mories with what I see from my perch at Bethesda Cares of the life of some­one liv­ing on a park bench:

My life: My net­work­ing emails and phone calls have borne fruit, and I have a job in­ter­view the next morn­ing. Af­ter mak­ing sure the out­fit I want to wear is clean, I set my alarm and hit the sack early so that I’ll be at the top of my game for the meet­ing. I wake at 2 a.m. thirsty; the ther­mo­stat is set too high, and it has left me parched. I re­set the heat and go to the kitchen for a glass of wa­ter. The cat hears me stir­ring and scratches at the door to be let out. I un­lock it, then return to bed.

Client life: I’ve spent hours walk­ing around tonight, try­ing to find a place to sleep. It’s too cold to sleep on my bench, so I tried for the base­ment of a park­ing garage, but the se­cu­rity guards threw me out. My throat is re­ally dry, but I don’t have any wa­ter. That’s okay, though, be­cause drink­ing wa­ter makes me need a bath­room, and I don’t want to get ar­rested for pub­lic uri­na­tion again. I heard about some­one get­ting beaten up for sleep­ing on a sub­way plat­form, and all his stuff got stolen. Maybe I’ll just stay awake all night.

You see my point. I needed sev­eral things for a suc­cess­ful job search: net­work­ing and the de­vices on which to net­work, food and wa­ter, clean cloth­ing and a bed be­hind a door that locks, in a room with heat. None of those are read­ily avail­able to any­one en­dur­ing home­less­ness, mak­ing the no­tion of find­ing a job to earn the money to get an apart­ment an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity. Sleep de­pri­va­tion di­rectly im­pacts our phys­i­cal and men­tal well-be­ing. De­hy­dra­tion dam­ages your heart. Job-search­ing with­out In­ter­net ac­cess, in to­day’s econ­omy, isn’t a thing. So in find­ing so­lu­tions to home­less­ness, in light of th­ese re­al­i­ties, jobs aren’t the an­swer. What is, you ask? Pro­vid­ing some­one with hous­ing is the an­swer to home­less­ness. In fact, it’s a com­plete so­lu­tion to the prob­lem. Mov­ing some­one into a home — a stu­dio apart­ment, a room in a group house — cre­ates the sta­bil­ity from which he can re­build his life. It of­fers the foun­da­tion from which she can ad­dress her phys­i­cal or men­tal ill­nesses. It al­lows for a place to store clean cloth­ing, in ad­vance of an up­com­ing job in­ter­view.

My per­spec­tive isn’t new. In fact, our part­ners at Com­mu­nity So­lu­tions are the cre­ators of Built for Zero, a rig­or­ous na­tion­wide cam­paign to house home­less clients as a proven best means of ad­dress­ing some­one’s home­less­ness. In their words: “Home­less­ness is a solv­able prob­lem that has lost its sense of ur­gency.”

Mont­gomery County is mak­ing real progress in erad­i­cat­ing home­less­ness, by mov­ing de­lib­er­ately to­ward hous­ing those suf­fer­ing home­less­ness. (Last year, the county had about 980 home­less res­i­dents, com­pared with 1,100 in 2015.) But wit­ness­ing the sheer num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing on our streets — in some cities, lit­er­ally, thou­sands of them — makes the truth of Com­mu­nity So­lu­tions’ state­ment pretty darned clear.

I’m con­cerned that to­day, with so many is­sues con­sum­ing our na­tion’s at­ten­tion, the prob­lem of solv­ing home­less­ness will fall even lower on the pub­lic agenda. We all need to keep push­ing for­ward on this is­sue, be­cause solv­ing home­less­ness hasn’t lost its ur­gency for the man with nowhere to sleep.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.