Living on the streets is dangerous.
Crime, disease, mental illness, and addictions eventually claim the lives of those refusing the many readily available homeless services and programs offered to the homeless. Real compassion requires that the issues causing homelessness be addressed. Simply housing individuals without addressing the causes is not success and does not rebuild homeless lives.
A majority of Reno’s homeless services are available near the 4th & Record St “campus.” According to HUD funding program requirements, employees and service providers at the Volunteers of American HUD-funded shelter are restricted from placing any behavior requirements on clients staying at the shelter. Supportive services such as drug/alcohol, mental health, and employment counseling may only be offered to clients, never required. The chronically homeless have repeatedly refused services, instead choosing to remain living on the streets using crime and panhandling to support their chosen self-destructive lifestyle.
Individuals’ misguided attempts to alleviate the suffering of the chronically homeless by giving money to those begging at intersections, parking lots, and tourist locations harm the community as well as the chronically homeless individuals. Communities across the country are dealing with elevated numbers of misdemeanor crimes including car, house, and business burglaries, shoplifting, theft, aggressive panhandling, and illegal camping in public spaces. Public parks and spaces once enjoyed by a community are now riddled with used needles and drug paraphernalia, human feces, and literal tons of trash brought in by the vagrants. Businesses experiencing growing losses due to homeless theft and crime pass the costs on to consumers or eventually close their doors and leave towns and neighborhoods.
City councils and county boards, attempting to solve the homeless problems with HUD-funded programs, are not succeeding. Even given copious funding, affordable or free public housing will never be available in sufficient quantities to house individuals unwilling to exchange destructive behaviors for productive ones. Public policies, programs, and code and law enforcement, together, could provide the motivation necessary for the service-resistant chronically homeless to engage with supportive services. When politicians, governing bodies, and the public demand a new approach, progress will be seen. Communities must replace the failing, unproductive solutions presently in place, not duplicate the so-called “best practices” or “research-based” programs established in various cities across the country. If these best practice, research-based programs were truly successful, the San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Los Angeles, and other cities’ homeless disasters wouldn’t exist.
Resources dedicated to helping the homeless are substantial and steadily increasing. Until it is admitted that these resources, both federal and private, are doing little more than developing a burgeoning “homeless industrial complex,” homeless populations will increase as will the demand for ever increasing funding.
The success or failure of a homeless program should be measured by the number of individuals who have eliminated destructive behaviors that placed them on the streets initially. Success should not be measured by the number homeless individuals who walked through the program’s doors, or how many individuals are now in subsidized or free dwellings. Without removing the destructive behaviors, the negative impact of homelessness on communities and individuals will continue and the financial burden of caring for homeless dependents will increase. Just look to the oft cited “success” of Seattle where funding levels have increased exponentially, as well as the harm to the community.
Without verifiable, quantifiable results, funding should be discontinued, yet counties and states throwing funds at uninspiring, ineffective programs that do little more than employ individuals in the homeless industry. Awarding increased funding to ineffective programs is irresponsible use of taxpayer and donor contributions. Present program funding policies have created an incentive to increase homeless numbers by awarding higher funding amounts to programs citing higher homeless numbers.
Individuals wanting healthy communities will get involved and speak up. They will demand greater accountability from service providers, greater responsibility from government officials in disbursing taxpayers’ funds and addressing homeless crime, greater creativity in establishing effective homeless programs, and more courage to step away from the false promises of best practice, research-based ideologies.