National Homeless Month – November 2012


It is not your typical Hallmark holiday event, but homelessness is a real issue across this great country. This month we will elect our President and government leadership for the next term.  Part of our national discussion must be about homelessness.  We need to begin to address the issue from a human perspective.  We need to find tangible ways we all can be engaged which will end this recurring nightmare of failed policies and social enabling with no real end-game in sight.

This month I will be addressing homelessness from the perspective of a Rescue Mission.  I am quick to admit there are other perspectives, of course.  Missions have not always been successful in addressing all the issues.  However, it is my hope that from our 76 years of experience here at the Los Angeles Mission I might be able to shed some light on this issue and perhaps spark some dialogue.  Most importantly, I want to discover some real action beyond all the words, to help the people we are called to serve.

Yes serve.

I start from a faith-based perspective that we are instructed by God to help those in need.  My faith teaches that we should provide for widows and orphans and those who are not able to care for themselves adequately.  But, I am also quick to expect that those who can, should; including the homeless.  We do not subscribe to the idea that we just provide help for someone else because they are tired, lazy or so addicted that they have no human worth or potential.  We believe that every person is created in the image of God and therefore we are in this mess together, not just on our own.

Let’s hit the highlights and I will attempt to expand on them over the course of the next few weeks along with input from my staff and our clients (student, friends and neighbors).

  • What Causes Homelessness?
  • What is a Continuum of Care and why is it important to the Conversation?
  • What is Housing First or Housing Second, and the Moving Definitions?
  • Terms Matter!  What constitutes Permanent, Transitional, Emergency, Supportive… Housing?
  • Factors dealing with Employment & Education
  • Mental Health and Our Homeless
  • Spiritual Health and Our Homeless
  • Food Frenzy – Food Security
  • Recidivism – The back story

Education and Training – It’s not an option – Looking under the numbers of Unemployment

November conveys Thanksgiving to our American society.  It is a time of sharing after a season of work.  We bless others because we have been blessed, or enjoy the blessing of others because we are in need.

Those experiencing homelessness need help from others who are not homeless.  To end the cycle of homelessness, we all need to focus on homelessness as a temporary state.  Not something that should be encouraged or enabled to establish a right to sleep in urine on a side walk just to make judicial points!  Homelessness is not always a function of bad behavior or self destructive tendencies.

Summarizing the HUD (Housing and Urban Development) definition Homelessness is simply:

  • People who are living in a place not meant for human habitation, in emergency shelter, transitional housing or exiting an institution where they temporarily resided (up to 90 days) if they were living in a place not meant for human habitation prior to being in an institution.
  • People who are losing their primary nighttime residence within 14 days and lack resources to secure housing.
  • Families with children or unaccompanied youth who are unstably housed and are likely to continue in that state. (with some qualifiers)
  • People who are fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking or other dangerous or life-threatening situations related to violence; have no residence and lack resources to secure permanent housing.

Notice clearly these are not all historic Mission images of grizzly, old white alcoholics sleeping on sidewalks or under bridges.

Challenge One – We all need to commit these four categories to memory when we address “Homelessness.”  Homeless is a term related to housing stability.  It should not be confused with underlying issues such as addiction, mental health, spirituality or employment which may lead to homelessness.

Challenge Two – Homelessness assumes no ability or resources to maintain stable housing. What is at stake here is ability to pay for a roof (meant for habitation) over your head.  Cardboard, tents, garages and cars are not housing.  Housing therefore assumes income or assets to afford housing. Employment (in the absence of trust funds – for the rare eccentric) is required.

Challenge Three – Employment should be the long-term expected goal over and above short-term financial assistance.  Much has been said in our recent election about jobs.  Jobs are fundamental to financial stability and housing.  But, jobs require education and training at ever increasing levels.  Whether formal education or self-taught is for the academics to address; but this I know – you have to have basic skills to do all jobs today in a safe and competitive manner.  Can’t read the I-9 form?  Learn to read.  Can’t understand the written safety procedures?  Learn to read.  Reading is fundamental!  Functional literacy is one aspect of the Los Angeles Mission program that contributes to long-term success in housing.  Illiteracy, when detected as early as the third grade level, is a reliable predictor of the need for future prison beds.

Challenge Four – Health, regardless of who pays the bill, is fundamental to the ability to sustain income and thus housing.  Healthy bodies, minds and spirits when abused and neglected can become underlying causes of homelessness.  When we are unable to secure employment because of physical or emotional issues, homelessness will occur without some intervention of support structures, including governmental ones.  To properly address the issue of homelessness means also confronting health issues; whether “Obama Care” or not.

Homeless Awareness Month – Use this month to personally and collectively learn about the issues causing homelessness and to actively participate in ways to end it, or as some would say to “manage it into a temporary experience.”  An experience that is quickly ended by rapid re-housing and resources strategically deployed to benefit those in need who cannot sufficiently care for themselves without the support of community.

Come check out the Los Angeles Mission to see how we address issues of homelessness through programs, faith and the expectation that everyone can be housed.

-Herb Smith, President

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