March 17, 2011

What Homelessness and Linus Have In Common

Many who are mad about the homeless problem in San Diego and around the nation are mad because we keep throwing billions of dollars at it yet the problem gets worse. I can't blame them. If you read articles about homelessness in almost any online newspaper today you'll see many bloggers who people refer to as the "haters". The haters don’t know why the homeless problem gets worse so they blame the homeless themselves calling them lazy and other names. But these judgments against the homeless are ill placed. The reason why we are failing is not because the homeless are addicted, mentally ill, or just plain lazy. It is because of how we as a collective community of non profits, churches, governments and people respond to addiction, mental illness or laziness among those that are homeless. Our attitudes and actions are largely those of containment...treating homelessness like a disease that has to be contained...managing the symptoms instead of dealing with the root causes. This battle plan of containment has failed. It has failed the homeless and it has failed all of us. Yet we cling to it like Linus clung to his blankey.

Because slinging shelter beds, soup bowls, motel vouchers, water bottles and safe parking lot zones is simple...and it makes a lot of people FEEL like they are doing something. But what they don’t understand is that the something that they are doing is really making the problem much WORSE. They feel like they are helping but in reality they are enabling the problem to grow into gigantic uncontrollable form...which then creates more of a need...which then creates more containment opportunities. It creates a bigger blanket to be dependent on. If we change our attitudes and actions, if we can abandon the old battle plan of managing the symptoms of homelessness and redesign around a new plan based on the core values of solving this problem for BOTH the homeless person AND the community, homelessness is beatable. We can defeat it but it will require leadership that is willing to abandon the old battle plan and redesign around access to permanent solutions. Or, to use the angle of this will require us to give up the familiar, well worn and now very big, gnarly, smelly blanket.