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 by Jon Burras
How to End Homelessness:
Stop Feeding Them
        Walking along the beach boardwalk of my hometown I am often reminded of the large signs looming on light poles every thirty feet or so. "Do Not Feed The Birds. Feeding the Pigeons And Seagulls Only Encourages More To Come." This simple public reminder seems so simple and straightforward that even a five year old could make sense of it. Yet before you can finish reading the sign along comes some bird lover who flings out a bag full of bird seed all about the boardwalk. Pigeons and seagulls quickly dart down from every corner of the sky to grab their free meal of bird seed. While the bird lover might get her cheap thrill for the day the rest of us are reminded of the nuisance that these birds have created and the mess they leave behind. Common sense has lost another round to the cheap thrill of one person's emotional delight.
        The homeless problem gripping the nation is much the same as the "do-gooders" feeding the pigeons and seagulls at the beach. If you feed them more will come. Things have changed since what was once a benign scene of a hobo hopping on a train to the over half a million people in the United States living on the streets. The romantic image of the vagabond has turned into the person who uses "homeless" as a job description. There are not enough of the right resources available to turn things around and many homeless people do not have the will to get off the streets. Many homeless people prefer their lives of freedom than having to fully participate in society and be held accountable.
       The current model treating homelessness is failing horribly just like the war on drugs has been a miserable failure. The current model is to just keep showing up and letting homeless people do whatever they wish. This behavior includes continuing to feed them while allowing them to take over public sidewalks, bus benches, squares, beaches and parks. City funds are set aside to provide services for homeless people like health care, legal aid and often emotional counseling. The failed model is to disempower people while continuing to keep them as victims and pouring more handouts their way with them never having to do anything in return to deserve those handouts.
        Homeless people are not held accountable for anything. There is more accountability in a mental institution and at home with your pets than there is with the homeless. People in a mental institution still have to follow rules like attending group sessions, taking their medications and showering every day. A pet is held accountable for when and where to go to the bathroom, when not to bark and to not bite the postman. Not with the homeless. They are allowed to go to the bathroom wherever they please, smoke cigarettes and take drugs, ignore as many societal rules as possible (like sleeping on public sidewalks) and do not have to contribute for the services that they are using (like public showers and bathrooms). Even an autistic child is held accountable for his actions. He is not allowed to set the cat on fire or spray graffiti on the bedroom walls. Yet the homeless are allowed to set up encampments in public washes and under bridges while having fires and leaving their trash wherever they might choose.
       The homeless are not just a bunch of innocent men and women. Many times homeless people cause significant harm to neighborhoods. A recent outbreak of Hepatitis A among homeless populations in San Diego and Los Angeles is one such example. A large brush fire that burned over 500 acres in Brentwood and destroyed six homes was allegedly started by a group of homeless in a homeless camp near the freeway. There is crime, drugs, trash, stench, and without proper facilities, there are human waste issues. Your pet dog has more rules about where to go to the bathroom.
       Homelessness has very little to do with not having a home. Homelessness begins years or decades before one finds himself living on the streets. In the past we developed family relationships where we would take in our brothers and sisters even in hard times. We found our way into a community like a church or a group where we were supported even during difficult times. Most of the homeless population either never developed these relationships or are somehow estranged from their families. They did not have community around them and when things got difficult they had nowhere to go.
       Many are on the streets because of drug problems. These individuals continue to choose to use drugs in order to medicate their pain. Along with their drug use often comes crime and violence as a way to support these habits. They cannot work because they are high all of the time.
       Others might suffer from some type of mental illness from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) after coming home from war or some other mental issue like Bi-Polar Disorder or Schizophrenia. Some are living on the streets because they might have lost their job or might have been injured and unable to work.
       All in all the homeless have many reasons for living on the streets. There is no one reason why someone is camped out in a tent on a sidewalk in the middle of a large metropolitan city.
       The current strategy for curing homelessness is to create more city taxes to build large apartment style buildings to push the homeless into and out of sight of nearby residents. This strategy will ultimately fail because you continue to provide handouts to people who are used to sabotaging their lives and making poor choices. A drug addict will continue to use drugs whether you put him in an apartment with a bathroom and running water or if he is curled up in a sleeping bag behind a dumpster in an alley. Healing homelessness begins from the inside out. You have to encourage and reward people for making good choices. The current model either punishes or rewards people for making poor choices. A person chooses to live on the street and we either arrest him (punishment) or give him handouts (reward). A better approach would be to only give the homeless rewards when they have made good decisions and made good choices. Now you are empowering them to succeed. We have "infantilized" the homeless and will not let them grow up.
      The first step in the empowerment process is to criminalize feeding the homeless without authorization. This will begin the accountability process. Imagine if your dog were overweight because you kept feeding it too much. Imagine if your son were addicted to heroin and you kept giving him more money to buy his drugs. Imagine if your daughter were an alcoholic and you let her raid your home bar at every whim because you did not want to disappoint her. That is what we have been doing with the homeless by just feeding them. A much better approach is "tough love" rather than the current enabling process.
       It might sound cruel that I would want to cut out the food supply to the homeless. We have criminalized feeding sea birds at beaches. We have criminalized feeding squirrels in city parks. We have criminalized the feeding of fish in aquatic reserves. Stopping the feeding of the homeless is meant to get them to change their situation and not to starve them. For too long society has allowed people to use the homeless classification as a career choice. That is about to change.
       In step 2 you have every homeless person evaluated. The underlying question is "Why are you homeless?" Some people need a job while others need mental health support. Some have physical disabilities while others have poor job skills. Some have drug and alcohol issues while others just need a place to park their recreational vehicle. Each person will receive an evaluation and a reasonable goal index of what is expected of them to move up the ladder of no longer being homeless and learn how to become a contributing member of society.
       If you comply with this request you are fed a basic 3 meal plan each day. Oatmeal for breakfast and rice and beans for lunch and dinner. If you refuse to comply with the request for an evaluation you will not receive any food and you will not be allowed to sleep on any public property (beaches, parks, bus benches, sidewalks etc.). You will go to jail.
       Stage 3 begins when you are actively participating in your own recovery program. A drug addict might need to be involved in counseling or regular 12 step meetings. A person who lacks personal hygiene must demonstrate that he can be kept clean and showered each day. A person who just needs a job is actively looking for work. If you fulfill your part of the bargain then you are granted coffee and doughnuts with your meals along with a soda or dessert. You are not allowed any perks or frills unless you earn them.
       Step 4 begins when you have demonstrated a willingness to work with organized groups to develop job skills or other social integrating patterns. You have shown your willingness to get better. You now are granted a personal locker to store your belongings and can be moved into a large group shelter like an auditorium where you will have a group bathroom, cot and shower each day. Some might demonstrate that they are willing to take a prescribed medication daily to help stabilize their moods and lift them out of depression.
       Step 5 begins when you demonstrate social skills that continue to reinforce your willingness to be a functioning member of society. You attend group counseling sessions. You might get a job picking up trash, painting over graffiti or mowing lawns. If you comply with this request you are given a PO box where you can receive mail. Many people cannot receive social service checks (like welfare of social security) because they have no fixed address. Now you might have some income coming in. If you follow through with the expectations of a level 5 participant you will also be assisted in getting a state identification or driver's license. Without this document many services are withheld because government agencies do not know who the homeless are because they do not have the proper papers. These are services that must be earned.
       Step 6 takes place as you have a regular place of employment, whether that is full time of part time. You have demonstrated that you can commit to a daily job and have formed the necessary responsibility to do so. You are granted even more perks. You might have a private cubicle now that is enclosed on 3 sides in a large auditorium. You have earned the right to a little privacy. Privacy is not guaranteed until you earn it. You might be granted a cell phone where you can connect with family or build new relationships.
       Step 7 means that you have completed an approved life skills course. This course might include such things as how to save money and do basic banking. How to use a computer and the internet. How to stay away from drugs and alcohol. How to parent (if appropriate). How to eat correctly. Once you have passed such a course you might be granted access to a recreational area in one of these group auditorium facilities that might include pool tables, swimming pools, televisions, ping pong and other recreation. Without this level of clearance you have not earned the right to recreation. You might even get help opening up a banking account and receive free financial advice like how to plan for retirement.
       Step 8 occurs when you continue to honor the plan set out for you as far as personal hygiene, job involvement and other criteria. At this point you must be involved in some way of giving back. You will need to volunteer someplace. This instills a sense of gratitude and karmic return. You might help serve meals at a shelter or deliver food to a shut in.
       Now you might be eligible to get help purchasing a car or some other form of transportation (moped, bicycle, motorcycle). This would give you some freedom to go on trips or visit friends and family.
       Step 9 involves living in a group apartment or home. Members take turns cooking and other chores. You learn how to interact in a community and get along together. You might have a weekly counselor come in for a meeting to resolve any conflicts that might arise from shared living spaces. At this stage you have earned your right to a roof over your head with a bed and a shower.
       Step 10 is to move into your own apartment or home. You have convinced society that you are well adjusted and have earned the right to live in a neighborhood with other families. You go to work. You mow your yard. You shop for your own food. The only difference is that you are still receiving some assistance to make it happen until you can create some savings and prove that you will be able to make it on your own.
       Homeless people do not need a lenient nanny to keep handing them things. They need a firm parent who holds them accountable every step of the way. Curing homelessness should be like earning your ranks up the Boy Scouts. Boy Scouts are given direction and training to earn a series of merit badges for completing a task or skill. The homeless should work in the same manner. Every time a homeless person earns a new skill or completes a task he should be rewarded with something else. No more handouts.
       A person with an RV (recreational vehicle) is not homeless. He is landless. A person of this stature just needs a place off the street to park his vehicle. If these people can show a willingness to stay off drugs, participate in their own wellness and fulfill work tasks, there is no reason that this cannot happen. RV camps can be set up on unused land (like worn out vacated drive-in movie theaters) with showers, a recreation room, security guards and bathrooms. This could be like a homeless campground. These people do not want to be forced into a home. They like their freedom. They should receive services as long as they are willing to go through an initial evaluation and follow the plan specific for them. If they choose to remain on drugs, are unwilling to address their mental health issues (PTSD, Bi-Polar Disorder etc.) or do not want to find work then they are not allowed to park their vehicle on a city street or in a park.
There are many jobs that homeless people can do. These jobs might be such as the following; sign flippers in front of new construction, Costco meal servers, gardeners, crossing guards at schools, emptying trash cans at the beach, sweeping sidewalks in neighborhoods, tree trimmers, mall security, dog walkers, parking lot control, dog poop picking up at dog parks or trash separation at a recycling yard. Those who have more training can learn auto mechanics, hair dressing, nail polishing, welding or some other skill position. There is no way that a homeless person cannot be contributing to society. The secret is to match them up with the skill level that they have. Some of them play musical instruments and might get paid to entertain in such locations as malls for shoppers or senior citizen homes.
       There are too many people choosing homelessness as a career path. They have become the gypsies of our time and are an overwhelming plight on society. The military has done a very poor job counseling soldiers returning back from war. Each soldier might be required to go through a 3 month re-entry course as he is evaluated and treated for his emotional distress.
       As a society we might also form a homeless corps like the peace corps. Here young people out of high school can get paid to work for two years to help find, evaluate and train homelessness people.
       Drug addiction is not an acceptable choice any more. We have allowed too many people to choose the life of a drug addict. We need to remove all chance of this whether it is jail time, treatment centers or mandatory work experience like as a firefighter on the fire line.
       One of the primary reasons that people are homeless is because of the skyrocketing prices of homes. In general, home prices have risen about 300% in the last 25 years which has far outpaced wages. An average homeowner in the past was willing to pay no more than 35% of his total income for a home mortgage. Now it is over 50%. That leaves very little left for savings, retirement, home repairs or other emergencies. Real estate brokers are the only profession besides politicians who continue to give themselves a raise each year.
       Home values should be mandated by law to lose 1% of their value each year. We already regulate the cost of milk, sugar, soy, wheat and corn. A home should not continue to increase in value when it is a structure that is deteriorating from the moment that it is built. For instance, a car loses about 10% of its value every year. Boats, airplanes, appliances, computers and bicycles etc. all depreciate. Everything except jewelry and antiques lose value each year. Why should your deteriorating home keep increasing in value?
       Most homes have some form of mold in them. Paint is chipping. Dust has infiltrated into every nook and cranny. Pipes are rusting out. Roofs are worn down. Carpets are torn and stained. Ventilation ducts are filled with dust. Windows are cracked or permanently stained. Foundations have sunk. Nails have rusted. There are numerous holes and cracks in walls. Termites have invaded. There might be rodents in your attic or bats in your belfry. Driveways have cracked. Back yard swimming pools are leaking. The heater is old and unreliable. The air conditioner has glitches in it. The electrical wiring has begun to fray. There are spiders and cob webs in every corner. There might even be a dead mouse in the wall somewhere. Ants routinely travel through your house as if they owned it.
       Your home is aging and falling apart. Why should it continue to rise in value each year? Mandated by law homes will begin to lose 1% of their value each year. If you put money back in like a remodel then that will go towards the total value of your home and 1% of that number will be deducted. A fifty year old home will be valued at half of what a new home would cost enabling more people to purchase a home. A hundred year old home would be nearly free. While most home owners might not like this it is a reasonable way to allow more people to buy a home. What homeowners do not realize is that when they sell their home they are selling a very dilapidated and decaying structure from the basement to the rooftop and getting top dollar for it. Welcome to America's greatest scam. Making homes more affordable is about lowering them to their proper value.
       As we have seen, homelessness is a solvable situation. However, the way that we are doing it is not working. The incessant handouts and unrelenting charity is not the way to go. Instead, we need to develop a merit based system where a homeless person can earn his way back into society. Take it from the Boy Scouts. There are no free lunches here. Unless a homeless person is willing to get on board the program they will not only remain homeless but they will also starve or end up in an eight foot by eight foot jail cell.
       If you continue to feed the birds more will come. If you stop feeding them they will learn to find their own source of food. As of now we still have an unsightly arrangement of bird poop lining our societies' streets and sidewalks in the form of homeless camps. Ending the feeding of the homeless is not cruel. In fact, it is the most compassionate thing that we can do. When will we have the courage to make the change.






Resources

The New Approach to Discipline: Logical Consequences, Rudolph Dreikurs, M.D. and Loren Grey