Monday, February 21, 2011

Homelessness revisited

As you may be aware, through previous posts, I have been involved at my church for the past three years in helping my church with housing the homeless during the winter months. Prior to this winter, I stated to my church that I needed to take a step back this year from helping. The previous two years I was more involved in organizing volunteers and volunteering my own time there.

Despite me wanting to spend less time at church on this mission, I have spent a lot more time outside of my own church in working on this mission. I am now working more closely with the other churches through Chairing a committee comprised of these churches.

One thing is abundantly clear to me this year that I didn't get previously. That is that we have two clearly distinct groups of homeless. The first group is comprised of people that may be down on their luck, may have a drug or alcohol addiction or other similar circumstances. This group just may need a nudge to get them going into a program to help them help themselves.

The other group is the hardest group to help. This group are people that do not fit into society. They have extreme mental health issues. They do not see the world as we do. Due to these illnesses, and mental health issues are illnesses, assimilation into regular society is just not an option. It is not that these people are not willing, they just are not capable of fitting into a program to help them.

For the first group, many services are available. They can get into a shelter, go through a couple of programs, and then be able to function in what is deemed as normal society. They can fit back into mainstream society. However this second group can never do that. That is why these people have no place to go.

Local, State, and Federal governments can get behind homeless programs that can measure results. They can say we place "x" amount of people into "x" amount of programs or we were able to find housing for "x" amount of people. But you can not measure success for his second group.

The only way you can help this group is to provide them with shelter and social work that can help meet their needs. This is truly what my and 10 other churches in Bethlehem are doing. But you only do this during the cold weather. Nowhere in the Lehigh Valley has a place for these people to stay year round. I was told by a prominent non-profit leader that our mission was just "enabling". We weren't fixing the problem.

That statement made me take offense to it. But after further deliberation, he is partially right. We are "Enablers" to the extent of us not trying to solve this problem. So our coalition of churches have decided to start advocating for a solution. On March 17th, we are going to be starting a series of meetings with stakeholders in Bethlehem. We want to discuss how we can help this disenfranchised group of homeless. Hopefully we can start to help these people beyond the winter time.

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