A Proposal to End Homelessness
By Steve Wheeler
HOUSING: It is currently considered best practice to provide permanent housing for homeless people. However, according to workers whose full-time jobs are to provide health and cleanliness to homeless communities, extensive housing complexes were indeed built for the homeless, but homeless people would not live there because the housing was too far away from the streets that had passers-by who give them food and money to live, so they prefer to stay on the sidewalks in the busy parts of town. In my opinion, it is not lack of “housing” that causes people to be homeless, but rather it is their lack of enough money to pay for housing and the other necessities of life. The solution is to help the homeless to earn money and learn how to budget it so they can afford housing, so they can become independent. “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” I believe the following outline will help get people back on their feet, and get people out of their temporary homeless situation into a self-sustaining, permanent situation of having a place to live.
SHOWERS: First of all, nice rows of showers should be built for the homeless to clean up in, and kept stocked with soap and shampoo. The homeless need to be clean and not stinky for interviews and work until they have saved enough money to rent a place with their own facilities. A water heater can even be placed next to them if the city is willing to provide the gas and electricity for it. Used towels can be donated by people who buy new ones, instead of throwing their old ones away. This can be an ongoing community endeavor. Showers can be in one part of town, but they would be more effective if they were spread out every 6 blocks or so, with a port-a-potty and a locker next to them, perhaps in a corner of some parking lot or in an alley off the sidewalk, and painted the same color as the wall they are against. Perhaps they could stand independently of city services, with a water tank on top that can be refilled daily, and solar panels to charge a DC battery to power the lights inside and perhaps a small electric water heater. A maid service can be employed to clean the showers daily and restock them with supplies, perhaps with donated hotel soaps and shampoos, and wash used towels. Signs should tell shower users to clean up to make the place look better than they found it, for the next user. A tube drain can go to a street gutter.
WASHING MACHINES: One or two cheap washing machines can be placed next to the showers, or at least a big tub sink to wash clothes by hand without the need for electricity. People can line-dry their own stuff on the provided lines and clips. For the washer, the city can either provide power, or a gas generator can be nearby in a cage to provide power to the washer and a water pump.
CLOTHING: When interviewing, it is common procedure to dress one step up above the clothing typically worn at work for the job you are applying for. Homeless people have limited supplies and clothing, and will need to dress appropriately for interviews and the subsequent work, especially if they are issued a uniform. To get the right clothing so they don’t stand out in a negative way, they need to be able to get things to wear at no cost. Perhaps Goodwill or another donations place can help them get fitted in the appropriate attire as needed to help get people into a good job and off the street.
LOCKERS: These need to be near showers, and big enough to hold the personal belongings of a homeless person (typically the size of a heaping shopping cart). People won’t get hired if they drag all their life’s belongings with them into a job interview. People need to be neat and presentable, and not look homeless. People will not want to leave the only belongings they have unattended on the street for people to pick through – they need to be locked up safely while they are job hunting and during work hours when they are earning money for a place to live.
ADDICTION: Flyers should be distributed explaining the consequences of drugs, alcohol, etc., and the benefits of having self-control to avoid harmful substances. Addiction counselors can be hired to walk the streets, casually talking with people and convincing them to clean up their lives.
CHANGE: Change in conditions comes from within. All the resources and help won’t change a person if they are already satisfied with the way things are, and are unwilling to change. People need a driving desire in themselves to want to get out of their situation. We must remember that some people are happy where they are, and do not want help to be something they don’t want to be.
INTERVIEWER: Interviewers go and talk with homeless people individually to find out how they became that way, what their background is, what skills and education they have, if they are satisfied being homeless or not, what their dreams or wishes are, what kind of job they want, what they are willing to do to reach their goals, if they are addicted to drugs or alcohol, what help they need or want, if they are willing to have someone teach them things, etc. They then talk with the recruiters to help find out which educator can help them with their needs.
EDUCATOR: People who know things should teach those who don’t know about where and how to get a job, how to do a job well, and how to use their money wisely once they get it. Educators are people who are willing to talk with homeless people over the phone or via video chat and teach them what to do to be successful. They can be volunteers, or be paid in 5-minute increments for their service of teaching. They will answer questions and teach an individual homeless person about a particular job of interest, and train them how to do it. An educator has a busy schedule of their own, and can’t be expected to go to a homeless community, but can call at a good time for them to help somebody in need.
RUNNER: A runner connects the educator with the homeless person, bringing a phone or tablet for them to communicate with. They establish a mutually agreed-upon time for the educator to call the homeless person, and make sure that the call is successfully connected for the two to talk. They also go into the homeless communities and deliver messages to people as needed, such as employer call-backs for interviews, mail from the common mailing address, etc.
RECRUITER: The recruiter finds high school teachers, college professors, managers, and good, seasoned employees who are willing to be educators to help teach homeless people about how to get into the career that they know about.
APPLICATIONS: Since most applications in today's world are submitted on-line over the internet, it is important that somebody with an internet-connected computer goes around the homeless communities asking if people are ready to apply to jobs. The applications worker is a fast typist, and carries or rolls a little foldable table with two foldable chairs, and sets up wherever needed to ask for and input information into job applications for the homeless person. One or several applications can be submitted, then the worker goes on to the next person to help.
COMMON MAILING ADDRESS: Since you have to put your address on applications and have a place to mail your check to, homeless people need to have an “address” that they can put down on applications so they can get hired and reliably get mail, including their paychecks. They must not appear to be homeless or they won’t get hired very easily. They need to present themselves like any other applicant – clean, well-dressed, groomed, and have a residence and a way to get to work. This address can be the headquarters address or any other physical location that can get mail and be called “home” temporarily.
TRANSPORTATION: Provide a cheap bicycle or scooter with a chain and lock so people can go around looking for a job, or to get to work once they have employment. If they are NOT actively looking for a job or working, they have to give the bike back.
HYGIENE: A helper should be assigned to help people get cleaned up, cut hair, trim or shave beards, curl hair, trim and paint nails, apply make-up, and otherwise help make people look presentable. There should be a focus on sanitation, making sure that cleaning up includes getting rid of germs and infections all over the body. If there are cuts or scrapes, first aid should be conducted to sterilize the wounds, and Band-Aids or other supplies given to maintain a clean site. Each homeless person should be given their own toothbrush, toothpaste, and razor to look and smell good. Referrals should be made to proper medical care as appropriate. Perhaps a barber could come to homeless communities once a week to give free haircuts (to people who have washed their hair first).
COMMON COLORS: The helpers who go around the homeless community should wear the same colored T-shirts (perhaps solid blue or yellow) so they can be easily identified as someone to go to to ask for help. Everybody should be trained on all aspects of helping, but each should have a specialty which could be specified in large print on the front and back of the shirt, such as Interviewer, Applications, Runner/Messenger, and Hygiene. Each should carry radios to have other specialists come deliver special help as needed.
PERPETUAL FUND: After a homeless person gets stable and secure in a job and is able to successfully pay for housing, food, and clothing, they should pay back the amount of money it took to get them where they are, in small increments over time, similar to a student loan. If they truly feel helped by this process, they will be glad to contribute back to help someone else in their same situation. “Pay it forward” can be a slogan for previously homeless people to help future homeless people. If it isn’t so, then money will eventually run out, even if it is billions of dollars. Every major city has homeless people, and it takes money to provide showers, washers, lockers, clothing, a water supply, electricity and gas for a water heater, addiction counselors, educators, runners, recruiters, bicycles, management and directors, and a headquarters building for an “address” in each city across the world. Even so, if done properly, this can be done more inexpensively than building structures for homeless people to live in – they are still homeless in the sense that the place is not really theirs.
SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS: It is understood that some people have disabilities that prevent them from working. Still, there are jobs out there that people with disabilities do. Many stores hire people with mental retardation to mop floors, stock shelves, and do repetitive assembly work. People in wheelchairs can still use their arms and fingers to do typing work, and people with a pleasant voice can be good customer service representatives over the phone. There are laws in the United States that protect people with disabilities from being discriminated against, just so long as they can do the job as well as any other qualified person. But they still must wear clean clothing and not stink – poor hygiene is not a disability. And they must work hard for their pay, just like anyone else. Perhaps disability specialists can be involved in this whole process to make it possible for people with PTSD, missing limbs, mental disorders, chronic pain, or other long-term illnesses to find work that they can do in spite of their disability. They can help people find their abilities instead, and focus on those abilities to be successful.
FACTS: 552,830 people were homeless on a single night in 2018 in the United States. That's 17 out of every 10,000 people. 67% of them were individuals, and 33% were in families with children. 7% were under 25 years old. 7% were veterans. 18% were chronically homeless, largely of people with disabilities. 70% were men. 49% were white. There was a dramatically higher percentage of African Americans and American Indians than represented in the general population. California tops the list of homeless people with 129,972, followed by New York with 91,897, Florida with 31,030, Texas with 25,310, and Washington with 22,304.
Causes of homelessness in the United States include lack of affordable housing, divorce, lawful eviction, negative cash flow, post traumatic stress disorder, foreclosure, fire, natural disasters (hurricane, earthquake, or flood), mental illness, physical disability, having no family or supportive relatives, substance abuse, lack of needed services, elimination of pensions and unemployment entitlements, no or inadequate income sources (such as Social Security, stock dividends, or annuity), poverty (no net worth), gambling, unemployment, and low-paying jobs. (source: Wikipedia.org). It is interesting that more than half of the causes of homelessness deal directly with money issues. Many of the rest of the causes deal indirectly with money issues, such as having a disability that interferes with work performance.
Historically, during the 1990s homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other supportive services sprouted up in cities and towns across the nation. However, despite these efforts and the dramatic economic growth marked by this decade, homeless numbers remained stubbornly high. It became increasingly apparent that simply providing services to alleviate the symptoms of homelessness (i.e. shelter beds, hot meals, psychiatric counseling, etc.), although needed, were not successful at solving the root causes of homelessness.
It would be nice for a video presentation of this system to be produced and distributed to all big city managers and mayors across the world so that they can make arrangements to put it into effect in their own areas. This system is not to replace current food and housing solutions - indeed those need to be kept to meet people's immediate needs. This is to add to those services the component that will result in jobs and permanent homes.
There is a sequence to all this: Homeless people need to: 1) Be dissatisfied with their condition and want to change their situation. 2) Want a job, 3) Be clean, shaven, and combed (not look homeless). 4) Learn the skills needed to apply for a job of their choice, get any required certifications, and basically meet the requirements. 5) Actively look for jobs and send in applications that are properly filled out with contact information. 6) Be available for calls to interview. 7) Have transportation to get to the interviews. 8) Do well in the interview, hopefully shining as the best candidate. 9) Get hired, and do the other paperwork requirements that the employer requires for the position. 10) Show up to work on time, work hard and well, and be trustworthy and capable. 11) Keep going to work dependably and save all the money possible, not spending any (keep eating at the food kitchen and get other necessities for free). 12) After a month or two, use the amassed money to rent a place to live. 13) After months of proving to be a good employee and having a stable residence, look into home ownership (most stable), or keep renting (less stable).
The sequence for cities is to: 1) Provide homeless people with lists of available jobs in the area (the Chamber of Commerce can help provide this, but also solicit job info from smaller non-member businesses). 2) Provide easily-accessible and free public showers, washing machines or washing tubs, dryers or drying lines, toilets, lockers, and water heaters (these things will cost your city the most money, especially if hooking up to power and water infrastructure, but will be essential to get people clean enough to work and off your streets). 3) Provide public job trainings, hiring guest speakers from local businesses to share what is needed for jobs in the various fields, and advertise the events especially via posters and flyers given to homeless people. 4) Set up computer areas for homeless people to apply to jobs, since most applications these days are on-line. 5) Make sure public bus routes go by or through homeless communities, and allow homeless people to have a free bus pass so they can go to interviews and work for their first few months. Cities may also try some sort of free bicycle program so that homeless people have transportation to get to interviews, trainings, and work (perhaps buying several good used bikes and letting only homeless people use them). 6) Allow preferential or lower-priced housing for people who have 2 or more months lapse in a residential address.