By Douglas C. Morgan
The issue of homelessness has again hit the headlines and for good reason. Peoples' lives are at stake the lives of the homeless and the lives of everyone who dwells in this community. How we as a community respond to this issue will affect us, our children, and our neighbors now and for years to come. How we respond will also speak very loudly about who we are and who we believe we should be.
I would like to contribute to this conversation by clarifying the state of the problem, then suggesting philosophies which should guide our address of the problem.
First, the problem: According to data collected and compiled by Community Assistance Network, 25 percent of the Del Norte County residents CAN serves in an average year are homeless. This equals 1,130 people. Of this total, 57 percent or, 645 individuals, are "cold homeless," and 43 percent or 485 individuals are "warm homeless."
CAN defines "warm homeless" as those who involuntarily home-share. Having no home of their own, these folks are temporarily taken-in by family or friends. In contrast, "cold homeless" are those who have no roof to reside under, but sleep in the outdoors or in a vehicle.
Along with the two aforementioned categories of homelessness, there are two types of homelessness: intentional and unintentional.
As per the name, the intentionally homeless are those who live that way by choice. They may have an aversion to responsibility, or work or people. For whatever reason, they consciously choose a homeless lifestyle. In contrast, the unintentionally homeless are those who end-up in that condition without wanting to.
What then are the causes of homelessness? People become homeless for one or more of three basic reasons: misfortune, irresponsibility or choice.
Misfortune plays out in situations such as mental illness, job loss or natural disaster.
Irresponsibility can take the form of substance abuse, poor work habit, or financial mismanagement.
Choice is the obvious cause of intentional homelessness, but also can come into play for the unintentionally homeless if they practice irresponsibility just as responsibility is a choice, so is irresponsibility.
Secondly, philosophies of address: With all this being said, what are my suggested philosophies of address? Any community or organization has limited resources (money, manpower, real estate, etc.). As such, we have a responsibility to use those resources as wisely as possible.
Thus, we must decide if we are going to enable and reward those who choose homelessness as a lifestyle, or spend our resources elevating the lives of the unfortunately homeless. My vote is for the latter. I don't have the money, the manpower, the facilities or the desire to facilitate the intentionally homeless. Nor are there any moral or biblical principles which would encourage that action. Rather, the Word says: If anyone is unwilling to work, neither let him eat (speaking of working-age, able-bodied and able-minded individuals).
Some communities, such as San Francisco and Eureka, have implemented policies and practices to address homelessness which have either ignored or disagreed with the above distinctions and philosophies. But by doing so they are paying a very high price both monetarily and socially.
To elaborate, those communities have chosen to offer as many services as possible to as many homeless as possible regardless of the type or cause of that homelessness. A Jan. 6 headline from Eureka's Times-Standard aptly describes the result: "Chief: Eureka becoming a hellhole.' "
We have the chance to avoid this. Our ambition should be to elevate our community by working together to improve all of our lives, not to drag all of us down by catering to the willful irresponsibility of a few. I do not believe there is wisdom or compassion in enabling or underwriting irresponsible choices.
I can almost hear the response of some readers: "Analysis and philosophies are great, but they don't fill empty bellies or shelter cold bones." Agreed.
But prudence dictates that analysis and philosophies precede policies and practices. Together we can continue creating a top quality community by establishing clear boundaries and expectations for ourselves as we extend help to those willing to help themselves.
Reach Douglas C. Morgan, executive director of the Community Assistance Network for Del Norte County: