Can we rescue all the homeless people in Del Norte County? No. Even if we had all the money and other resources in the world we couldn’t.
Why? Because some homeless people do not want to be rescued. Some homeless people want to be homeless. It is their chosen lifestyle. Furthermore, we don’t have all the money and resources in the world. We have limited money and other resources.
So the question becomes: How do we best expend the money and resources we have? We must give attention to “best use” of our resources. With respect to the homeless, the philosophy of Community Assistance Network (CAN) is that we expend our resources on the most vulnerable, and those most eager to transition from homeless to housed.
CAN has neither the resources nor the desire to support the willfully homeless. So just as the willfully homeless are free to choose that lifestyle, we are free to choose to not support that lifestyle. The former position is derived from the scriptural admonition: “Let him who works not, eat not.” The latter position is issued with the understanding that genuine love helps spur folks to responsibility by not supporting their irresponsibility.
So through CAN’s 15 years of experience in ministering to the homeless and needy, who do we count as the most vulnerable? Families with children and single women. Children are almost always innocent victims of homelessness. No one chooses their parents.
The second most vulnerable people are single women. It is also so that in most cases families with children and single women can be housed together or at least in close proximity. This makes use of a single facility (if or when such a facility opens) for both more feasible. CAN’s outreach to single women, however, is also tempered by the willfulness factor. In other words, if a single woman chooses a homeless lifestyle, CAN feels no compunction to support her in it.
All this largely stands in contrast to the situation of single men. For whatever reason, single men constitute the highest percentage of willfully homeless. It is also single men who often end up becoming targets of law enforcement, and many times rightly. Who amongst us wants to have our children accosted as they stroll downtown? Who amongst us wants to be intimidated by scruffy, loud and aggressive men as we walk from our car to the supermarket? When individuals break the peace which we all strive to keep, law enforcement should rightly step in.
Thankfully, Chief Douglas Plack of the Crescent City Police Department has been proactive on this issue. He’s taken the initiative to put together a Panhandling Task Force, which explores what we as agencies and as a community can do to combat socially unacceptable behaviors of some homeless folks. Instead of giving panhandlers money, the chief and his agency associates, including CAN, believe the best response is to give them a card upon which are listed the many local agencies which aid the homeless.
So while the panhandler on the corner holding the cardboard sign often gains our attention and consequently personifies our idea of the homeless, it is actually misleading.
Most homeless faces go largely unseen and unnoticed. They include: 1) the unintentionally homeless — those who have found themselves homeless by way of misfortune and/or irresponsibility, but who genuinely want to transition from homeless to housed; and 2) what CAN calls the “warm homeless” — folks forced into home-sharing or temporary stays in motels.
CAN statistics have been very consistent over the years: whether considering people we serve through our food bank or one of our 20-plus other services, of the individuals we serve at least once throughout the course of a year, 24 percent (1,080 individuals) are homeless. Approximately 43 percent (464 individuals) can be considered “warm,” 57 percent (616) are “cold,” 23 percent (248) are children, and 15 percent (164) are single women. This does not mean that all these people are homeless and Del Norte County residents throughout any given year, but that at some point in that year they are homeless and Del Norte County residents.
Now that we’ve touched upon philosophy of ministry and have some accurate data under our belts, I would like to address what we as a community are doing about the problem. Yes, we are not standing still. We are taking informed, well composed, resourced, and collaborative actions. Lord willing, such will shortly be relayed in a follow-up commentary.
Douglas C. Morgan is executive director of Community Assistance Network.