The State’s Homeless Challenge

24 Feb

Many of us have either volunteered at homeless shelters or sent our students to do the same. Personally, for several years I’ve sent honors students to tour local shelters and interview clients; the students often walk away profoundly affected by the experience.

Sometimes they’re humbled by the realization of the role that sheer luck, including the environment into which you’re born, plays in who winds up in shelters. Sometimes they’re depressed and disturbed at living conditions of homeless people who must sleep in the same room, to the degree they can sleep at all, before being pushed out to wander during the day. Sometimes they’re inspired by the commitment of both staff and clients to transcend the situation and effect some positive change.

Under Gov. Deval Patrick, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts itself has sought such change by supporting the Housing First model, in which folks who are homeless avoid the shelter step – which so many never get past –and move right into stable housing, thus heightening their opportunities to overcome their personal difficulties, build lives for their children, and get themselves in better position – physically, spiritually, and practically – to obtain employment. That model has long been acknowledged – even by many of the good people working within the shelter system – as not only more promising, but also as more cost-effective. And, like so many things, it only succeeds on a large scale with the help of government.

I revisit this topic as my way of drawing attention to a fascinating synthesis of the state’s current housing dilemmas, including the practice of having to pay hotels to house families, a problem that’s only growing. The article, by Rupa Shenoy of the New England Center For Investigative Reporting, ran in the Sunday Worcester Telegram & Gazette. It delves into the context of public policy regarding homelessness – and will be required reading for my students next time I teach a course on homelessness.

Meanwhile, gratitude and respect for all those working hard in the system to provide safe living conditions for the homeless.

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