Wouldn’t it be great if there was one solution that could solve everything? In today’s culture, we tend to seek out quick fixes and one-size-fits-all approaches to address our problems in the spirit of efficiency and practicality. Nowhere do we see this more prominently than the issue of homelessness across the United States.
Homelessness is a multifaceted issue with a variety of factors and challenges that look very different depending on the type of homelessness that exists in the community, the people experiencing homeless, and the communities impacted. The challenges of homelessness won’t be the same in Fargo, ND compared to San Diego, CA or even here in Nashville, TN.
Instead of one silver bullet to fix the issue, we really need more of a silver shotgun shell approach towards solving homelessness in our communities. Because of its complexities, what works for some may not work for others, so we need to initiate a variety of programs and strategies to address the unique needs of our homeless neighbors. When we take a silver shotgun shell approach, we can make a greater, more lasting impact.
The various needs of the homeless
There is a great variety of needs you’ll notice when you start working with the homeless. It’s not just about getting them off the streets and into shelters. Some need help finding jobs. Homeless families may need different resources than individuals. There is a growing need for onsite healthcare at homeless facilities. Counselors are becoming more vital to help the homeless become self-sufficient and get the training they need to re-enter the workforce. A more holistic approach is required today to help people break the cycle of homelessness.
I’ve met with leaders in cities that have been majorly impacted by homelessness, like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The enormity of the homelessness they’re facing is overwhelming. It’s clear that one approach won’t fix everything. Each city has unique issues and different strategies they’re deploying to approach homelessness. When a shotgun shell approach is taken, city leaders like these can begin to discover what works well (and what doesn’t).
Different types of homelessness
When it comes to your homeless neighbors, the context behind their homelessness is never the same across the board. Some people are temporarily homeless while others have been homeless for years. Some are in between jobs, while others don’t have the capacity to work at all. Your neighbors living on the streets could be very young (as young as kids) or elderly. Some have mental health or substance abuse issues. Others are escaping domestic violence. Sadly, one silver bullet can’t fix all of these problems.
Not only do reasons vary for the cause of homelessness, there are actually different classifications of homelessness as well. The four types of homelessness include:
- Chronic – Those who are considered chronically homeless are defined as individuals with a disabling condition who have been homeless for at least a year or more. Often these individuals are older in age and struggle with complex, long-term health issues.
- Episodic – Episodic homeless individuals are currently homeless and have been at least three different times in the past year. Many episodic homeless people are younger and struggle with substance abuse, mental illness, or medical challenges.
- Transitional – The most common type, those experiencing transitional homelessness are often younger and enter into a shelter or transitional housing only for a brief amount of time. The cause of their homelessness is usually due to an unexpected life change.
- Hidden – Often unreported in statistics, those experiencing hidden homelessness are temporarily living with others without guarantee of staying for a long time and no certainty of long-term housing elsewhere. Typically, many people in this category don’t seek homeless support systems even though they need help.
As you can see, different types of homelessness bring their own unique needs. To best serve our neighbors experiencing homelessness, we need to pursue a variety of strategies to help them on their own specific journeys. It’s only then when we’ll start to make a major difference.
A multifaceted approach to housing
I recently had the opportunity to chat with David Dworkin, President and CEO of the National Housing Conference, when he appeared as a guest on the Real Hope Podcast. We discussed housing as a solution for homelessness. Two common approaches, Housing First and Rapid Re-housing, focus on getting the homeless into housing quickly so they can begin to improve their quality of life.
David shared how rapid re-housing is incredibly important for those who are experiencing economic homelessness for the first time. However, when it comes to the homeless who have mental illnesses and chronic health problems, according to David, it can be very difficult for them to accept help to get off the street and go into housing. Both David and I agreed that a more specific multifaceted housing approach is needed as an alternative.
Approaches can also vary based on the community’s economy and available resources. David mentioned how in Los Angeles, for example, there’s been a lot of work in converting hotel and motel buildings that have gone out of business (especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic) into homeless shelters and single-room occupancies. With this approach, the city has been able to capitalize on its unused resources to help its homeless community.
Finding grace and paying it forward
As we explore taking a silver shotgun shell approach to addressing the various needs of the homeless in our community, it’s important we reflect on our own stories. For many of us who aren’t homeless, we were born into families that provided for us, educated us, and set us up to succeed in life. This is such an incredible gift, and not a gift we did anything to deserve. This reminds us of God’s incredible grace in showing us mercy and unmerited favor through Christ’s death and resurrection at a time when we didn’t deserve it as well.
For many of our homeless neighbors, they didn’t grow up with the same gifts we undeservedly received. As we consider the grace and gifts we’ve enjoyed, it helps us to see the homeless with compassion and think, “How can I pay it forward? How can I help my homeless brothers and sisters with what I’ve been graciously given?”
Let’s use our talents, gifts, and resources to take a silver shotgun shell approach to help the homeless in our midst. Lasting impact awaits!