Why Shelters Haven’t Ended Homelessness

The New York Times reports on the overwhelming demands on the city’s shelter system and the efforts to reach individuals in need who are wary of city shelters.  Our founder and president, George McDonald, issued the following letter in response:

The increasing and overwhelming demands on our shelter system prove that our city’s approach to homelessness has been ineffective. The notion that a cot and hot food can uplift the lives of people living on the streets has been discredited. If a roof, a bed, and a meal were enough to change a homeless person’s life, the right to shelter would have eliminated the problem thirty years ago.

Instead, the homeless population is increasing. Advocates all agree about the reason: our national economic nose dive has left huge numbers of people destitute. Homelessness is an outcome of this economic crisis. That brings us to a natural question: If the problem is economic, why isn’t the solution?

Economic opportunity is where we should be spending taxpayer dollars; building services and programs that connect homeless individuals with the tools, training, and skills they need to find— and keep— good paying jobs.

Leading an independent, self-sufficient, productive life is something that every human being aspires to, including the homeless. I know, because I’ve spent thirty years working for them, with them, and connecting them with the opportunities they need to support themselves and their families for the rest of their lives.

The work is out there. Employers all around the city are having a hard time filling entry level positions. The workforce we need to support our city’s economy is out there, too. But they’re lying in the streets; wasting away in temporary shelters; succumbing to drugs and alcohol out of desperation and hopelessness.

More traditional shelters will only keep the homeless out of sight and out of mind. Perhaps that’s a small comfort to the rest of us. But a real solution will eliminate homelessness altogether. In order for that to happen, our solution has to address the source of this crisis, not just its outcomes.

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About Author: The Doe Fund

Founded in 1985, The Doe Fund provides life-transforming services for the homeless, the formerly incarcerated, disenfranchised youth, and people living with AIDS. The organization's flagship Ready, Willing & Able program has helped tens of thousands of individuals achieve permanent self sufficiency through paid work, transitional housing, and employment training.