Thinking of the Homeless During the Holidays

During the holiday season, Americans should spare some thought for the less fortunate as they walk past the homeless on their way to shopping for gifts.  This winter, many are cold and forgotten and have no hope for a better life, and they need help.  American Thinker interviewed those who have decided to take some action to help stop this problem.

A few notable statistics: approximately 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year, and about 84,291 are considered chronically homeless.  Making up the homeless population are those experiencing mental illness, substance abuse, physical disabilities, and domestic abuse, as well as war veterans.  Among homeless families, the leading causes are lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, and low-paying jobs. 

Philip F. Mangano is the president and CEO of The American Round Table to Abolish Homelessness.  Before this, he was the homelessness "czar" under the Bush and Obama administrations.  He emphasizes that what is needed is actual plans, not good intentions.  "We should be tolerant of homeless people but intolerant of homelessness.  There is more money spent on people living on the streets than to provide permanent housing and customized services.  The average range of costs when a person is on the street is between $25,000 and $150,000.  Compare that to the housing and support range of costs, from $12,000 to $25,000."  The statistics back him up, considering that approximately 30% of emergency room visits are made by chronically homeless people – $3,700 per visit, with an average of five visits per year.

Mangano's goal is to make the homeless "as independent as possible, because nothing is as 'under-dependable' as the government.  Liberate people from depending on the government, which cannot pay for everybody forever.  Employment is the key, except for those with mental illness, who need to be supported so they take their medication.  Our new goal should be moving the homeless off the streets, ending shelters, and finding them permanent housing."

Maryam is one of the founders of the Pacific Palisades Taskforce, established to work closely with local stakeholders and government entities to help transition as many people as they can out of homelessness and off the streets and hillsides.  She wants Americans to understand shelters are not the answer.  "Homeless people are out here because they don't like the other options.  They can't be forced to enter a shelter.  Many do not feel safe, and many times their items are stolen.  Some do not take their medication because it makes them drowsy, and they want to be on their highest alert so as not to be abused or hurt.  Also, many shelters will separate families because they are placed by gender."

Donna Gallup, the president and CEO of American Family Housing, told American Thinker her organization provides a continuum of housing and services to ensure long-term housing stability for the homeless.  Her goal is to not have neighborhoods negatively impacted, but to reintegrate the homeless to become active members of our society.  She warns Americans that "groups and individuals who hand out food, clothing, and blankets do not help them get off the streets, but actually make it more comfortable for them to stay."

Bruce Schwartz, another founder of the Pacific Palisades Taskforce, feels that the problem in Los Angeles County has become unmanageable, thanks in part to the Ninth Circuit Court and human rights attorney Carol Sobel.  Sobel went to court and fought for an injunction allowing people to sleep on the sidewalk, putting all laws to prevent homelessness on the back burner.  For Schwartz, "this has become a huge health and safety problem.  Right now we are pitting the civil liberties of the homeless against the health and safety of communities.  People have to walk through feces, garbage, rodents, and bugs.  We need some creative thinking to overcome this problem.  I am in favor of laws that criminalize homelessness, and then finding a way for citizens to step up to the plate to help with housing.  I encourage other communities to set up citizens' groups with businesses to help with funding.  If people are interested, they should contact me."

What can be done is to have more organizations such as American Family Housing.  They give people an apartment and hold them accountable by educating them on what it means to be a good tenant.  They must pay a rent consisting of 30% of their income.  In this way, they feel part of the community.  The income comes from government subsidies for those with disabilities or part-time jobs.  She insists, "We focus on building a community.  We empower people and expect them to follow rules, similar to those rules of a condominium complex.  Every month, we meet with them to get feedback on how to help them.  I really believe, given the opportunity, they will become productive."

American Thinker challenged Philip Mangano to put his talk into action.  There are two homeless people who have made a sidewalk in Los Angeles their permanent residence in the author's neighborhood.  Someone did come out from this organization and spoke to both.  One of those approached stated he is on several lists for housing, but no one has found him a place.  He was told about "Step Up" and their efforts to get people into apartments.  The person from Step Up noted, "He did take my card, but he didn't seem to be motivated to actually get off the streets.  I asked him if I could come back on another day to visit with him.  He consented.  So I will begin the process of engagement and will also let others in my office know about him."

She also explained what happened with the second man: "He could barely put a sentence together.  He demonstrated poverty of thought, thought-blocking, illogical statements, and loose associations.  Those symptoms are commonly associated with schizophrenia.  He did answer my very simple questions but refused to take my card.  He also refused to give me his name.  He was polite but not willing to trust me today.  I told him I'd be back on another day.  He said he wasn't sure he would see me.  So, with him, I will attempt to engage him with my colleagues.  It may take months to successfully engage him, but it can be done."

Those who work with the homeless are optimistic that housing can be provided, including having vouchers for landlords with empty apartments.  All interviewed want Americans to understand that dealing with the homeless is part tough love and part compassion.  They need business and individuals to help.  As Maryam summarized, "right now, a lot of people are reactive.  We need to be proactive.  Instead of complaining, we need to take this frustration and put it into solutions."

The author writes for American Thinker.  She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.