Monday, November 26, 2012

Perspectives On Homelessness Often Clash

That is something I have witnessed over the years.   People working in the homelessness industry often hold conflicting ideas and beliefs about homelessness, its causes and solutions.   I recall attending a presentation by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) here in Nashville.   One would assume that every homeless service provider would attend such a meeting, but not all of them in the Nashville area were represented.  But even more striking is that some people left in the middle of the presentation because they personally did not agree with some of the statements made by the NCH.   It seems odd to me as well, that they choose to just leave instead of discussing their differences.

As I've said before, nearly all homeless service providers, either individuals, or organizations, approach homelessness with preconceived ideas about homelessness, and homeless people.   So, when they interact with the homeless, they tend to gravitate towards those homeless people who seem to validate those preconceived ideas, and either reject, or ignore, those homeless who do not.   Additionally, their preconceived ideas often act as filters, preventing the homeless service providers from seeing the homeless people people for who they truly are, and because of this, they fail to recognize the real needs of the homeless, leaving the homeless without access to the very things that could cure them of their homelessness.   Though this is most obviously true of religion based homeless services, all homeless services organizations are guilty of this.

After some time of working with the homeless, it is often the case that a homeless service provider will believe themselves an expert in the field.  Certainly they have had many experiences with the homeless, some of these experiences may have even been what people would consider successful, as a portion of the homeless people they have interacted with have indeed overcome their homelessness.  The idea that they have become experts in the field will often be reinforced by  people outside of the homelessness industry who applaud the work of the service providers, though they don't really know what or why they are applauding.  Mostly they want to provide encouragement for people doing something that they would never attempt to do themselves.

The one thing I wish for all homeless service providers to understand is that regardless of how many homeless people they encounter in their daily work, there are still many more homeless people whom they will never encounter, whom will never cross the threshold of their organizations front door, and because off this they will never truly obtain a full understanding, or have a complete perspective, of homelessness.   And because of this, the ideas that they hold to, they believe in, and guild them in their work with the homeless, will always be incomplete.   They will always have more to learn.  I just hope that they will keep themselves open to learning more.

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