Homeless people need more than just handouts
A shopping cart is filled to the brim with life’s accessories. A worn-out jacket silently keeps her warm. She has hair that was shampooed last week, a cell phone that won’t ring and a silver ring on her finger that serves as memories of a golden past.
The homeless of Houston swarm the streets, their problems oblivious to others who surround them. Who are those that we, the so-called more stable citizens, label as "homeless?"
Statistics show that in the U.S. the majority of the homeless are the unemployed, military veterans and the elderly and quarter of which are children. Why are these individuals branded like cattle as "the homeless," as if it were a curse? Do we live in a society that still follows the caste system, treating the homeless as untouchables?
Let me summarize the majority of opinions that cloud our senses when we think about reaching out to this group: "I have problems, crises of my own" or "I don’t have any time. The baseball game, homework, my friend’s birthday and calling my boyfriend are my priorities as of this moment."
The most common excuse used for self-reassurance is that the government provides for the homeless, and that there’s no need to worry. But that doesn’t always happen in theory.
Organizations such as the Social Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Association and the Department of Housing and Urban Development do provide aid for these individuals. Emergency Shelter Grants is an example of a program set up for the homeless that provides homeless prevention assistance along with shelters and commodities.
While there are many assistance programs available to help the people on the streets, there is a lot of paperwork, red tape and other requirements that make the system less than efficient. An example is the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool that is available online; it is a way to identify if individuals can qualify for government-based benefits.
I wonder if the homeless know about this information, or if they can even navigate the Internet to find such resources. They don’t have homes, so where are they going to get an Internet connection to access this information?
The government has the programs in place, but the homeless are not provided for all their lives. A period of time is allotted in which aid is given to a person for self-stabilization. But the bulk of this group is unable to do so because their reason for being homeless is not solely because of unemployment; there can be many reasons, such as family crisis, a lack of education, mental instability and sexual and drug abuse histories.
It’s easier said than done to go back to being "normal," thus after their "time is up," they are back on the streets to fend for themselves.
Another excuse that we all use to not assist others is our opinion that the homeless will blow off money in substance abuse. Sadly though, it is a fact for many homeless. Research by the National Resource Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness has demonstrated that about half of the homeless population abuses substances. This alone is a huge roadblock to getting back on their feet. When presented with money, they choose drugs over food, and thus lose their mental stability as well as their physical endurance. This adds to the intensifying dilemma we as a society are facing.
The Harris County Psychiatric Center is one of the few institutes available for the mental care of the homeless. The general predicament that this and other facilities face are funding. The majority of their funds are state and government based, but that alone cannot support the volume of patients that walk in. Thus institutes like this around the nation are adopting "quick fix" policies, which will keep homeless patients for inpatient services for as many as three to five days.
Their goal is to improve the stability levels of these patients to improve from actively to non-actively psychotic. As a psychology student with a very limited exposure to the field, I know one cannot just cure patients of hallucinations and depression in a mere three days. These issues take time and patience.
But then again, I do not blame the psychiatric institutes. They are doing their best while they’re shorthanded in cash. They are reaching out to as many homeless people as they can for short periods of intervention, hoping to make a difference for their patients. It’s like having five kittens left on your doorstep while you only have a place for two in your home. What are the others to do?
Put yourself in their shoes, and then you may be able to truly imagine the magnitude of the storms these people endure; living day to day unaware of the meaning of a secure future.
So, what can we, as fellow citizens of this city, do to aid the ones in need? One option many counselors suggest is to have fast food gift certificates. This way you can be assured that the money given out will be used in a proper manner. We can donate clothes and unnecessary items clogging space in closets to donation centers or churches and mosques. As they say, sometimes a little goes a long way, and maybe the dollar you hand out to a homeless person may be their next meal.
Nagra, a psychology senior, can be reached via [email protected]