Thursday, July 17, 2008
Warehousing the homeless
I've decided, that our shelter, is not an emergency shelter at all, it's a warehouse. And it's starting to make me mad. I'm quite outspoken about my madness too, because it really is bothering me.
See here's the thing. To me, an emergency shelter is a place where people stay when they're down on their luck, when they've exhausted all options, when they need a place to revamp and get back on their feet. It's not a place where people live for 10+ years. That to me is something different. We need a place for that as well, but an emergency shelter isn't it.
I feel that we are in fact enabling people. Because we allow people in various states of intoxication into our shelter, they are able to use as much as they want and know they always have a safe place to come "home" to. This is good in theory. It's an accepting place, keeps people off the streets, out of traffic, and from freezing to death. In reality though, it means that people can spend all their welfare money on drugs and alcohol and not having to worry about food and housing.
That being said, in our shelter there are some people whose minds have been so destroyed by substances that I'm not sure they really understand the possibility of change. My heart aches that they have to sleep on a mat on the floor each night - if they make it that far. There are also people not that much older than me, who see no reason to change, and they are definitely capable of changing. It would be HARD work, and no doubt there would be slips, but they could do it. I'm always surprised that they don't see this, or see any reason to change "well all my friends are doing it". I get it, and I don't.
So my thought is, maybe we need housing for some of these people - particularly the old ones. Housing where they had a room, but meals provided, as well as some cleaning and stuff (while teaching life skills). Housing it was hard to get kicked out of, but didn't allow drugs and stuff on the premises (but did allow non violent intoxication). Get them out of the shelter, give them a place to call their own etc... But is that then enabling? Is what we do now just as enabling though? And less dignified?
This is just my first post about this, there will be more, it's an issue that's constantly on my mind as I look out at the shelter night after night.