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My kid, Indy, and I just spent the weekend in New York City. We both love it there.
I was curious about the homeless situation in New York. So I stopped to talk to two homeless people while we were there.
It has been reported that homelessness in New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression.
That article states “In May 2017, there were 61,113 homeless people.”
Both men knew that number, roughly.
I asked them how many people lived outdoors. They didn’t know the number, but said it was a lot. That is exactly what the article said. It is thousands. But the actual number is impossible to know.
The number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping each night in municipal shelters is now 75 percent higher than it was ten years ago.
I asked them why people were homeless. Both men said the same thing: mental health issues mixed with drug use.
They said phentenal and cat tranquilizer (Ketamine) were really big.
In the summer the police will let them sleep outside, in parks and on the street. But in the winter they try to push everyone to shelters.
They said there are some people that simply won’t go. They felt this had to do with mental health issues.
This is a fact that will likely plague homeless professionals for some time. There are some people that simply don’t want to come into any group.
Shelters are disliked almost universally. I’ve never talked to a single homeless person that spoke favorably of a shelter.
The number one complaint: it reminds them of prison.
You can read the reviews of the Armory Men’s Shelter in Brooklyn for yourself:
I’m not trying to pick on them. One of the men I talked to was staying there. He had similar things to say.
I’ve read reviews of shelters all over the country that are similar.
And honestly, it sounds better than our shelter situation in Akron. You can check into until 10:00pm. And they give you lockers for your belongings.
In Akron our shelters don’t let people in after 6pm and lights out is around 8pm. Thai means you can’t work at night. Considering I don’t get home until 6:30 I would not be able to stay at a shelter if I needed it.
Both men said getting food was not a problem. That’s true in Akron as well.
So, in truth, Akron and New York are in similar situations.
- Food is always available.
- Opiates are rampant.
- Mental health issues are a huge component to homelessness.
- Shelter is available to everyone in the winter.
- The shelters are focused on food and shelter with little concern for human dignity.
- Some people, for varying reasons, prefer to not go into shelters.
I believe there is incentive for shelters to consider working on human rights issues.
If there were places people could go that were desirable it would entice people to come out of the woods. Then we would have the opportunity to work on the mental health issues.
Treating mental health would potentially help people to want to reintegrate into society in some way.
That’s the goal we are ultimately trying to achieve in our cities. Reintegration. Cities are simply not well suited for isolationists. We have places for those folks with the National Forests. But I simply don’t see cities having the vision and innovation to open up public lands for open camping.
So we have to entice people to come out of the woods.
First, we’ve got to change the narrative. We have to stop “sheltering” people. We might as well call it warehousing. That’s all we’re doing right now.
We need to think about building communities, not shelters.
Sheltering doesn’t fix the problem. It’s just a bandage for a festering wound.
We can give people food and shelter while also giving them stability, support and community. Not doing this is a huge missed opportunity.
This reviewer of the Armory Men’s Shelter had the right idea:
The problem is PEOPLE not the building! Replacing staff on a regular basis and change the system from a treat everyone like garbage to a work your way up to royal treatment will change people! A carrot in front of a mule gets the donkey going! Dangle good things in front of these people / give them some incentive! There needs to be more structure! If they ran these places like military facilities and treated the soldiers who preformed the best with better treatment and the soldiers who preformed worse with worse treatment you would see things change in society SO FAST!
I’m sure that reviewer is homeless. They are in the best position to know what needs done. We think the homeless are some sort of worthless humans. Every single person was something before they were homeless.
A good start would be to begin listening to the homeless. They have a lot to offer.
He’s right Having something to move towards is a fundamental human desire.
Entice the homeless to:
- Volunteer time
- Go to mental health professionals
- Go to AA
- Come in doors once a week
- Talk to an outreach person
It is very similar to enticing a scared, sick animal out of its hole. It needs to be done slowly and carefully.
It’s quite possible, however, you will never get them into a home.
I work with veterans that simply won’t be part of the system. But they’ll come to me for a shower, laundry and food.
Maybe I can get them in a tent in our village. That will get them back into a group of people. That might get them to talk to their doctor which might inspire them to take their medicine.
I love the idea of housing first. But it might not be the best answer for all of the homeless community.
Integration into a community is my primary interest right now.
Entice them out of the woods through a variety of incentives. Get them interested in being part of your community. Just keep them coming back.