I just found out that
another one of "my guys" died recently.
When I say "my guys," I'm referring to the folks I've worked with
who are on the street -- or just barely off the street.
His death took me by surprise. He was a young man, and I always thought
that he had a good chance of getting out of the cycle of being on the street, then in housing and then on the street again.
I can't tell you how many times I've met with people to talk about
homelessness and hear them refer to street people as "your guys" -- as in the sentence, "Your guys are always loitering in
front of my store."
It's as if homeless people were my personal friends or family, or
I was responsible for them. Or if I just gave them a good talking to, all the problems would be solved. Change anyone?
"One of your guys asked me for change the other day."
I hear that often, and it always makes me think the same thing: Why
wouldn't they want change?
In fact, I have a list of things I'm sure "my guys" would love to
see changed. These facts are from a report by the Wilder Research Center.
* More than 8,600 people are homeless in this state.
* About 3,000 of those homeless people are children. And half of
those are younger than 7.
* Forty percent of the people on the street suffer from mental illness.
* Forty percent of all Minnesota
homeless people work.
And there's one more fact that I know my guys would like changed:
According to the Minnesota Homeless Coalition, 97 homeless people
died in Minnesota in 2002.
Sure the guy in question might have been asking you for a couple
of quarters, but the change we all want to see is our society really addressing homelessness and taking it seriously.
Here are some quick changes we could make that would reduce the number
of people on the streets -- or at least give them some relief.
* Convince people to get medication for their illnesses and treatment
for substance abuse.
There are many people on the streets who are so ill that they don't
realize they need help, or they refuse help when it's offered.
Many times the "treatment" they receive is a stretch of time in the
county jail. We can change that by helping these people get medications and outpatient treatment.
* Jobs programs are great, but we also should integrate some sort
of job skills program into our social service efforts. Job placement is only the beginning, if we want people to stay employed.
* Affordable housing is important, but it's equally important to
have support. Many people who get into housing still face the same problems that put them on the street in the first place.
If we want to prevent repeat homelessness, we have to support the
people with truly transitional housing.
My guys want change. They want real change. Change that would result
in fewer people hurting. Change that would result in getting more people off the street. Change that would give people a better
chance to work and keep a place of their own. My guys want change so they aren't reduced to asking you for a few