I talk often about the problem of homelessness. I have been fortunate not to have been without a home in my lifetime, but there were many times I was a paycheck away from losing everything.
I think my concerns for people who live on the streets began when I was a preteen. I was living in an abusive situation and weighed which was more dangerous, staying in my current situation or running away.
In the end, I decided that at home I at least had a chance to get to a room with a lock on the door for protection, something the streets would never provide.
I guess I was twelve the first time I seriously considered running away. Since that time knowing there are people out there who have no safe place to go, no heat in the winter, and no reliable food supply breaks my heart. I know that could have been me.
“Sometimes it’s easy to walk by because we know we can’t change someone’s whole life in a single afternoon. But what we fail to realize is that simple kindness can go a long way toward encouraging someone who is stuck in a desolate place.”
There are many, many people out there who are trying to solve the problem of homelessness. There is no one right way to solve this but I am hopeful each time I hear of a new program trying to eradicate this problem.
This week I read about a new proposal that should it pass and spread to other communities would change the way we view and treat homelessness.
In Hawaii, state senator Josh Green, has introduced a bill that would reclassify homelessness as a medical condition. Green, who is also a physician, has seen the health problems first hand that the homeless experience and believes giving medical treatment only to send the person back out to the streets is simply putting a Band-Aid on the problem.
“Do not avert your eyes.
It is important
that you see this.
It is important that you feel
As part of the bill Green has introduced, doctors would be able to write a prescription for housing as part of their treatment for a homeless person.
Based on “research that shows healthcare spending for those who have been homeless for long periods and struggle with mental illness and addictions falls by 43% after they have been housed and provided with supportive services.”
When we hear homelessness is too expensive to tackle consider this: “many of the individuals he hopes to house cost the healthcare system an average of $120,000 annually, yet the annual cost to house an individual is $18,000. He thinks that the total savings to the state could be hundreds of millions of dollars a year.”
“You call this progress, because you have motor cars and telephones and flying machines and a thousand potions to make you smell better? And people sleeping on the streets?”
~~Howard Zinn Marx in Soho: A Play on History
The bill, should it pass, would require a person be homeless for at least six months and must suffer from mental illness or a substance abuse. It won’t address all who live on the streets but it would help those least able to care for themselves.
The bill is working its way through the state legislature and is expected to be voted on this week. There is currently a lot of support for it, but there are also detractors who feel giving doctors the ability to prescribe housing is broadening their powers too far.
“I don’t know. I got nothing. No house, no people, no place. Maybe that’s troubles. Don’t I say?”
~~Alex La Guma A Walk in the Night and Other Stories
UPDATE: The bill to prescribe housing for the homeless failed in the Hawaiian Legislature.