On being a “band-aid”

I’m a pastor at a church that provides emergency housing at night for “walk-ins”, people who cannot otherwise find shelter in the area. We continue to provide shelter even though homeless services have become professionalized. We are in effect the place all other professionals send people when they refuse them service. I was told by one caseworker, with her client in the room, “I have real referrals not band-aids, you take him back to your shelter.” And this has become the standard line from social service agencies these days. “We used to provide “just” shelter, now we provide REAL care, professional care.”
So let me say this: Dorothy Day, by this measure, offered band-aids. Mother Teresa, band-aids. Jesus Christ and the apostles, because they didn’t have vouchers for permanent supportive houses—taught band-aids, or what I call direct service.
Any church doing direct service, where I actually give you a bed instead of referring you elsewhere, is guilty of placing a band-aid on societies ills.
I agree with the residents of Nickelsville, a tent city in Seattle, WA, who have this on their website:

“OUR STATE OF EMERGENCY MUST BE RECOGNIZED. The Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is a fraud. The true causes of homelessness – rent increases, gentrification, evictions, and the failure of the market to provide affordable housing – aren’t dealt with, measured, or touched. For every unit of affordable housing produced under the plan, three to four have been lost to market forces.
Top leadership of the Plan has tokenized the participation of homeless people, and has fallen deaf to our pleas for safety, shelter, and community. The percentage of homeless people who are sheltered should be a plan benchmark.
We can no longer wait for the expanded survival services we need today while our “leaders” promise housing in the future.”
The Ten Year Plan is a fraud here in St. Louis because regardless of whether people are actually placed in a shelter or are turned away they are filed in the HMIS computer system. It is a fraud because the city refuses shelter to anyone who has not been a city resident in the last ninety days, with an actual address. Why? Because the federal government says we don’t need emergency shelters, we need permanent supportive housing.
So what does that give us? Lots of homeless people waiting to get on disability. An overrun caseload at providers like BJC, Places for People, and Grace Hill. It gives us full emergency shelters and hundreds if not thousands more in the Metro area sleeping with friends and family on couches, or outside, in encampments,  and in abandoned buildings.
Regardless of the economy and the job market, the Ten Year Plan marches on, reporting figures that say America is ending chronic homelessness. Cities like St. Louis will report back to the federal government whatever they want to hear to continue receiving aid. While locally, Missouri Republicans work to reappropriate all state funds for low income housing into other accounts.
I want America to end chronic homelessness. I’m all for working with other agencies who receive federal and state funds to accomplish this. But I’m also for honesty. Not being realistic with numbers and only always accentuating the positive is lying plain and simple. For instance, federal funding for “Hope is Moving In” (HPRP) is ending next summer, July 2012. This will no doubt mean more people will become homeless. Will this be reported as a problem? NO! The official report will be that the program succeeded in helping thousands of people stay in their homes.
So for our church, the perpetual “band-aid”, (and the one newly homeless will always be referred to) the need will continue to grow. Donors get tired of hearing about the same thing, no doubt. But truthfully, I still believe in direct service, regardless of whether it has fallen out of fashion. I believe in doing this as unto Jesus. I believe I can see Him in the face of strangers who come to our doors. Our church is here for these people. And they have names, these people. They are the newly unemployed, the newly houseless. They are working people—some of the hardest working people I know.
Regardless of whether the US claims to have ended chronic homelessness in five years, I hope to still be here along with my friends who get their monthly government checks and once again make the wrong choices. I hope to be here not to enable them, but to offer a way out of homelessness when they’re ready. Call that a band-aid. I call it life in the real world, among the poor as they are—not as some in Washington pretend they’ll be.
Updated 5/13/11
I was mistaken that HPRP funding ends this summer. I’ve corrected that information here now and provided a link to that initiative now. It would be great, in light of the economy, if this were actually extended. It would also be great if there was not such a long wait time on applications. Most folks I tell about this funding can’t wait months for an appointment because they’ll be losing their place in a matter of weeks.
I also clarified my point about hundreds being on the street. Many people around the state are not counted as homeless because they don’t report into a local shelter or government agency.
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3 Comments

Filed under homeless, homelessness, NLEC

3 responses to “On being a “band-aid”

  1. phillip mutchell

    Well I watch a lot of American tv and you’ve all got great houses with lots of space and really big fridges so I suspect you’re one of them ‘unpatriotic commie rats’; shame on you!

  2. CWCHale

    This shows how insensative and self absorbed individuals can be. This Caseworker, who is supposed to be supportive of her client, but yet, has enough (gall) to call her client a “band-aid”, better look in the mirror. This is exactly what she is supposed to represent “the band-aid” that some homeless individuals look up to and can be in desparate need of. The last time I checked caseworkers are supposed to help individuals bandage their problems with encouragement and gracefullness to help them move forward in life and better themselves.

  3. I worked with the homeless, feeding them on the streets. I used to get it all the time…’you’re only putting a bandaid on it…you’re enabling them. Well…in the 80s they closed a lot of mental hospitals and halfway houses…the former inhabitants took to the streets. It was also filled with Vietnam vets. While they are waiting for a permanent solution they still need food and shelter. And some of them will never take to living inside full time. My daughter just ran into a bag lady we’ve known for 25 years. She;s 80…still on the streets…by choice. Keep up the good work…we’re called to direct service.

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