Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wisdom and permanent supprotive housing

Dr. Ron Anderson, CEO at Parkland Health and Hospital System, put me on to the work and writing of Bernard Glassman, a Jew turned Buddhist, who founded and leads the various works of the Greystone Foundation in New York City. The primary focus for Glassman and his team, beyond spiritual formation, is an incredibly innovative outreach to and among the homeless.

Glassman recognizes the importance of providing permanent housing to people who don't enjoy the benefits of a home. Consider some of his wisdom:

It quickly became apparent to us that the usual approach to caring for the homeless--which was to house them in motels at great expense--was not working, and in fact could not work. Since the motels could make more money on weekends by renting rooms to prostitutes and their clients, they would routinely turn out homeless families on Fridays. Mothers or fathers didn't know where they would be when their children returned from the schools they were bussed to, and the kids whose parents weren't there to receive them after school would be taken into custody by the welfare agencies and often never returned. As a result, parents kept their children out of school. Single mothers or fathers couldn't rent apartments without money, and they couldn't get jobs without training, and they couldn't get training without child care. Given this self-perpetuating cycle, it was hardly surprising that so many succumbed to despair and drugs.

Much of what passes for help is nothing more than a quick fix. You take, say, three thousand dollars and rent a motel room that puts a temporary roof over a person's head for a few nights. But the person is really being treated as garbage, that has to be hidden away for a little while. Nothing in that money helps the person get out of the cycle.

It's like eating fast food instead of a real meal. You provide an immediate rush of sugar, which creates a hypoglycemic condition. Your physical state actually gets worse after a quick fix of fast food. You could, for example, take people into the country for three months and provide them with jobs, housing and child care. But if they returned to the city after that time and there were no jobs, housing, or child care, they would be back in the same cycle.

Most people could see that only a holistic, totally integrated approach could break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. We had to include all the elements and ingredients of a good meal. the biggest and most immediate problem, of course, was to provide some kind of stability, which for the homeless meant permanent housing (Bernard Glassman and Rick Fields, Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life That Matters, pages 100-101).

Our experience in Dallas confirms the truth of Glassman's perspective. Housing, permanent, fit, safe housing will be the key to ending homelessness in our cities.

Reactions from your experience? What are groups doing to address the problem of homelessness where you find yourself today?



Daniel Gray said...

Speaking of Dr. Anderson, I just ran across an article today in the August issue of Governing. it described what made Parkland stand out and Dr. Anderson's influence during the 80's when so many public hospitals were failing.

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