The idea of seeking a “solution” to the homeless problem at the community level is meant to get people thinking about homelessness in a challenging way. If we could solve the homeless problem, what would it look like? On a grand scale?
When a solution is sought at the community level, we are asking for something impossible, given the constant flow of homeless people in every city. But seeking a solution is to describe a set of ideals, some of which are achievable, some of which can only be goals to shoot for.
For example: Helping people get off drugs, which is extremely difficult, but necessary to get a job. For example: Overcoming each person’s specific reason for being homeless.
Asking for 240 low-cost apartments is meant to show what kind of government effort would be required if a full-court press were be applied to get 200 people off the street every year. This is more a plea to develop low-cost housing and arousing an awareness of our need, rather than a demand to achieve a difficult goal.
The Salt Lake Tribune has pointed out in recent articles the difficulties of transporting the homeless from the new resource centers to the Rio Grande area, where so many resources exist. There are many real problems to be worked out as we go forward. And each homeless person is a human being deserving of hope and dignity. Each homeless person faces difficulties unique to their situation. We can only wait to see how the new resource centers will work. But they deserve the full support of the public and can only hope that the homeless take advantage of them.
Having been homeless, I know that I spent days wandering Salt Lake streets, trying to figure out where I would get my next meal. I often felt lost, wondering if I could find another job, wondering how I could get more money to get through the week. The daily frustrations drained my emotions so that when I went to bed I sank into a deep sleep. The shelter was a refuge, but a dangerous refuge. Arguments sometimes broke out, spice was smoked in the middle of the night, sleep was broken by the staff waking up everyone early in the morning.
Yet the staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to put a small city of men to bed every night and provide for a peaceful sleep. Their dedication gave every one of us hope and help as we each experienced the worst time of our lives. It was only by accessing the available resources provided by the shelter, the free clinic and the St. Vincent food services that I could eventually get into an apartment.
But I had to seek out these resources, none was handed to me on a platter. I found some structure for my life in the shelter, along with hundreds of other men in the same situation. Eventually it was a matter of luck, friends, energy on my part and shelter resources that got me out of the homeless situation.
But I knew I had to maintain my moral integrity, avoid any kind of illegal drugs, avoid allowing myself to fall into laziness, cynicism, pessimism. Each person has to hold to specific standards to rise above homelessness. I know how difficult life is being homeless. It requires a constant effort to stay positive and work to get into a home.
Every homeless man, woman or family is in a unique situation. They have unique potentials, unique liabilities and unique hopes and dreams. It is of course misleading to think that Salt Lake as a community can “solve” the homeless problem.
But when a man or woman finds a job, and it becomes financially sustainable for them to get into a home and stay there, then the homeless problem is “solved” for that individual or family. This is a better way to think of solving the homeless problem: one individual at a time, one family at a time. I think that this is the real goal of all our community efforts.
Gary Leimback is a retired computer technical writer and Salt Lake City resident who now spends his time reading and writing philosophy.