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Christine Schanes

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Three Steps To Ending Homelessness

Posted: 04/25/09 11:04 AM ET

It is possible to end homelessness. How? There are three steps to ending homelessness. These steps can be approached individually or at the same time.

Step One: Open public toilets 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with showers and laundry facilities.

Having worked with people in the streets for over twenty years, the reason for public facilities seems obvious to me, but perhaps it is not obvious to everyone: human dignity.

Housed people generally have access to toilets and showers, sometimes even bathtubs, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Bathing is a cleansing, refreshing, often even therapeutic experience. Further, housed people either have their own laundry facilities or can afford the cleaning costs at a local laundromat. Wearing clean, fresh clothing is essential for good hygiene and can improve a person's emotional state.

Giving homeless people access to public toilets and showers with laundry facilities shows respect for and helps with restoration of their human dignity. Having lost nearly every worldly possession, homeless men, women and children are still human beings and have, just like housed people, their basic human needs. A homeless person is often left searching for a public toilet and an available shower. He or she may not have the funds to spend at a laundromat.

Of course, shelter programs have toilets and showers, and often laundry facilities, that are available to homeless people in their program. There may also be a day drop-in center in some cities where a homeless person can use the bathroom, get a shower and sometimes even do his or her laundry. And, many of our public beaches have public toilets and sometimes cold-water showers that are available during the day and that usually close at dusk.

However, are there any public facilities available to homeless people at night? Laundromats? Showers? Are there even public toilets?

Is it logical to complain about public urination and public defecation when there are no public toilets available?

Step Two: Support transitional housing with social services where individuals, couples and families can live.

Most homeless shelters are temporary facilities where people can live for twenty to thirty days. Only a few shelters in every city permit people to stay more than one year. The concept behind temporary shelters is that these shelters are just that - temporary places where a person or family can live in a stable, supportive environment during a time of crisis. Often these shelters help the residents connect with government programs in their area.

The concept of transitional housing with social services for the residents has been adopted by nonprofits in some cities in the United States. Transitional housing is usually available for a term of one year or more so that the people involved have a substantial period of time within which to make the transition from the crisis that they were in to the new life that they are making for themselves.

Ideally, the social services provided to residents of transitional housing would include job finding, apartment finding, psychological support, as well as dental and medical referrals.

Step Three: Turn a closed military base into a self-sufficient village where homeless men, women and children could reside.

Finding affordable housing is the ultimate challenge facing a homeless person. However, using a closed military base as the setting for a self-sufficient village created with the assistance of nonprofit organizations would solve this challenge for homeless people.

In this self-sufficient village, there could be buildings with apartments for individuals, couples and families; an orphanage for the care of "unaccompanied youth;" buildings for the treatment of people with single medical diagnosis and multiple medical diagnoses; cottage industries; and organic farming. The children, and adults if they so chose, could study in existing schools in their area.

At first, this self-sufficient village could be led by a community council composed of the representatives of the organizing nonprofits who would train the residents to replace themselves on the council. The residents could then vote to fill the seats of the community council with their own representatives.

"Not in my backyard" is a primary objection made by housed people to having any homeless support center created in their neighborhood. This objection is overcome by using a closed military base to provide a place that would actually welcome homeless people and where homeless people would enjoy residing.

I look forward to your comments.

Thank you, Christine