When Homeless Shelters Become Homeless Themselves

07/07/2011 01:23 pm ET | Updated Sep 06, 2011

Talk in Los Angeles is about the homeless rescue mission shutting down their emergency shelter programs due to lack of public funding and delay in government payments. A total of 620 shelter beds would be eliminated, a significant setback in this country's "homeless capital" where there are 51,000 people who are homeless.

Sadly, the closing of homeless programs in this nation is becoming the norm.

In San Diego, California, the largest homeless day center in the region was on the verge of shutting down due to the elimination of funding. At the last minute, the Neil Good Day Center was given a funding reprieve by the city, otherwise, 250 homeless persons in the downtown area would have had no place to go.

Throughout the country, places like Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, are seeing the front doors of homeless programs being locked for good. In this northeastern town, the ending of state funding resulted in the termination of a 22-year-old church-based program that cared for its homeless population.

The news of the budget crisis in Minnesota, a state that TIME Magazine called "A State That Works" in 1973, means homeless agencies may not receive their public funding.

Perhaps more homeless programs on this country's chopping block?

The primary reason for such closings is due to government jurisdictions on all levels not being able to balance their financial budgets. The first to be cut are typically the most vulnerable in our society.

If a political leader cuts funding for police, teachers, or nurses, these powerful employee groups are able to mobilize protests quickly and effectively. But if they cut funding to people who barely have enough energy to find shelter and food, no one typically fights for their rights.

Even in good financial years, public and private funding is typically directed to the "cause of the month." In some years it was HIV/AIDS, heart disease, autism, the environment. Now it might be water wells or bullied LGBT youth. When some in America think homelessness is a result of lazy inebriated adults, how can we compete with such compelling causes?

In the case of many struggling homeless agencies, even if an agency is lucky enough to receive public funding, the payments are typically late due to bureaucratic billing systems. So agencies become the line-of-credit for government entities.

Homeless programs are shutting down because public jurisdictions are going broke, agencies can not afford to be the government's line-of-credit, and the whims of this country's compassionate direction fluctuate.

A couple of years ago, during the height of this country's economic recession, the federal government rightfully created a homeless prevention and rapid re-housing program for Americans teetering on becoming homeless. It was called HPRP.

Perhaps there needs to be an HPRP program specifically designed for this country's homeless agencies?