Posted Under: Important Issues for Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale’s Homeless Problem: How to reduce it (or make it worse).
- There are 6 different groups of homeless, each with their own needs.
- Layers of services provide assistance to those in five of the six groups
- The sixth group are the chronic addicts and alcoholic street people.
- Providing services to these people can actually make their problems worse.
As a San Francisco Commissioner in the 1990’s, I saw how efforts to help the homeless often would fail miserably. San Francisco historically dealt with homelessness by making the plight of the homeless person easier. Churches, “advocacy” organizations and dozens of groups around the City would provide meals, clothes, shelters, books, & coffee, free city-wide transit, job training, assistance in finding a job, drug counseling, bus tickets, temporary housing and cash.
What was the result? Homelessness in San Francisco in the ’90′s was out of control. With homelessness ranging from 7,000 to 15,000 people during this time, it meant (statistically) that up to one out of every 50 San Franciscans was homeless! In actuality, the City was inviting alcoholics and addicts from outside the area.
I wrote a ballot initiative to reduce handouts and provide for more housing services in 1999. The measure failed at the polls (the homeless “advocacy” groups there fought it every step of the way), but it passed two years later by the voters. Result of its passage? The homeless problem in San Francisco was reduced significantly. What was learned? Some of the following points are important to know to better understand the problem.
1: No one is a true expert on solving homelessness. That includes advocacy groups and churches. They are experts at providing services, not at solving the problem.
2: The causes of homelessness are generally either externally based (ie: getting kicked out of home), or internally based (ie: mental illness or drug or alcohol addiction).
3: Homelessness can generally be broken down into six groups. And each group requires a different set of services. In Fort Lauderdale, these services come from programs provided by the Federal Government, the State of Florida and Broward County. In addition, churches and private service-oriented groups provide needed help to many in these groups:
· To the young, who have either run away or have been kicked out of home. They usually require family counseling, foster care or group homes. Some require help with drug abuse. Many have self-esteem issues.
· Families and single people who have legitimately lost their job and their home due to the economy. They require housing, food assistance and job training, and are usually the easiest to get off the street.
· Single mothers with children. Family counseling, job training, day care, and self esteem issues are areas that require help.
· Mentally disadvantaged people. Medication and a safe secure area to locate to are usually required.
· Military vets (mostly Gulf war vets now). Medication, job training, drug abuse, and group counseling are areas that are needed the most.
The layers of services that different public and private organizations provide will usually help people in these first five groups. But it is the sixth group that is the most difficult to help: That is the group of hard-core addicts and alcoholics that are on the street daily. Unfortunately, we have largely failed this group.
You see, you cannot help an addict or alcoholic off the street by providing only external assistance (ie: shelter, food, etc). They must take the incentive themselves to fight their addiction, or they’ll stay on the street. Unfortunately, the more services you provide to addicts and alcoholics, the less incentive you give them to want to get off the street. When you make it too “comfortable” to an addict or alcoholic, then what’s their incentive to change?
We need to do a better job of balancing services to this group with a set of expectations and rules that this group must follow. We must establish a downtown zone free of loitering, panhandling and daily camping on park grounds. We must move addicts and alcoholics into programs that can help them focus on their addiction. Simply allowing addicts and alcoholics to congregate where they choose, to panhandle and to leave their garbage behind is unacceptable. We must do a better job of enforcing simple standards of behavior in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Aid should be provided to those who can demonstrate responsible behavior. Using more “tough love” with this group will actually help them in the long run!
With my years of experience in dealing with the homeless population in San Francisco, I believe that you should not provide any free handouts to any addict or alcoholic street person unless they provide some meaningful service back to the community in exchange for their food or shelter. I feel that continuing to provide free handouts and meals to these folks actually harms them in the long run, as it makes them accustomed to living off others, with no personal responsibilities; no rules to have to follow. It also (over time) solidifies in their mind that they have to be dependent upon others to survive. This makes it even more difficult for any addict or alcoholic to “break the pattern of addiction. It eliminates any belief that they themselves have the ability and power to control their own addictive behavior.
And folks: Bottom line here…NO ONE can make an addict or alcoholic quit. It is up to the addict or alcoholic to make the decision to quit; we can only help from that point. And when we provide food, clothing, shelter, etc., etc., we make it exceedingly difficult for that addict or alcoholic to take that all important step.