CoolPeopleCare | End Homelessness

CoolPeopleCare | End Homelessness

Sam Davidson wrote a good post a couple days ago on Cool People Care entitled End Homelessness. My first impression of the title was, “Yeah, right…” or some more cynical semblance of that. Then I read what he had to say. I would love for you to read it too before I continue…

I am becoming increasingly aware of my own cynicism. I have conditioned myself to be a “realist” in regard to such romantic pronouncements, “END HOMELESSNESS”. For many of us, homelessness is one or more of the following:

A problem for the big cities/someone else’s problem.

The dirty guy asking for money…

A consequence of someone’s self-imposed mistakes…

A threat to tourism/businesses…

A fact of life…live with it… 

Much of what we think about homelessness is based on inaccurate information or misconceptions.

I ran across an interesting interview with Martha Burt, Principal Researcher for the Urban Institute,  on the National Alliance to End Homelessness website.  (A site I would have never found had Cool People Care not suggested a little education.)  One of the questions asked implies her seemingly naive belief that we might actually be able to end poverty.  (Again, I’m Mike Young and I’m a recovering cynic…”Hello Mike…”)  Here is Dr. Burt’s response:

Why do you think ending homelessness is possible?
Ending most homelessness is a matter of public will, not a matter of not knowing how. No developed country is entirely free of homelessness, but those that do what it takes to provide housing, with the supportive services needed to help very vulnerable people retain that housing, have succeeded in reducing homelessness to the bare minimum—with few people becoming homeless, and those that fall out of housing remaining homeless for the shortest possible time.

–Martha Burt

The striking thing about her answer is the first sentence: “Ending most homelessness is a matter of public will, not a matter of knowing how.”  What does that say about us? In our age of 24 hour news cycles and the availability of limitless information via Google, when was the last time you listened to a substantive discussion about actual strategies to accomplish such a goal as ending homelessness?  Why is someone who is so obviously more knowledgeable on this subject than everyone who might read this post seen as some sort of Pollyanna figure, hopelessly naive and idealistic?  What do we actually have the will to accomplish as a society?  Is a healthy economy really only about increasing our collective ability to consume more crap pushed upon us by our consumer culture?

Sorry for the rant but I really believe we are better than that.  Our history is filled with wonderful stories of our public will being focused in ways that absolutely changed history and the way we think.  Reality was literally transformed in regard to issues that previously were just as unrealistically romantic as “end homelessness.”  Ultimately, I think the upcoming elections hinge on choosing a person who can truly and prophetically lead “we the people” to focus our collective will on some audacious goal(s).  Can this person redirect our collective attention from entertaining ourselves to death toward something even better than we can imagine?  Call me naive…

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10 thoughts on “CoolPeopleCare | End Homelessness

  1. My cynicism runs deeper. Not only will we not end homelessness, poverty, malaria in the third world, etc. etc., we will never change the fact that as a whole we are a self interested lot that for the most part will do nothing that even mildly inconveniences us. Just look at the plight of the opressed through history. The haves never care about the have nots except to the extent that their labor is needed, they actively revolt, or the as an avenue to assuage temporary guilt incidental to the appeals of naive yet zealous provocateurs. Of course it is a matter of public will and that aint going to change no matter how transformative the agent. (eg. Jesus, etc.).

    How’s that for cynicism,


  2. Thanks H, I’ve had a relapse! (But I can only aspire to your level of cynicism!) You’ve made my point, but from the other direction. I vacillate between hope and total cynicism. Our society has shown an insatiable appetite for total self-absorption. I guess at the macro-level, when push comes to shove, I loose hope pretty quickly when I look more closely at the issues involved. However, at a personal level, I’m tired of being cynical. I ran across a quote from Walter Percy: “The problem in America today is that so many people are up to nothing significant.” I can look at that from one level and lapse into total cynicism and yet at this point of my life, on a personal level, I would like to attempt to be up to something significant.

  3. Aha! Another root problem. What is significant? Who gets to decide? Is it significant that I manage to keep me and mine from homelessness, etc.? Is it significant to drive the economic engine that provides the resources for someone else to drag that dude out of the gutter? In my current bout of agnosticism I wonder if our concept of significance is no more than a reflection of the religious and social paradigm which informed our upbringing. Ultimately, I suspect what is significant is what we find significant. In other words it is a factor of our contentment. If I am content within myself doing what I’m doing then its probably significant, if not, I suspect it is not or I would be content doing it.
    Life teaches us that health issues can focus our attention on what we are or are not doing. It narrows the mind onto the one inarguable point in scripture, you don’t know you are going to have a tomorrow. If you doubt it, check out the obits, everyday folks of every age and description drop dead. We are left with but one choice. Carpe Diem, and do with it what you find significant, it might be the only one you have.

  4. Since when is cynisism something to be proud of?? We are all vulnerable to becoming cynical and I can’t say that on certain issues I have become stuck in cynisism as well. And stuck is the right word, because cynisism is at it’s heart bitterness. Realism is a much more productive term and very different from cynisism. In the comments I have read it seems like cynisism only leads to individualism and selfishness. Realism can lead to some real change by identifying the problems, acknowledging that it is not an issue subject and start working towards a goal. We know that in other countries and some cities in the US the idea of supportive housing is working and is reducing homelessness and improving people’s life. Whether that is significant to any one individual who is not directly affected by homelessness and is therefore not ‘inconvenienced’ is beside the point. That’s no way to dismiss the issue. It is significant for that person who is no longer on the street, for the neighborhood where that person is no longer panhandling and that mothers, fathers and children of these people who can possibly have a relationship with their loved one.

  5. Cynicism is no more than resigned realism. Do you really believe we need to identify the problems? That is code for, lets spend some time talking about what we think we should do but don’t really want to. None of which denies that there are always people and places where grace breaks through. But the exceptions only serve as glaring proof of the rule.
    Do you have two coats? I do. I haven’t walked an extra mile for the guy who made me walk one. Don’t love my enemies particularly. Don’t care to turn the other cheek. Don’t want to deny myself. I have looked into my Christian heart and been forced to say you must not believe it cause you sure aren’t doing it. Cynicism ! Realism! Perhaps just acceptance.

  6. Having worked with homeless people off and on, I know that everyone’s story is different, but there are common barriers that keep folks from getting back on their feet. And yes, I think we have to identify those barriers before anyone can make structural changes that will help society deal with the homeless issue. True, we talk a lot and very little happens. The problem is not that talking, it is that it doesn’t produce action.
    Throughout history we have also seen examples of brave men and women who broke the mold and made a significant change, or started a movement toward change. You are probably right, the majority of people are self absorbed, but what about those people and places where grace breaks through…. I think I want to try to be one of those people.

  7. The perhaps bitter irony in all of this is that even in pursuing change, or movement toward change, or trying to be one of those people, one ultimately cannot escape self absorption. What I mean is, Why do you want to try to be one of those people? Simple answer is , you decided what you think is significant and you want to pursue it. Therefore, you seize the day as I suggest above. So, you too are self absorbed. Only if you, pursue goals that are not meaningful to you and do things that you don’t want to do can it truly be said that you are being selfless. (probably not even then)

    Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, having worked with the rural poor off and on, I am not so different than you. “So here we are in the field” a zealot confident he can change the world and a cynic confident he cannot.

    One of us is crazy. Maybe both.

  8. So maybe you and I are not so different after all. I enjoy this conversation (Mike knows how much I ‘love’ that word)….
    I do agree that more than likely in even the most selfless act we can think of there is something in it for us, whether it’s a good feeling, someone’s praises or fullfilling some dream. In my mind however I think of someone who is self absorbed as someone who doesn’t see the need of others, or doesn’t even see the other at all, or if he does see the other and wants to meet a need, he does this from his own context without listening to what the other really needs. I think we can escape some of our self absorption by meeting the other where they are, sharing life and starting to understand their context. At that point we may find things that are not necessarily significant to us or our context but have become significant to us because we have gotten out of our contexts and became part of another. For example, a new panhandling law in Nashville is making life significantly harder for homeless people there. It actually makes my life easier because if I go out I don’t get bothered by anyone asking me for money on the street. But knowing some of these people who call the streets their home I can become an advocate for them and their situation. I have worked as a counselor for addicts and children for over 10 years now. Change is hard to come by, but I haven’t given up on it yet, and hope I never will..

  9. Mark, Enjoyed the conversation as well. Perhaps our paths will cross someday for some small group time.

    Mike, OK, you are naive. What is that crud about a prophetic leader. We are talking politicians here. Prolific Liar likely, Prophetic Leader not a chance.

    Blog on dude,


  10. Hey, I can dream can’t I? I’ve thrown the word cynical around quite a bit but in the area of politics and politicians, I’m not sure the word truly reaches where I need it to reach when speaking of that particular species. There are only a couple of things that might reach there and they are very unpleasant foul instruments that I would rather not speak about in such a forum.

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