Money, tossed indiscriminately at a problem has and will never be an effective strategy.
Actually it was money that caused me years of painful struggles in my journey from homelessness to where I am today. Not the lack of it, but surprisingly it was the abundance of it.
I know that sounds absolutely insane. How can having money harm a homeless person?
Let’s look at what a homeless person sees when handed a cheque for 500 or so bucks. After going so long without proper food, clean cloths, and all that money can buy, the homeless turn into three day millionaires.
They can eat a steak. They can buy new jeans, or shoes, or whatever. If they drink or do drugs they can now afford some. All that has been denied is readily available. Like us winning the lottery. No difference really. We can now afford that which we dream of, and so can the homeless. The difference is they have dreamed only on level one of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
As you can see, level one is the basic of all needs. One might say it is the foundation of human need. In reality the homeless have been deprived of the basic foundation that we take for granted. Without this basic foundation in place it is impossible to expect the homeless, especially the chronic homeless, to be able to understand the concepts of delayed gratification. Thus failure is imminent! Why you ask? Simple, they are fighting a daily battle to simply exist.
Let’s look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
The orginal hierarchy of needs five-stage model includes:
1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
3. Belongingness and Love needs – work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.
4. Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
By examining this theory we can easily see that if level one is neglected then level two through five can not be in place. Maybe some elements of level three such as friendships or relationships are possible but usually they are transient in nature due to the pull of level one. Trust me here. When I was down and out and it came to choices I would choose food and needs over friends. Not that I was selfish. I had to survive. Survival of the fittest.
Now those who do not or can not relate to this basic fact of survival may squack and claim that they would never choose over friends and to this I simply say….bull! We all have the survival instinct, like it or not.
So here we are handing out cash to the needy. Then we throw them to the wolves. They must battle hunger, basic needs and the thrill of having doors open to them, if only briefly.
The solution is very simple and the answers, some of them anyhow can be found in Maslow’s Pyramid.
With out a set plan, in writing, authored by the homeless client and the worker, success will be minimal. The recidivism rates associated with the homeless are extremely high.
Show them how to formulate a plan for getting off and remaining off the streets. Once a written plan is on paper, review it and discuss its pros and cons, reevaluate it.
When the plan is complete, draw up a contract, detailing what is expected of the homeless person, and the social worker.
Explain to the person that the task ahead is possible with hard work, integrity and mutual lines of communication. Tell them that it is not easy and that there will be times of hardship, discouragement and frustration. Then explain to them that you are there to help and that you believe in them. They probably have become accustomed to being abandoned so building trust and rapport will take time.
Making it in the real world, as we know it, is hard. Think about your daily struggles to meet budget, pay bills, buy food, maintain a home etc. We all complain about our struggles and we have jobs and money. How hard will it be for someone who has never faced these realities.
Now they will be faced with the same realities we face but with little money. Could you do it on just under 600 dollars a month. That is what a single Person on welfare gets to live on for a month!
After the final draft is created have the person sign a contract with the social worker stating that they will adhere to the plan. Part of the plan must be the willingness to ask for and accept help and guidance through out the duration.
What is really inspiring about the contract approach is it gives the homeless a view and taste of level 5, self actualization. Seeking personal growth. They have set goals to help improve not only their social status but themselves. They are ACTIVELY become involved in their own personal growth. As they begin to achieve each goal their self esteem becomes part of the driving force.
The Contract is Imperative to long lasting success. Do not skip this step.
By signing the contract the person is beginning to take ownership for their own life direction. The first important step to autonomy. Level 5 of Maslow’s Pyramid.
Now we must educate. We must teach them to plan steps to reaching each goal. By taking the one goal at a time approach we do not overwhelm. This life transformation is frightening as it is without overburdening the person.
Teach them to implement the plan, one step at a time. To set small goals and points of success.
Once a point of success is reached then a reward should be given. By this I mean words of encouragement and acknowledgment. This reinforces a sense of accomplishment.
As you can see this simple act of planning and implementation crosses into other levels of Maslow’s Pyramid. Level 4, Esteem Needs, such as self worth and sense of accomplishment.
We also have begun working on level 2 by addressing order, limits and law. Remember the contract is setting limits, order and law. It slowly directs the homeless to live within the statutes of an agreement. A major step in learning to be responsible for their actions.
Supportive Living. (Transitional Housing)
One of the most important factors in a successful transformation is “harm reduction”. To illuminate or at least reduce the harm barriers that play an integral part in the homeless persons life is paramount to an effective strategy. Lack of shelter, hunger, violence, drugs, alcohol, depression, thoughts of suicide, anger, frustration etc must be addressed.
In my opinion a safe environment created via supportive housing provides the needed solution. By placing the homeless person in a structured environment, with rules and regulations, support staff and systems, greatly reduces the harm factors, creates stability, and allows the person to concentrate on their journey.
A rooming house style, were each client has their own room, but interacts with other clients, gives the client a sense of autonomy but allows for the learning of community living.
House rules and shared chores are needed, not only for obvious needs, but to create a sense of accepting responsibility for the expectations of normal living. It must be remembered that living on the street involves looking after ones needs only, forgetting that the needs of others are also important. Dog eat dog, if you will. Natural survival instinct!
While living in transitional housing the client must pay rent, geared to income, from their welfare cheque. The rent should be paid directly to the house by the welfare department. The balance of the welfare allotment should be held by the worker, in trust. A small portion may be given to the client for personal needs. The monies in trust are to build up funds for securing accommodations after the transitional housing phase comes to an end. At least 6 months to a year is needed for this phase.
Without this the client will become a chronic welfare recipient. This has no return on investment. The taxpayer wants to know that the client will eventually be a tax paying contributor to society. The court of public opinion plays huge in future support and funding.
My next posting will cover the programs, rules and regulations as well as the timelines needed to operate a successful Transitional Housing plan.
I will also go into depth on what battles the homeless may face and how to overcome them.
This future posting us titled…Now The Battle Begins.