Robbing Peter and the Silent Majority

In the last edition of SCN there was a story regarding the Governor’s new budget. One of the new proposals for this 2012 budget is “to reduce the state’s reliance on shelter and move towards a system with a housing first approach that will provide greater self-sufficiency while using resources more efficiently.”

While this all looks and sounds great, and I like the fact that more funding is going to Housing First, there are a few things about this proposal that’s not quite right. First off, while I think moving away from the overburden emergency shelter system is a great idea, I don’t really know if cutting $38 million from the Emergency Assistance fund and transferring it to an account to benefit homeless families is a great idea.

Now before one of you wild-eyed liberals starts yelling that I don’t care about homeless families, on the contrary, I do. But not just them I care about all homeless people, not just a segment of them. This proposal in my opinion, looks like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Yes, homeless families will benefit greatly from this proposal, but what about single adult males and females? What about homeless children who are kicked out of foster care once they reach the age of 18? Everyone doesn’t fit into the Housing First model. I know because down here on the ground floor I’ve seen it first hand, and apparently not all families fit either. Consider this, according to the language in the new line item emergency access to shelter for families will be limited to three categories, families who are at risk for domestic violence, families who have lost their homes during a natural disaster and families who have a head of household 21 years or younger, (Really).

That’s leaving out a lot of folks, Governor. For instance, what about a family whose homelessness is caused by the death of the major provider? It does happen. I met a woman a while back whose husband passed away and she lost everything. She and her children ended up on the street. They’re fine now, but it was a struggle. What about those folks, Governor?

And why do I seem to be the only person that’s up in arms about all this? Well actually I’m not, there are others but they are few. But, as our executive director pointed out to me the other day, there is no real effort by homeless advocates to change public policy around homelessness at the State House level. Well, that’s not entirely true. There are some, The Mass Coalition for the Homeless, MLRI, and a few others, but there needs to be more.

Whenever there is legislation that will affect the lives of the homeless there is very little movement among advocates one way or another. There are no huge rallies, no passionate speeches. No is one out trying to get signatures to put something on the ballot. For the most part it’s deathly silent, and it’s sad.

What will it take for the state to wake up, or homeless advocates to ban together? Probably something horrible, but I pray that I am wrong. But at this stage of the game, I don’t know. As far as I can tell (and this includes me) advocates sometimes don’t see a reason to fight. “What will it change?” we think. No one listens to us, we deal with frustration daily, the public doesn’t seem to care. I see it every time I sell papers; people just step over the homeless as if they’re garbage. So we say, why bother? But we have to; we cannot keep being the silent majority.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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