Coping With A Growing Problem

Homelessness has been haunting America's conscience for a number of years now, and the problem, as we all know well, is growing worse.

While until a few years ago America's homeless population was more or less confined to alcoholics, substance abusers and the mentally ill, the "new homeless" are increasingly ordinary working people.

The causes of homelessness are no longer limited to alcoholism, drug abuse and mental illness, but are increasingly a consequence of a lack of housing many lesser skilled workers can afford.

When the cost of housing equals 50% or more of a person's total income, as is the case with many unskilled and semi-skilled workers in our cities, any small mishap such as a few weeks loss of income due to illness or lay-off may result in the loss of affordable housing. And when that happens, and there are no strong family ties to help bridge the temporary misfortune, a person can easily end up in a situation from which it may be very difficult to get back on his or her own feet.

Once in the street, the only places to turn to are our cities traditional rescue missions, but there, anyone who is not a broken derelict or a muttering crazy, is utterly out of place: the humiliation of having to stand in line for hours for meals and a bunk in dorms shared with derelicts, plus the fact that such accommodations are often available only "every other night" or "3-5 days maximum", will do just about anything but rescue a normal person from his or her predicament. In fact, the continuous exposure to the services and the traditional clientele of these missions can have a devastating effect on the psychological and emotional well-being of an able-bodied person.

As the number of these "new homeless" grew, Gospel Missions of America began to envision a program that would intercept these individuals before they were lost among skid row's derelicts and mentally ill, and provide them with the environment and services that would enable them to get back on their own feet and rejoin society in a productive manner.

The problem was that conventional fund raising techniques such as mail and media advertising by themselves cannot generate the monies needed for such an extensive rehabilitation program.

The solution lay in training the beneficiaries of the program - the "new homeless" themselves - most of them eager to do something about their predicament - to actively participate in the fund raising process and other lesser administrative work necessary to maintain the ministry.

Most importantly however - offering some of the "new homeless" the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful manner to the maintenance and continuation of the ministry in general, and toward their own rehabilitation in particular, also goes a long way lessening the loss of self-worth many of them suffer as a consequence of their precarious state.

The funds thus generated, together with those raised by more conventional methods, are sufficient to provide many of these "new homeless" with the dignified temporary housing and other essential services they require on their way back to self-sufficiency.