Rockne Roll/News-Register##The form used to collect information during Yamhill Community Action Partnership’s annual headcount of the area’s homeless population, showing a wide range of afflictions that contribute to a person’s current status.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##The form used to collect information during Yamhill Community Action Partnership’s annual headcount of the area’s homeless population, showing a wide range of afflictions that contribute to a person’s current status.

Robert Mason: No one solution to homelessness

Homelessness in Yamhill County seems an intractable problem. We simply do not know enough about that population to fashion an effective solution. We have a rough idea about how many homeless there are, but we don’t know the cause of their homelessness.

The literature on the homeless has identified a plethora of conditions that lead to homelessness, including: domestic violence; sexual abuse; debt; psychiatric problems; unemployment; underemployment; the bank foreclosing on the home or farm; PTSD following military service; incapacitating accidents or illnesses; drug and alcohol addiction; not having the means to return to a home country; family break-up; housing which is dangerous because of drugs and violence; and so on.

This is a multifaceted problem that requires a multifaceted solution. A jobs strategy will deal with only a few of the underlying causes. A person who is homeless because he or she is suffering from PTSD will require a different strategy from that in which underemployment is the key issue. Many of the homeless need intensive mental health counseling followed by ongoing “job coaching” after being placed in a job.

Being homeless — that is, being rootless and shut out from social society and its opportunities and constraints — is a demoralizing assault on a person’s sense of self, contributing to hopelessness, which in turn intensifies mental health issues. Not belonging to our community, they have become aliens among us. Too often we turn away from them, ignoring their requests for a handout on Third Street.

Guest Writer

Robert Mason is a retired educator who taught social welfare policy at New York University. He enjoys studying policy, writing and teaching youngsters through SMART and the Sheridan Japanese School.

The Australian philosopher, Anya Daly, who suffered a period of homelessness due to a life-threatening accident, contributes to our understanding of the lived experience of homelessness together with a warning against trying to control the homeless:

“The homeless do not belong to our community; they do not share our culture, our values, our social etiquette, our ways of eating and urinating. This is why our efforts are usually inadequate to addressing the problems of homelessness: one of the dangers for any intervention is that the homeless person becomes a project of the helper intervening; and then what inevitably comes into play is an almost coercive normalizing of the homeless person. The challenge is to offer support in a way that does not violate their autonomy, nor render them predictable, controllable, and acceptable according to our own standards.”

What William Temple, the great Archbishop of Canterbury during WW II, wrote in Christianity and Social Order about the unemployed is true of the homeless also. In the following passage I replaced “unemployed” with “homeless”:

“The worst evil of (homelessness) is its creating in the (homeless) a sense that they have fallen out of the common life; they are not wanted. This moral isolation is the heaviest burden and most corrosive poison associated with (homelessness).”

Hunger is another barrier to employment. Here is Temple again: “Malnutrition is a direct result of poverty…. It produces enfeebled bodies, embittered minds and irritable spirits: thus it tells against good citizenship and good fellowship. Children are the most obvious sufferers, but those who have suffered in this way as children seldom come later to full strength or to physical and spiritual stability. It was found, when attempts were made to organize physical training classes for the unemployed, that most of these could not take advantage of the training offered; it made them too hungry.”

A strategy to reduce the homeless population in Yamhill County will contain the following elements:

n A clear understanding of why folks are homeless.

n A welcoming attitude, ushering folks into our community.

n A safe, clean, warm living space.

n Nutritious meals to boost metabolism rates to a level required by most employers.

n An intensive mental health intervention to ease battered souls into the world of work.

n Skills training.

n Ongoing “job coaching.”

Some of these line items are being done by county agencies and local nonprofits. There must be a larger-scale effort to coordinate these elements, and a greater buy-in from all.

The Yamhill County Gospel Rescue Mission is constructing additional temporary/transitional housing for the homeless. The new facility will include a resource room where the homeless will be oriented to the world of work — proper dress, punctuality, etc. — and be trained in the job skills required by local businesses.

The McMinnville Noon Rotary Club, of which I am a member, is providing funding for the resource room. I fear our club’s effort will not be a success unless the proper amount of mental health counseling is associated with the job training to foster the transition into work.

Certified social workers and clinical psychologists do not come cheap, and funding will always be a major challenge in this arena. I believe more investment by business associations and industry leaders into homeless services can ultimately be self-serving, minimizing behavioral problems on the streets and increasing the workforce.

There may not be a cure for homelessness, but there are plenty of people currently without homes who are capable of being every bit the productive community member as you or me.


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