Guest Opinion | Rabbi Joshua Grater: Street Outreach is Critical to Housing the Homeless

Published : Monday, May 22, 2017 | 2:04 PM

People are starting to finally take notice, and demand solutions. Homeless people, long invisible on our streets, in our shelters, mental health facilities and jails, are becoming visible. And in Pasadena, a city that has become a beautiful destination for so many people experiencing homelessness, we are finding real solutions. At Friends in Deed, we are focused on strategies to get people off the streets and to prevent folks from becoming homeless in the first place.

In a nation as rich in resources as ours, there is no excuse for the number of homeless people on our streets. While there will always be “the poor among us,” those poor do not need to be homeless. Political will, community support, financial allocations and willingness to stay in the battle for the long haul, are the hallmarks of success in this struggle for human dignity for the most vulnerable among us.

In Pasadena, the most recent homeless count revealed that we have 575 unsheltered people in our city, which includes 91 unaccompanied homeless women. While this might seem like a large number to some, it is actually a 40% lower number than we had as recently as 2011. It’s also a number that might easily become zero with the cooperation and effort of our city, county, civic, religious and business leaders. Are there property owners that are willing to dedicate their buildings to housing homeless and at-risk people if our social service agencies provide the support to help these folks’ journey back to stability? Is the city willing to donate land or buildings to help us achieve one of the proven best practices of “housing first?” It will take everyone’s hard work and commitment to reach our goals of greatly reducing the numbers of people on our streets.

One of the ways that Friends in Deed is looking to expand our services is by providing dedicated Outreach Workers to identify and build relationships with the most vulnerable on our streets today. While you may think that every homeless person will be thrilled by an offer of housing, it can actually take time to build trust and alleviate the fears many of them have about sharing their personal information or following the rules that may come with being housed. The goal of a street Outreach Worker program, as has been achieved in other cities and counties both in California and around the country, is to create a “by-name” list of those individuals living on our streets so that we not only know the numbers, but the persons behind those numbers. We want to learn names, personal history, addictions, illnesses, fears and barriers to overcome in order for them to be housed. Engaging with homeless people in this way has proven successful in getting a large number of these folks housed.. And it doesn’t have to take years or even months. With the consistent and persistent efforts of the Outreach Workers, the numbers can come down within days, with local agencies providing social services, and landlords providing housing options.

With the passing of Measure H, we are now poised to receive millions of dollars to address the scourge of homelessness. I think that we can all agree that we want to do this. We know our city would be so much better if we could house our homeless neighbors. But wanting to do something and actually doing it, are not the same thing. Friends in Deed is an interfaith non-profit, so I am comfortable saying that the great texts of all religions speak about the imperative to care for the poor and the needy; to give more to others so that we may gain; to share with our neighbors, for hoarding corrodes the heart; to be generous of spirit, especially to the most needy among us. Here in LA County, we have a real chance to make a difference and help lead our nation to living out our highest values.

Our motto at Friends in Deed is “doing together what we can’t do alone.” I hope all of Pasadena will join in the effort needed to house as many people from the streets as we can.

blog comments powered by Disqus