Today I was in Downtown Vancouver with some friends, and a common scene played out before me: the poor and destitue were asking for spare change, or a meal.
Homelessness is something I've thought about for quite some time. What can societies do to help prevent this from happening?
There are lots of programs available to help people who have nowhere else to go, but there are many homeless who will not take part in these programs for various reasons. Before living on the streets becomes necessary, people usually have the ability to find work one way or another ... even if it's with a temp agency doing terrible jobs for minimum wage. Anything to keep rent paid and a meal in the stomach is better than the streets.
I've come very close to being on the street before. When I moved to BC several years ago I ran out of money and had no work and no leads. I knew nobody and was 2 weeks overdue with the rent payment for my one room in a family's home. I could have called home and asked for help (again), but my pride wouldn't let it happen. I vowed that if I completely ran out of money, I would walk back to Ontario.
They say that pride is the sign of a foolish man. After that experience, I agree.
Since that time, I've often given some money to homeless individuals or taken them to Subway or some other place for a quick meal. I've been in a position where the smell of food was enough to make you both incredibly hungry, and incredibly ill. These people are humans, just like the rest of us. Though I may not understand why some don't try to get off the street, I can't ignore them completely.
So this makes me wonder: What can we do?
Money isn't the answer. "Affordable Housing" might make things easier for many of the homeless, but doesn't solve the underlying problems. I don't think education is a valid option unless these people had food, shelter and clothing first. So what could trigger a large group of these people to come in off the streets and try to build a better life for themselves?
Some people have told me that the homeless are that way because they want to be that way. Maybe this is true for some, but not for all. I've spoken with a few, and these are people that had some terrible habits that they can no longer afford, with lives and families that they lost because of these habits. I'm sure that given the opportunity, at least some will take the offered hand and rebuild from nothing.
Of course the method for this isn't exactly clear. There is no single solution. Perhaps I should talk to a few of the local ones and see what I can do, helping one person at a time.