One of the weirdest things about homelessness is that the longer you are homeless, the better you are at being homeless. And many services – government, not for profit, faith-based, etc. – feed into this bias. They are generally difficult to navigate unless you have been in the system for a long time.
It seems once or twice every year (at least) some organization has an intern pulling together a guide of services for people that are homeless. It takes them months. And it may have value to the intern if they are staying in the field or are trying to figure out the array of services that exist for people that are homeless.
Want a more efficient way to do it?
Give five chronically homeless dudes a pizza and an hour and they can write out the whole thing for you. Heck, they can likely rank order each shelter, feeding program, day service, outreach program, etc. based upon their perceptions of their awesomeness. (“This shelter is three bunks out of five.”, “The breakfast program at St. Mildred’s is a solid five spoons out of five.”, “The lasagne dinner at the temple the last Wednesday of the month is two volunteer happy faces out of five.” Etc.)
How did we get to a place where there is a bias to longevity?
Much of it has to do with false promises and waiting lists. Most of the people that experience homelessness for long periods of time have been promised many things over the years that have not panned out the way initially promised. Or, the offer of service resulted in being put on a waiting list, not on actually providing service.
Waiting lists are a game of Survivor – outwit, outplay, and outlast and you too may get the pot of gold at the end of the waiting list rainbow. Meanwhile, an entire bureaucratic system has been put in place to manage the waiting list and the data associated with it. There are now staff whose sole function is to do nothing other than manage more names being added to a list.
Perhaps this is a large dollop of pessimism that is making you feel uncomfortable. That discomfort may work to our advantage of solving the problems in front of us. Imagine if we all felt a sense of urgency to appropriately prioritize and serve those with the longest homelessness and deepest needs first? Imagine if we decide to tear up our waiting lists and focus on priority lists. Consider what would happen if we could have the fortitude to distinguish between being eligibility for a service and needing a service. Furthermore, what would it be like if you/your system no longer had people with lower needs consume resources that should be reserved exclusively for those with the deepest needs?