By: Ryan Dowd
September 25, 2018 —
My “day job” is Executive Director of Hesed House, the second largest homeless shelter in Illinois. This week I want to share a letter I wrote for our next newsletter:
Dear people of Hesed,
“What do we do about people who choose to be homeless?”
Maybe it is the low unemployment rate or the explosive growth of tent cities popping up around the country, but I’m being asked this question more often than ever before.
My answer is simple: Nothing.
We shouldn’t do anything about people who choose to be homeless because no one chooses to be homeless. I have met thousands of individuals while they were homeless and not a single one chose it.
At Hesed House there are three “types” of homelessness:
- 50% of people stay 2 weeks or less – They certainly don’t choose homelessness.
- 42% of people stay 2 weeks to 1 year – They certainly don’t choose homelessness.
- 8% of people are with us for longer than 1 year.
This last type is what the federal government calls “chronic homelessness.” On its face, being homeless for years can look like a choice, until you consider two factors:
- Mental illness – A person who is unemployable because of untreated schizophrenia has not made a “choice.”
- Trauma – Many chronically homeless individuals suffer from C-PTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder), a particularly difficult-to-treat form of PTSD caused by repeated traumatic events. Trauma is not a choice.
Substance abuse certainly factors in, but I didn’t include it as one of the most important factors, because usually the substance abuse is an attempt to cope with mental illness or trauma.
So, the answer to the question of what to do about the “homeless by choice” is easy. A far more difficult (and important) question is:
“What do we do about people who struggle with severe mental illness and trauma?”
Answering that question is at the core of Hesed House’s reason for being. When you volunteer, donate or pray for Hesed House, you are part of helping to find an answer to that question.
Ryan Dowd, Atty., MPA
Volunteer, Donor and Executive Director
Did you think this was helpful? Send it to a friend!
Did a friend send this to you? Go HERE to sign up for yourself!
Have a great week!