Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What Then Must We Do?

I'm a little late on this one, but kudos to J.R. Labbe for an outstanding Sunday column on the homeless in Fort Worth. She wrote:

John Peter Smith Hospital spent more than $19 million during the past three years on emergency treatment and medical care for homeless people.

Otis Thornton, Fort Worth's homelessness coordinator, says that's a conservative number.

The top 10 chronically homeless users of emergency medical services at JPS last year cost $500,000.

Ten people. A half million dollars. That's $50,000 per person.

Tell me again why it doesn't make financial sense to put these people into permanent supportive housing with wrap-around services that cost between $14,000 and $17,000 a year?

An excellent point. This is a financial issue, it's a public health issue, but it is also a moral issue.

I once heard an interview with the director of the Presbyterian Night Shelter in Dallas. The director said that there are many reasons for a person to become temporarily homeless -- domestic violence, addiction, unemployment. However, 100 percent of the chronic homeless at the Dallas shelter were mentally ill. 100 percent.

I urge the city to get involved. But we also need to get involved as individuals who live in this community.

So what then must we do?

I'm not much of one for quoting the Bible, but in Luke 3:10, the multitudes asked Jesus this same question, and he answered them: "He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise."

Fort Worth, that's a good place to start.


Bernie said...

Thanks for talking about this issue Steve... too many people in Fort Worth don't realize what a problem we have. Since the Sundance Square initiative got the homeless out of downtown, and the city pretty effectively corraled the homeless East of 35 on Lancaster where few people venture, the homeless problem has become somewhat invisible.

It's no less pressing for its invisibility, though. We need to come together as a city and help these people.

As a society, we're only as good as our weakest members. By helping them, we ultimately lift ourselves up as well.

TXsharon said...

I've forgotten the percentage and I'm too lazy to look it up right now but a HUGE percentage of our veterans are homeless. That's just plain immoral.

Wow! I wish Wise County had a Bernie.

Suzette said...

"Help" is a powerul, slippery word when using it regarding the homeless. Operating a business over here in homeless town, Ft. Worth has been an eye opening experience! I used to think like most others, that if we "help" them enough, they will get up off the ground. Wrong! We try to do the one size fits all in regards to the homeless and it doesn't work. You have:
1. mentally ill that need a place to stay and can't work
2. you have addicts who WANT to live high 24/7, who don't want to work and can't pass a drug test
3. you have ones that are truly in need and down on their luck
4. you have persons with criminal histories that no company will hire

For the ones who do not want to get sober and stay sober..why should we build them a house that they are going to disrespect and destroy? Why?

So you are homeless, you can't find a worthwhile paying job because you have a criminal history...what do you do for money? You go out and steal, sell your body, rob, deal drugs and get m.o.n.e.y the quickest most profitable way you know how.

Until we divide the homeless into categories and truly "help" the ones that want help and impose consequences for the ones who choose a criminal way of life we are only fertilizing the lifestyle of homelessness. This population will get larger and larger and larger as long as we choose to enable them instead of help them.

I employ three homeless person at this very moment. I do that by showing them respect, holding them accountable for their choices and actions, having strict rules as well as consequences. It seems to work well for the ones who desire a change and want an earned paycheck.

Many many homeless people are professional con artists, they know how to work the system and live off of our tax dollars better than we know how to stop it.

We all perform better when we are held accountable, I haven't heard the City of Fort Worth say one word about accountability. Why? No, I'm not for throwing money at the homeless. We taxpayers own the land is that not correct? We are the owners of public land, we pay for it thru taxes. Why should I be working hard so that you can live free & high and disrespecting my land?

Also, when are we as a society and City going to start holding parents responsible for their children. Talk to ten homeless person and nine of them will tell you how unloving and horrible their childhood was and how much their parents didn't care if they were drunk or pregnant at age 9 or 10. When parents don't care, we as a society pay the tab for their children all thru their adulthood. I say we invest in holding parents accountable in our public schools, we invest in holding our homeless adults accountable in their daily choices and in the long run, we will truly erradicate the population, until then, expect it to grow year after year after year. Ask yourself if you are "helping" or "enabling."

Steve-O said...


Thanks for your comments and thanks for your work as a business person in this part of Fort Worth. You are right that this is a difficult issue, and you are right that this isn't a one-size-fits-all issue.

Some people who find themselves homeless don't want to be there. They use available assistance to get back on their feet. But there are some people who don't really want to be helped. Either they are dealing with addiction or mental illness, or they are just bad people who are content to hustle the system or live a life through crime.

The issue that J.R. raises specifically in her column is how to pay for indigent care? Is there a better way that can save taxpayers money in the long run? Keep in mind that you and I are already paying for indigent care through our property tax dollars. What is the most cost-effective way to go about it? If there is a way to spend $17,000 per person rather than $50,000 per person, that is in our best interests and makes financial sense.

Suzette, I applaud your efforts to try to make a difference by giving some of these people paying work. I know you are a good person who is involved in our community. And I know you have probably been burned many times by people you have been trying to help. I am sorry that happened to you. But you and I are part of the solution and we've got to keep working at that.

There is a proverb that says if 10 people ask you for money to eat, but only one of them actually uses it to buy food, you still did the right thing. Yes, maybe some of our money is going to hustlers. Some will use it to enable their addictions. But some really need that help. They may not be able to change their lives, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't offer it.

Suzette said...

Hi Steve-o
Thank you for posting this subject - it's a good one for dicussion and one that I guess you could say I am "passionate" about.

I will answer your question of "Is there a better way to pay for indigent care that will save taxpayers in the long run?" Yes. It is done by putting up a whole bunch of money at the start of the fight (to erradicate homelessness) and directing the monies in such areas that hits at more of the "root" causes of homelessness. To name a few which start in (1)childhood with irresponsible parents, (2) teenage or adulthood drug possession and/or dealing which leads to prison time (criminal record - no one will hire - no luck with job hunting)(3)mental illness, nowhere to go (4)truly down on luck i.e., family violence, loss of job, etc.

If you just take those 4 categories and start to put money and/or change laws that affect those areas that is one front, put some money in permanent supportive housing although I'm not sure what the definition of that really is and how that really helps in the long run. I mean without a job and meaningful income, one can't really do much in the long run. Giving someone a house does not empower them nor raise their self worth.

So with this said, if it was me with a billion dollars I would throw my money at the following:
1. lobby the lawmakers and schools to hold irresponsible parents accountable.
2.a. pay youngsters who have just come out of jail and/or prison and who are homeless and cannot find a job due to their criminal record, to go around and talk to middle and high school children about how hard it is after prison, sit and talk in real terms to them and encourage them to stay away from any criminal activity. Such activities could be done in conjunction with agencies such as the Salvation Army since homeless hang around such agencies who give away free stuff like hot meals. Also I would work to find companies who will implement a "hire a criminal" type program and give these people a second chance. We have got to find companies willing to give them good paying jobs. Otherwise, we are only digging ourselves a deeper hole. The able bodies have to work, they have to bring money in no matter how many houses you build them or services you wrap around them.

2.b. I would work tirelessly to convince lawmakers to lessen the marijuana laws. Yes, sitting around smoking pot all day is not a good thing just like staying drunk all of the time (if at all) is good. However, just because alcohol is legal doesn't mean that everyone who partakes of it is a drunk, there is such a thing as "responsible drinking" and we have laws against driving while drinking, etc. How many of us are there that have never smoked a little pot? I bet a very small percentage of us have never inhaled! To go to prison for marijuana and start that whole cycle of not being able to find a job because of a criminal record for marijuana not to mention the millions of taxpaid dollars we spend prosecuting and feeding the offenders is absolutely ridiculous! What are we thinking? Yes we need laws for its use and selling thereof much like we have for alcohol.

3. Many different levels and reasons for mental illness and it is a term that is way overused. No, I disagree with the PNS Director that said 100% of chronic homeless are mentally ill. Let's set this topic aside for now in this one discussion and go back to it with experts. I would definitely put alot of money here but the assessment and evalution of would be done by highly paid professional experts and service accordingly.

4. Basically I would spend a whole bunch of money on highly paid (highly paid) professional experts to help the "helpable" realize their importance here in this life to get their self worth elevated.

Bottom line, to try to do it on the cheap and say ok let's spend millions on permanent supportive housing and go cheap on paying counselors, etc. is absolutely not the way to go about it if you want to save money in the long run. Spend a little and see if it works in a five year study. Keep up with those people ten years out and see where they are. Unless you get at the root (mostly psychological), you are wasting money. Don't let the City officials sell you on tangible things to fix homelessness, it is the intangible that is truly the fix!
(I'm not going to proofread this so please excuse any typos).

Suzette said...

One more thing - I really haven't been burnt much at all by hiring the homeless, I find them to be very good workers. However, I'm pretty picky about who I hire and I have to sort of "know them" and have a good feeling about who they are, what they are about.

Steve-O said...


Thanks for your comments. Please keep reading!