Homeless man sleeps at Columbs Circle in front Union Station
Elvert Barnes/Flickr

May is REACT Month, to recognize volunteer Radio Emergency Associated Communication Teams.

I hope that since it’s also Community Living Month, it will mean reacting to the lifestyles in your community.

I’m reacting to the D.C. community’s failure to face, fight, and finish homelessness. To me, homelessness isn’t “community living,” it’s “community dying.” I want to know why a state of being is still considered an emergency. Why  are so many people being paid so much for doing so little? Where is accountability?  Why are programs with transitional origins allowed to become semi-permanent? No one should be in an  single room occupancy (SRO) more than three years!

Wikipedia defines “Single Room Occupancy,” sometimes called a “single resident occupancy,” as a form of housing in which one or two people are housed in individual rooms (sometimes two rooms, or two rooms with a bathroom or half-bathroom) within a multiple-tenant building.

When homelessness was only beginning to be an  issue in the 1980s, rather than the epidemic it is now, the strategy was to complete interventions in day service programs or inpatient therapy, participate in 90 to 120-day transitional programs (to develop life skills, find employment, and acquire a rental agreement), and work with aftercare to create a strategy to pursue upward mobility. A short-term intervention for future goal attainment, SROs typically were considered to be the step between recovery-based rooming houses, traditional boarding and rooming houses, and your own apartment, if required.

The apartment, while a significant accomplishment for the reinvented consumer, was not the end but a stepping stone toward a home of your own: A deeded property!

SRO tenants should not be owning SUVs. If anything, they should be owning (and renting) SROs. Many, if not for program failures, could do just that!

It’s all about accountability.

What I see is a bottleneck in the earlier stages of the transitional process that perpetuates the problem by enabling administrators, counselors, politicians, case managers, etc. to avoid the “dirty” work of  resource development, problem-solving and client follow-up, while keeping them with a paycheck. Some SROs have tenants that stay for 7 to 10 years, sometimes even longer.  It was not the original intent of SRO for tenants to settle for program dependency, but for them to transition to the next level of the improved income status and apartments of their own.  Apartment dwelling was seen as the beginning of independent living, not the final resting place. They were to be role models for the ones following their path.

They were to be “Trailblazers,” not “Trail Barriers!”

Who is complacent, the client or the caseworker?

I really don’t know. I do know that both have too much to manage on their plates. I  know that balancing overloaded plates usually results in a mess. Finding fault won’t clean it up. Determining the cause and taking preventive steps can avert recurrences.

I find lack of program accountability to be the issue here. Why are people earning six figure salaries, but still permitting the situation to continue?  What comes to my mind are two things (mindsets):

  1. as long as there’s a problem, there’s a payday;
  2. and if I keep a paycheck, I keep MY housing!

My executive directors (and mentors) never let subordinates miss appointments, avoid calls, fail to act in timely manner, misrepresent programmatic capabilities,  or do ANYTHING that reflects negatively on their own, or the respective reputations of, their agencies. If you did, you were “asked” to resign.

Reality check.

Reality checked:

If you fix the problem, and nature abhors a vacuum, another one shall arise!  That said, homelessness will not end before retirement of anyone employed in this field of endeavor today.

So please, for the sake of human dignity, human rights–humanity–let’s get lively in our community and fix this. Or maybe just react before it happens to you!

This month will you accentuate the positive behaviors witnessed in your environment with appropriate reinforcement, while taking action or a stand? Will you speak out, write a letter, or do something to demonstrate your indignation?  It’s your Community. React.  Live!