“It’s gonna be a journey where we’re gonna pour in to you, but you’re also going to pour in to your kids and you’re going to change the course of your life forever”–Chris Megison, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Solutions For Change
Please take 4 minutes to watch the video below before continuing. I promise it will be worth the added context and understanding you’ll get from it.
Homelessness is a complex problem and I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers. There are some things though that can be said with confidence, because they speak to underlying objective truths about how the world works.
The first would be that making poor choices plays a large role behind many people living on the streets. Yes, I know there are exceptions, such as a woman fleeing an abusive spouse with her kids, or the family breadwinner being suddenly struck down with illness, but I’m talking about chronic homelessness here, not temporary, emergency situations.
The second would be that addiction, mental illness, abuse, generational poverty and familial dysfunction all affect decision-making capabilities, so it’s not just a function of telling someone to stop doing self destructive things. A mind rotted by substance abuse, or struggling with PTSD, or that’s been beaten down by years of emotional manipulation (or suffering from all of the above) will not generally make rational lifestyle choices.
Wouldn’t it make sense then to target the decision-making influencers so people can begin to see their situations clearly and make better choices for themselves? To go after the root cause of why people end up homeless in the first place?
A non-profit organization called Solutions for Change (SFC) thinks so and they operate off the radical idea that being homeless is merely a symptom of much deeper and more complex issues that need to and can be addressed.
Cue its Co-Founder and Executive Director Chris Megison,
“We’ve become a nation of symptom relievers thereby unintentionally escalating the very problems that we claim we care about. Most of the people who lose it all and wind up homeless have very serious problems yet for decades we’ve responded to those problems with soup bowls, shelter beds and even hugs. Those responses might make the person giving the food, shelter or compassion feel good but they do very little to solve the underlying source of the grief and loss that the person is experiencing.”
The Solutions For Change answer is to not just give someone shelter and food, but to also change their thinking process by requiring accountability in return. To live in housing provided by SFC, a person must remain sober and enroll in mandatory job training and life skills classes via their Solutions University program.
From the SFC website:
“Solutions University is focused on transforming lives permanently. From counseling services, to parenting classes, employment training and work experience, the programs at Solutions University create solid foundations that support meaningful futures for families in our program.”
Lots of common sense there, yes? Well no, not according to our government, whose Housing First policy prohibits federal funds for homeless prevention organizations that require abstaining from booze/drugs and participation in job and life skills training. The thinking behind this, if you can call it that, is to stabilize a person’s living situation first and then work on the other stuff.
Are there cases where providing housing without sobriety mandates makes sense? Probably, but this population is limited, or it should be if the goal is to lead people away from the enslavement of addiction. Shouldn’t it be? Plus it discounts the strong negatives that come with allowing addicts to maintain destructive behavior while living in close proximity to others struggling to remain sober. Add kids in to the equation and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Regardless, the local entities combatting homelessness in their communities should be the ones to decide what they think will work best, not the pointy-headed bureaucrats in Washington. This type of “help” from the federal government too often results in doubling down on processes that do little to move the dial towards self sufficiency and too much towards dependency on government.
SFC views this dependency as just as big a problem as the other underlying issues that contribute to being homeless. It fosters a learned helplessness for those stuck in the cycle of poverty and addiction, where mental barriers to freedom become more daunting than physical ones
The way SFC graduate Amber puts it on her blog post about her trip to Washington to lobby for change,
“The system keeps the poor, poor and no one’s life is better by getting things for free. We need to lift the poor and homeless up by investing in people and that just getting by is no longer acceptable.”
Exactly. The homeless problem in this country is a national disgrace. Living on the streets is now just another “lifestyle choice” and compassion means either letting people remain that way or providing housing with no expectations of behavioral change. That’s a societal fail in my view and a complete let down for the people that need accountability and a strong sense of moral direction in their lives the most.
Organizations like Solutions For Change are on the right track and we should be doing all we can to encourage them and similar entities to thrive. The quotes below from survivors who have gone through their program speak to this.
“I’m workin’ on my self esteem, I’m workin’ on not feeling worthy”– Louise
“This is why I view the world like this and made the choices that I made.” –Amber
“Just being a productive member of society feels really good.” –Shannon
“I’m slowly gaining some purpose for my life.” – Lenny
“You do it (remain sober) because you have to, then you do it because you ought to, then you do it because you want to.” – Jared
“You can change, you can be better and you can do things different and it’s completely up to you to say that this is not how the story is gonna end.” – Jennifer
These are the words of victory, of minds chartered on a new course of empowerment and change. Want more? Go here and watch a few of their videos. I challenge you not to smile and cry while doing so.
Solutions For Change is a pioneer in combatting homelessness and healing families from the brokenness of street life and addiction. A nice side benefit has been a reduction in welfare rolls as participants transition from dependent wards of the state to healthy, functional and productive members of society.
In return, the federal government has shut off funding grants due to their program requirements on sobriety and job training, forcing the closure of its intake and access center shelter, which directly affected 14 homeless families and 24 children.
Aside from this, they are still fully operational and dedicated as ever in solving chronic homelessness and leading people to empowerment over their own lives. They need money though, so if your heart has been touched by any of this, please go here to make a donation
To a view a letter from Solutions For Change founders Chris and Tammy Megison go here.