For the past couple of months, I've carried my camera with me taking photos of Chicago's homeless and I have to say that it's been a really interesting endeavor. Mind you, I'm not just taking pictures of them without their consent, but rather, I talk to them and offer them five dollars if they'll let me snap away. They've been very willing and most have told me their stories. One fellow and I have become acquaintances and know each other by name. I always give them my business card and let them know that if they call me I could probably help them find housing of some sort.
I've yet to hear from any of them.
I've worked with the homeless population and those living in subsidized housing for five years now. I don't have an answer regarding what society should do or any quick fixes, but just a few observations.
They're friggn' crazy.
No, seriously, I think mental health issues are the one common denominator among the homeless. I'll be willing to bet that the majority can be diagnosed with schizo-affective or bi-polar disorders and that is the most common barrier to them obtaining housing and keeping themselves housed. Add alcohol and drug addiction in the mix and you've got a population that just cannot keep themselves housed.
One of the housing programs I managed was part of a government study which indicated that it actually costs taxpayers about 30 percent less to house someone with disabilities than it does to leave them homeless. A homeless, disabled person will end up in emergency rooms about eight times as often as one who has housing. A homeless person will end up in the criminal justice system much more often, is much more susceptible to HIV infection, and is much more vulnerable to violent crimes. You do the math. It might sound crazy, but it saves taxpayers a lot of money to provide housing for the homeless, that is, if there are also wrap-around mental health services provided. Good, caring social workers are a pretty rare breed these days but that's what it's going to take to tackle this issue.
Lot's of tax dollars? You bet. But only a drop in the bucket compared to what Bush spends on our nation's military. You do the math.