Pro & Con: Pooling resources can help ease homelessness

March 10, 2013 

Zaf Iqbal

JOE JOHNSTON — The Tribune

The issue: How can communities in SLO County best deliver homeless services?

Click here to read a conservative's perspective »

Before attempting to find a solution, it is necessary to define the problem and determine its magnitude.

First, it is inaccurate to call it the “homeless” problem. At least some using the services are not homeless: They cannot afford to buy food after paying bills. Despite its inaccuracy and ambiguity, “homeless” will be used in the following discussion to avoid making this complicated issue confusing.

“Homeless” is a generic term. Each city and community in the county must collect accurate and cause-specific data on the number of homeless. Such categorization would make it possible to allocate scarce resources efficiently by considering the scope and intensity of each cause contributing to the overall problem. Some of those are: unemployment, underemployment, low-paying jobs, being the child of a poor family, being a single parent, living as a senior citizen on inadequate fixed income, illness (including mental) and/or injury without insurance, foreclosure, loss of transportation and veteran status.

The last one deserves additional comments.

Last year, the U.S. military lost more service members to suicide than to combat. Each day, approximately 22 veterans kill themselves. In the case of male veterans, the major cause is post traumatic stress from combat exposure.

According to researchers and psychologists, women veterans’ trauma is mostly caused by sexual assaults. According to the Department of Defense, there is a 1-in-4 chance that women in the armed services will be sexually assaulted, and 11 percent of servicewomen will be raped by members of our own military.

In 2011, approximately 10 percent of veterans in shelters were women, and the ranks of homeless female veterans keep growing. It is a moral obligation of all citizens, but especially conservative Republicans, to tangibly support these veterans. It is more meaningful than slapping “Support Our Troops” stickers on automobiles soon after President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney sent our troops to fight the illegal war in Iraq.

The best way to support our troops is to not send them in harm’s way unless the United States is attacked.

To achieve cost-efficiency and cost-effectiveness, various cities and communities should collaborate to centralize specific services, when feasible. Budgetary allocations should be made for warming centers and permanent facilities to prepare and serve meals. Funding for the allocations could be accomplished through a collaborative effort of governmental agencies, community members, businesses and charitable organizations. By pooling some of their resources and by centralizing services where appropriate, we can eliminate waste from duplication.

“Please, sir, I want some more,” was the plea of an orphan named Oliver Twist living in a workhouse during the Victorian era; “Some more” being another bowl of gruel — a thin, watery porridge. For this expression of “ingratitude,” Oliver Twist was evicted from the facility. Charles Dickens’ book was published in 1837-38. One would assume that such inhuman treatment of minors is long gone.

Not so.

Homeless services are refused to all minors unaccompanied by an adult. Any minor who is an orphan or is abandoned by family cannot have access to the services available to homeless adults or accompanied minors. This should be enough to make us hang our heads in shame. A way must be found to stop this barbaric and uncivilized practice. In case someone is wondering whether such children really exist in our community, this columnist knows for a fact that they do.

Zaf Iqbal is past associate dean and professor emeritus of accounting at Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business. He volunteers with local nonprofits including the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and the Children’s Resource Network. He is past president of the San Luis Obispo Democratic Club.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service