How should homeless grants be spent?

Routinely, I get releases like this one from members of Congress, particularly our senators:

Graham Announces $3 Million to Assist Homeless and Disadvantaged in South Carolina
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today announced South Carolina will receive more than $3 million to assist homeless and disadvantaged persons throughout the state.  The Emergency Food and Shelter program funds may be used to supplement and expand ongoing efforts to provide shelter, food and supportive services for the state’s hungry, homeless, and people in economic crisis….

In the list that followed, Lexington County got $137,496, and $236,484 will be going to Richland.

This got me to thinking: How will this money actually get spent? Will it go to more feckless, indecisive muddling on the part of our local elected governments? Will it go to an effort that is trying to help the homeless in a comprehensive way in spite of the failure of local governments, such as that led by Amos Disasa of Eastminster Presbyterian?

Maybe it’s dedicated to a specific program that asked for it; the release doesn’t say. But I was wondering what ideas you, the readers — specifically Doug Ross, who has a good deal of personal experience helping the homeless — as to how the money should be used.

7 thoughts on “How should homeless grants be spent?

  1. Doug Ross

    Thanks for opening up this topic. It is one that I have had more personal experience with over the past year through participation in First Baptist Church’s Feed The Hungry meals that we do each month.
    I’m certainly no expert on the topic but I’ll relate some of the things I’ve seen.
    If I look at the people who attend the meals, they are 95% male, 80% black. That probably does not represent the true population of homeless in the city but I can’t explain why we don’t see many women or children. There are also a high percentage of veterans in the group which is a real tragedy. There should be more done for those people.
    Based on my conversations with them, the majority have issues with alcohol or drugs. I’d say 20% of them have serious mental issues (depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, etc.). Some are too far gone to ever come back by my untrained eye.
    Their basic short term needs are pretty simple: food, shelter, medical care. The impression I get is that the food aspect is being handled reasonably well by the volunteer efforts of the community. In fact, we had a lower turnout last weekend because another church was doing an all day soul food meal. But that’s a good thing…
    Many of the people I talk to tell me of doctor’s visits and prescriptions, so I get the sense that they are being helped there somewhat. Their general health is certainly lower than that of the general population.
    I bring socks, shampoo, lotion, razors, shaving cream, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc. every month and there’s never enough to go around. Access to bathrooms is non-existent for them which leads to other problems. I also bring coats, blankets, clothing, etc. that I collect each month and all of that goes as well. I’ve been told that they don’t have a whole lot of trouble getting donated clothes, but since there is no where to keep or clean their stuff, they just wear the clothes until they get dirty and can get new ones.
    I was told by several of the men that they avoid staying in the shelters for two reasons: first, they claim that there is too much theft that occurs. They fall asleep and then wake up to find all their belongings gone. second, they claim that there is a lot of homosexual activity that occurs in the shelters as well. I can’t verify that, but it is not unreasonable to believe.
    Unfortunately, I don’t think I can offer a solution to the problem. Some of those people are too far gone with drugs or too mentally unstable to save at this point. Somehow you have to sort out the ones who just need a few breaks in terms of job training, access to a safe sleeping environment and bathrooms, etc.
    I just wonder if it would be better to spend $250K trying to help get 50-100 people completely off the streets versus spending that same money making things just a little better for all of them. Let the churches, soup kitchens handle the ones who are not able to make that transition.

  2. HWP

    Doug, keep up the good work! Didn’t the story in Sunday’s paper about Tony just make you want to give him a nuggie and adopt him?!? Hoping to cheer up those blank walls, I called about donating some artwork of my daughter’s — she is 16 and studying art at Governor’s School. Having run out of wall space, I hoped I could help out in some way — which we can, and will.
    Abruptly jamming this buzz, I now switch to bean-counter mode…
    I think we need a special task force to track that $137,496 the minute it gets over here to Lexington — to make sure a big chunk of it doesn’t go to cell phones for persons of interest, decor for apartments of persons of interest, council members’ potential girlfriends’ incidental expenses, etc. Like in Gaston.

  3. Karen McLeod

    Of all the examples I’ve heard of, most people I know point to the model that Greenville is using as a ‘best’ model. It’s ‘one stop’ shopping for the homeless. They can get counseling, food, clothing, shelter, and medical care there. As I understand it, they are set up to effectively help those with psychiatric disorders, and they have an onsite AA meeting. They also have (I think) some public housing that allows at least some of these people to get off the streets and into a situation that allows them to get clean, have an address, and possibly get a job. Until a place has a coordinated means of doing these things, all that happens is that folks cycle through each place that has a meal/a bed/some clothing again and again.

  4. Doug Ross

    The model you present sounds like a good idea. The only question I have is what do you do with the people who come in and either refuse to follow basic rules related to drugs/alcohol/sexual activity or else become disruptive or violent in that setting? There’s is still going to be some percentage of the homeless who will not accept any type of structured environment. What do we do with/for them?

  5. Karen McLeod

    Doug, These people will probably end up in jail. Some will benefit from just having to leave/or not be admitted. The question is, do we have any mental health facilities to deal with those who misbehave for reasons of lack of psychiatric care. Not all can be reached, I know; but a lot can be helped. We can at least make help reachable. All too many can’t find the help, or the steps are too complicated for them. This would be a big step to get some of these people off of the street.

  6. HWP

    Ooh Eee. Ishmael’s articles on those starved, dispirited horses have invoked the wrath of Alice around here [Dilbert yesterday].
    New effigies are in commission — a series of skinnier and skinnier versions of a certain human [?/TBD] male which will end in skeletal phase. No burning, but it will be painted bright pink. Pink slip for the culture of death.
    Very sad. Wish I had a place to keep one.

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