What To Do About The “Service Resistant” Homeless?

A portion of the marathon 11-hour Anaheim City Council meeting on March 21 was devoted to a presentation by CityNet of the Anaheim Homeless Census conducted in November of last year (Councilman Jose F. Moreno is requiring staff to provide some sort of homelessness update every other city council meeting). The Power Point presentation can be found here. It’s contains a good deal of useful information and we’ll be discussing it here on Anaheim Blog.

Public policy discussions of homelessness tend to be constrained by euphemisms and PC sensibilities. “Advocates” tend to talk about people “experiencing homelessness” as if it’s something that just happened to them, like catching a virus. Frank understanding of human nature doesn’t often enter the discussion.

One such euphemism is “service resistant,” which refers to the not-insignificant segment of the homeless population who are homeless because they refuse to accept help – for whatever reason.

In the meantime, this snippet of dialogue between Moreno and CityNet staffer Gigi Yanganeh is worth watching:

MORENO: So what do we do with the folks that the data…they refuse service…and we know it may be trust issues…what do we do? What do you recommend?

YANGANEH: So, that’s part of why our approach has been to consistently go out on a weekly basis and attempt over and over with individuals. It can take an average of eight times before an individual is receptive to us. In many cases we have seen…because our approach is to partner with law enforcement, a lot of time individuals that initially don’t want to talk to us or to any outreach groups or in general aren’t interested in services – sometimes they are tired from the enforcement side of things, and they end up after the third, fourth ticket or arrest, they end up actually coming to us and saying “You know what? I do want a different life, and I do want to go down a different path.” 

And so while that may be difficult for a number of community members to acknowledge, I think that the balance of outreach and enforcement has actually been successful in many cases, at least here in Anaheim.

It is good and helpful that Yanganeh publicly articulated this insight. At the same time, it’s not exactly a “Eureka!” moment; as if we didn’t know that human nature being what it is, troubled individuals often have to reach a certain threshold of pain before they make a serious internal decision to turn their lives around. Alcoholics call it hitting bottom – and until that happens, sobriety doesn’t stick. Homeless encampments like the one by Angel Stadium or along the 91 between Harbor and Lemon will continue to grow as long as ACLU radicals shield them from the law and the well-meaning provide them with tents, food, propane heaters and all manner of necessities and creature comforts.

The “grand opening” of the Kraemer Shelter is tentatively set for April 20, with actual client intake beginning in May. It will initially provide 100 beds, and expand to the 200-bed, full service multi-service center in late 2018. However, it is important understand the Kraemer Shelter will hardly make a dent in Skid River or Harbor Boulevard homeless encampments.

For one thing, the initial clientele will come from the Fullerton and Santa Ana armory shelters. Like the Kraemer Shelter, they are operated by Mercy House, which is already qualifying Kraemer Shelter clients from residents of the seasonal shelters. That’s logical and make perfect sense.

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, the Kraemer Shelter is designed to help homeless people who have already decided they no longer want to be homeless and are willing to make the changes and do the work necessary to achieve self-reliance. And that description does generally apply to the denizens of the aforementioned encampments.

Which leads us back to Moreno’s question: what do we do with the folks who refuse services?  That strikes this observer as perhaps the central, and least discussed, issue of the public debate about homelessness: at what point can society say to a homeless person: “We’ve done all we can. You refuse to be helped or to change. You are on your own.”

One comment

  1. If sometimes after they get multiple tickets and arrests they do want to change their life. Then why don’t we send in even more police. ( lots of tickets, arrests) maybe more and more will like to change. That would help them better than facilitating them to live in the streets. It is not safe for them, if they acctualy want to turn around and get help and succeed, to wipe out all the tickets and arrests (while homeless). That should bust their desire to do something better for themselves.
    Just an opinion, maybe not the best, but maybe some incentive will actually start their desire to live better.

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