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How to Help the Homeless

November 21, 1988

The recent program developed by two congregations on Mulholland Drive has sparked much controversy.

On the one hand, some have said a temporary shelter should not be set up in their "back yard" up on the hill. The underlying message is that our property values control our values and our willingness to help our fellow man. Americans are more generous than this, and we must not allow our abundance to become our god. As a people who have been richly blessed, we must be careful to not lose sight of the fact that no man is an island and that we must help one another.

The truth of the matter is that the homeless are in everyone's "back yard" all over this country. We cannot ignore it and pretend that it will go away all by itself. Instead of fighting one another over where we place shelters, we should be spending the same amount of effort and time to find solutions.

I would like to suggest two possible solutions to this massive problem.

First, we should reopen the state-run facilities for the mentally ill. The mentally ill compose, by some statistics, around 50% of the homeless individuals. It is not working to have the mentally ill homeless on their own to be responsible enough to take the medication that they need.

Secondly, we need to allow the free enterprise system to solve the problem of the homeless. The county and the city could develop a program in which entrepreneurs could contract with the city to take on individual cases of homeless people. The entrepreneur would help them get into proper housing, find them the right vocational training, provide nutritional counseling and so on. The entrepreneur would be paid only when the homeless person was paying income and Social Security taxes.

Government is by nature inefficient in doing this kind of work. However, if an entrepreneur could make a profit doing this, it would be done more efficiently and successfully. The free enterprise system is the way that we solve the other major problems in our society; why not use it to help solve the problem of the homeless?



Steward is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church.

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