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Suggestions on Aiding Homeless; Reasons for Problem

March 15, 1992

As an executive director of a local homeless shelter and a board member of two other homeless service agencies, I feel particularly qualified to respond to (Bobby) Youngblood's article.

Youngblood outstandingly illustrates the tremendous lack of needed services for homeless people. He further articulates the profound frustration experienced by the homeless community. Imagine, as a mother or a father, the disgrace of confronting your family and saying, "I'm sorry. I don't know where we can go," as you and your children walk past the homes of the comfortable. Imagine the humiliation as an adult, separated from loved ones, resting on a bus bench, wallowing in your own stench, watching the "bright and beautiful" people drive by, wondering: "What is the matter with me? Am I not as worthwhile?" Imagine the potential rage! We in the service community share in Youngblood's concern, even when it is not wet and cold outside.

While appreciating Youngblood's comments, I have grave concerns over his critique of the service community. I personally know and have worked with the people involved in most of the organizations he lists, and I can, without reservation, say that they are basically good people doing good work. Youngblood is angry that shelters are full and turning people away. Fine. Frankly, so are we! But the tragic reality is that there are roughly 12,000 homeless individuals in Orange County and fewer than 900 available shelter beds. Given the gross disproportion of need to resources, we in the service community simply cannot provide for everyone.

Providing services for homeless individuals and families is a deceivingly complex matter. Youngblood demonstrates his lack of comprehension in this regard by asking single men's shelters and non-sheltering agencies to provide housing for a homeless family. This demand makes about as much logical sense as asking a dentist to perform brain surgery.

The shared indictment and sin of homelessness exists, but this is not due to a lack of compassion, intelligence or industriousness on the part of the service community. We lack no courage or vision, only resources.

Therefore, I challenge Youngblood to help us secure the resources necessary to eradicate the scandal of homelessness from our community. However, he should be forewarned that it will be a bit more costly than donating used clothes. Until Youngblood's personal action matches his public rhetoric, his pontifications are little more than self-righteous grandstanding.

LARRY HAYNES, Board member, Orange County Homeless Issues Task Force

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