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Alternative ideas to help homeless

January 06, 2007

Re "5 steps to get out of skid row," Current, Dec. 31

The authors omit one hugely important area of consideration in ending homelessness: the family context from which each person arrives on skid row.

Here's an example: Years ago, my roommates and I invited a young, homeless man to stay with us. We helped connect him with work and made sure he was well-fed and groomed to improve his job prospects.

I asked if he had any family who might be able to help. To my surprise, he responded that his parents were on a world tour and unreachable, but owned a house in Manhattan Beach to which he was no longer invited. His brother was similarly affluent but had simply rejected him as a hopeless derelict. It became clear that the root cause of this man's homelessness was a catastrophic combination of failures of individual and family responsibilities.

Yes, the taxpayers could have been asked to fund this man's housing and path to recovery, as the authors suggest. But why not spend some of those resources in attempting to connect the homeless with their nearest kin and ask (or require) them to participate in that recovery?

I realize this may only work in a fraction of the cases, but at least we look a little less to the government as our ultimate provider and to taxpayer funding as the solution to our social ills.

JOHN SCHIMM

Los Angeles

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The authors call on us to "spend the political capital necessary to end homelessness" -- a laudable prescription. It is at least as essential, however, to address the cause of the tragic situations in which so many homeless individuals find themselves: our broken foster care system.

Studies show that at least 25% of homeless people spent some time, before "aging out" at 18, in the foster care system. Graduating from that system leaves most of them unprepared to cope with life on their own and unable to make the decisions that will define their adult years. Most of them lack, and desperately need, a role model, an advocate and a permanent connection to an adult. Not surprisingly, most of them wind up homeless, on welfare or in jail.

Many members of the county Department of Children and Family Services are dedicated, but the department is underfunded, understaffed and inefficiently managed. The children are our future; what could be a more worthwhile investment? Attention must be paid, and awareness is the first step.

CAROL EASTON

Venice

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Gary Blasi, Michael Dear and Jennifer Wolch lay out a blueprint that is simple and to the point. Two caveats to their plan are in order.

First, a relatively minimal amount of money should be allotted to hiring more legal aid attorneys. Skilled lawyers, working to enhance the lives of the poor, can ensure that public assistance is available to each eligible applicant and allow for the maximum savings that will result.

Second, a program to preserve affordable housing would create more units for more people. The same legal aid attorneys, working with pro bono lawyers from the private bar, could turn slums into decent housing, unsafe buildings into centers of improved lives for thousands and abandoned units into invaluable relief for families living on the streets.

DAVID A. LASH

Los Angeles

The writer is an attorney.

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