Snyder: Give a hand to the homeless

Stephen Snyder

In ‘the land of opportunity,’ far too many seem to fall through the cracks of not only society, but beyond the grasp of human compassion as well. In January 2014, an estimated 578,424 people in the country were homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

While the homeless population may not be as prevalent in Iowa, there were still an estimated 16,340 receiving services here at home in 2012. That number, reported by the Iowa Institute for Community Alliances, is admittedly low because more than one-fourth of agencies that provide temporary housing to the homeless do not participate in the reporting process.

Also, not included in that total are those individuals who do not seek the assistance of such organizations. So the number could quite conceivably be considerably higher than the 2012 estimate.

Americans who rely heavily on government programs and social services are often seen by some as a weakness for our nation and an excessive form of dependence upon the government, as well as a detriment to the ability of those receiving assistance to ever work their way out of homelessness or poverty.

Traditionally, the conservative side of the political spectrum expresses its outrage on the topic, saying their tax dollars and federal funds go to people who they believe are lazy and undeserving of such benefits.

Take Bill O’Reilly for example, an outspoken conservative who consistently blasts the homeless and even denies that a large number of homeless Americans are military veterans.

Keeping that fact in mind, imagine how many of Bill O’Reilly’s blood vessels would pop upon reading reports and articles that some cities across the country are actually providing the homeless with free housing. Actually, he might be so angry that he forgets to breathe, so maybe it is better that no one tells him.

Giving the homeless homes? If we do that, what defenseless segment of the population will O’Reilly rant about? His show might have to go off the air. No, unfortunately he has enough geriatric “back in my day” viewers to keep his ratings up for at least another 10 years.

However, regardless of the dissenting cries of conservative pundits, good work is being done for a portion of Americans, which has been ignored for far too long.

By providing the homeless with the necessity of shelter, the hope is that their focus will no longer be the most base level of subsistence, but rather to re-establish themselves as contributing members of society.

In fact, it has been shown in several cases that housing the homeless actually lessens the strain on taxpayers. In central Florida, it costs $31,065 to support a homeless person when they are living on the streets. When they are housed, it costs only $10,051 per homeless individual.

Despite the portrait of the homeless population that unsympathetic minds have painted, a human being is never a problem. A human being does not need a solution. Their circumstances are the problem, their situation requires a solution.

As a result of those beliefs, I make it a point to interact with almost every homeless individual that I encounter and I can tell you this, begging for your money was never their first choice. Sleeping under a bridge is not what they always wanted to do.

In the words of Russell Flowers, a recipient of an apartment through Salt Lake City’s Housing First Initiative and a featured interviewee on “The Daily Show,” “No one wants to be poor. Everyone needs a hand sometimes.”

To fall through the cracks is not a choice, but it is something that could happen to each and every one of us. Were you to fall deep down into those hard to reach places, wouldn’t you want someone to reach down and give you a hand? I promise I would send you mine.