Glen Allen, Virginia - There’s a lot going on in my mind when homeless shelter comes to mind. One particular thought, it is a home for people with no house of their own. I think most will agree with this idea. But then of course, I did go deeper into this concept. I realized that it is more than just a house, rather, I learned that homeless shelters are a type of homeless service agency that provide temporary residence for homeless individuals and families.
As shelters should be, these exist to provide residents with safety and protection from exposure to the weather while simultaneously reducing the environmental impact on the community. I might hit the mark a little bit, well, in general that is.
Now what does really happen in this homeless shelter?
A bit of digging up popped up with this information which gives me a bird’s eye view of its services, and it turns out that most homeless shelters provide meals and low-cost board. Moreover, there are those that even have staff available 24 hours a day.
Meanwhile, when you enter a shelter, you will be assigned a case manager who will assist you with the issues that you are dealing with. They can even help you get the things you need by connecting you to relevant services.
I now see the altruism behind this idea, quite a good program it is as it gives a helping hand to those that need it most. It plays a critical role in a community's homelessness response system, gives a great boost to the program as they provide an immediate place to stay while people reconnect within the housing, and works best as people can enter and exit rapidly with an appropriate level of services for their needs.
As I’ve learned, 50% of homeless shelters are Government-funds based, while the rest of the 50% are non-profit shelter systems. Hence, homeless shelters often become overcrowded with a large number of needy people, and that is when the franchise comes in where the situation as it is may give rise to some internal and external problem we cannot avoid. Though these may tarnish the ideal concepts of the program, we learn to accept, and in a way, find a better solution to make it work to help the needy.
Though we want to make a perfect system, or we wish to have that idea of a perfect system, the struggles inside and outside the homeless shelter is as real as it can get, and it is happening all over the states.
To my knowledge, while browsing the net, there exists corruption and theft by the employees of a shelter as evidenced by a 2011 investigative report by FOX 25 TV in Boston wherein a number of Boston public shelter employees were found stealing large amounts of food over a period of time from the shelter's kitchen for their private use and catering. Residents have reported that personal items, such as underwear, were stolen by other residents while they were occupied. These acts of lawlessness, though not so grave, are still in existence. As the shelters can become dangerously overcrowded when too many occupants are allowed entry to the shelter, the chances of these from happening becomes more possible. Thus, with overcrowding comes shelters unable to meet state standards for occupancy, such as testing fire sprinklers or ensuring that exits are clearly marked.
In some cases, shelter employees are sometimes at risk from violence perpetrated by the residents they are serving. Nevertheless, despite the threats, many employees of shelters, knowing that there is a risk when working in high-crime neighborhoods or with individuals who are mentally ill, continue to work at homeless shelters because they feel that they are performing a public service akin to the police or firefighters. The compassion is still there, the altruism at its truest form, and that is why no matter the conflicts, the system still works.
These are just some of the internal conflicts that I’ve discovered so far. On the other-hand, the external problems might be a bit heavy. Let’s take a look at the other side of the fence.
This side of the fence is a bit harsh. As I’ve surfed through the information, these are the facts that I’ve learned so far. It says that there were several problems emerging when a homeless shelter is present and it was also said that homeless shelters have negative effects on nearby businesses.
Most businesses, for years, have complained that they frequently witness pedestrians being stopped outside their stores by homeless people begging for money. Thus, these instances have led to the creation of local laws that prohibit "aggressive panhandling". It may be said that these trigger another problem, which was the difficulty in deciding where a homeless shelter should be built and how to zone the area where a shelter can be built. Furthermore, neighborhoods, as well as schools, argue that homeless shelters bring in bad elements to their surroundings.
On that note, it was said that mismanagement occurs where many shelters become nothing but housing facilities where they fail to provide job training or education that could’ve assisted the homeless population in gaining their own housing.
We’ve learned that housing through homeless shelters offer no lasting solutions, just temporary ones. Thus, drugs and alcohol, at most, surrounds homeless shelters. It is expected that shelters prohibit residential use of illegal drugs and alcohol, but enforcement was not strict and sporadic in many locations, hence a loop hole in the system. What was alarming to discover was that there’s no classification system that’s been put into effect for shelters. No mechanisms nor facilities to separate those who have mental illnesses from the rest of the shelter population, making the process quite messy.
A realistic example I’ve browsed was the incident in Vancouver, Washington, where residents and businesses near the homelessness navigation center started experiencing elevated crime levels shortly after the center opened in 2019. A study was conducted by a crime analyst and it found that while the total crime cluster of five neighborhoods did not go up, a significant shift in their distribution was observed.
Furthermore, shortly after the homeless service center was established, a significant hotspot of localized crime had formed around the immediate vicinity of the center. A business in close proximity to the center reported a loss of 40-60% in sale due to issues such as tents being pitched right in front of their business. Meanwhile, one business experienced having power outlet locks torn off twice, while others report vagrancy issues in residential streets near the navigation center after it closed by 5PM.
Though this may be the case, we cannot deny the fact that homeless shelters still help the homeless, though not that effective and efficient as it should be.
Now let’s look at the situation in Henrico County. The county receives a limited amount of funding from the federal government to assist homeless individuals, families and persons about to become homeless.
As such, Henrico County has partnered with several non-profit organizations to provide assistance for rapid rehousing, shelter, case management and/or assistance with eviction prevention as stated in optimahealth.com.
With the benefits for the people being quite significant, Henrico Country looks for ways to make homeless shelters works, in which funding may be limited, yet it found ways to make it happen.
As per statistics, the Total Homeless persons in Henrico County Virginia in 2019 are as follows,
There is an estimated number of 497 homeless individuals in Henrico County Virginia. That is a -18% change from 2018. The homelessness statistics listed are collected from HUD and from the Homeless Shelter Directory database for 2019. Please refer to the link for the said statistics.
By this alone, one could see the need for these homeless shelters. It may not be perfect as of the present, but with time and effort, it can be made better and may even serve as one turning point to change life and circumstances for the better. So let’s face it, we may lack the funding and the perfect system, but we have people with the heart who wants to help make a difference for these poor individuals to make life better.