Opinion: Please Help, God Bless: Solving the Homeless Problem

Homeless person with sign | Image by Johnstocker Production/Shuttestock

In almost every area of this city, there is a person at a stop light holding a “please help” sign. We often worry about what will be done with the money we give, such as will it be used to buy drugs or alcohol? Nonetheless, we give out of the desire to help. But rather give spare change, we should ask ourselves – and more broadly – what can be done to offer real change? What is really going to make an impact on the homeless issue in Dallas?

I have been in ministry to the homeless for over 25 years, 18 of which have been in Dallas as the Executive Director of Dallas LIFE. I have seen multiple city leaders, multiple executive directors of every long-standing non-profit related to homelessness, and at least five city-wide Homeless Coalitions designed to fix the entire problem andthe result has always been the same…sheer frustration resulting in the city surging ahead with yet another plan to throw money at this crisis.

Across the nation and in Dallas, “housing first” has become the go-to solution for homelessness. This philosophy and the non-profits offering quick fixes have no way of gathering long-term data. When a client gets evicted after not staying clean beyond those first few months of free housing, another warm body is put in their place, making it look like another person has been helped. Often, these people end up back on the street in search of yet another program to try.

While it is my desire to see every homeless person re-housed in a safe and healthy environment, homelessness is a disorder that needs to be addressed. Homeless people used to have a home; unless we find out why they lost that home, giving them another one is pointless.

There are five triggers that lead to homelessness: drugs, alcohol, poverty, broken relationships, and mental illness. Dallas LIFE gets to the root causes of an individual’s current homelessness and creates lasting impacts. We offer “Homeless No More,” a 10-month recovery program that, through counseling, life skills classes and even medication, rebuilds someone who has hit bottom and helps them re-engage with their society. When hope is offered, those wanting only a quick fix will refuse that hope, thus showing who is ready for change and who is not.

Our data shows that nine-out-of-10 people going through Homeless No More reach full and lasting recovery never again needing our help with housing, employment, or counseling. However, our approach falls on deaf ears because it has a religious basis.

The Dallas city council recently voted to increase the Office of Homeless Solutions budget to $14 million – up from $12 million. Citizens should investigate where the millions of dollars Dallas spends on homelessness yearly actually goes. Then ask what are the results? How many lives are transformed? Then call your council person and demand policy change.

Bob Sweeney is the executive director of Dallas LIFE Homeless Shelter. He is nationally recognized as one of America’s leading homeless authors and experts. As an authority on the subject, Mr. Sweeney has appeared on numerous television and radio programs including ABC, FOX, CBS, NBC, CW, Univision and in national periodicals. At the heart of Mr. Sweeney’s success is his 10-month Homeless No More recovery program, which boasts a 90% success rate.

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