My dad has served as a police officer for over three decades in two municipalities within Miami. He has worked for both the City of Miami and the City of South Miami, holding different positions through the years such as officer, detective, and sergeant. When I was little, I never really explored outside the bubble that was my upper-middle class life. It’s not like I would’ve been allowed to anyways, but once I grew up, I was allowed to venture out a bit by visiting my dad when he was working to see first-hand what he did, and how the other half lived because he did work in the lower-class neighborhoods of Miami. It broke the stereotypes I had built since I was little about who a homeless person was.
A homeless person is an individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets, stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned buildings or vehicles (National Health Care for the Homeless Council). I hear the stories they are willing to share about how they grew up and what lead them to their current situation which allowed me to understand that no one deserves the disgusted stares from passers-by that refuse to hear their voice. People gain their views of homelessness on assumptions and lack of knowledge that could only change if we speak of the topic and paint a more positive image. The homeless don’t want to go from shelter to shelter not knowing if they’ll have a bed to sleep on at night. They don’t like having to beg on the street trying to get enough money for their next meal, who would? Coming to Florida State I already had prior knowledge of how the homeless are helped in Miami financially, but here I’ll examine the funding of shelters in Leon County and the allocation of its funds for the homeless so that lawmakers can understand how easy they can bring attention to homelessness and why it should be fixed. It’s important because this can happen to everyone even oneself.
This study examines the funding of shelters, and the allocation of funds for the homeless. The Florida Council on Homelessness created a statistical report that showed how in recent years there has been a decrease in the amount of people who have absolutely no where to live yet there’s been an increase in the amount of homeless people that have resorted to coach surfing between family and friends (Nasworth 2). It opened my eyes to the fact that we as citizens do not have a right to a roof over heads but can get arrested for sleeping on the side of the road when shelter isn’t possible. So, if a steady income isn’t possible and a place to sleep isn’t either then how can someone remove themselves from this situation? In the same report it says 83 million dollars is given towards homeless prevention but with an amount that large the size of the homeless population should be going decreasing much quicker.
Through investigation it’s evident it’s not because of shelter involvement, but because the funds provided by the government is no longer being used as effectively as it was at the beginning. Shelters are in desperate need of finding new ways to help the homeless stay off of the streets because as the years pass the funds continue to increase yet there is no change in the number of people living out on the street. Recently, the idea of creating a work program at the shelters has become a more attainable way of fixing the problem because of the results seen at shelters in other states. It’d be impossible to create a mandate that requires each of the shelters in Florida or even Leon County to create a work program at all its shelters. Targeting the shelters directly will allow for a higher rate of success by allowing them to individualize the plan so even if half of the shelters implement a work program for a few months even, it’ll allow for a significant decrease in the homeless population and help better the economy.
Even though Tallahassee is Florida’s capital most households have low family incomes and border on becoming homeless. Shifting the budget directly within the shelters instead of focusing on the government allows for a smoother transition between shelters to allow for these work programs. It’s easier to target the shelters directly in hopes of one shelter’s accomplishment spreading to other shelters to make them follow. At the local level, it allows for each shelter to be targeted directly allowing for the solution to accommodate the shelters views and mission. Each shelter in Leon can house a certain number of people in its facility. In Tallahassee, a little over 800 homeless people reside (Morgan 15).
Even if half of those can take part in the work program, then that’s around 400 fewer people living on the streets. It’s already known that most people are in shelters because low minimum wage doesn’t coincide with affordable housing. So, if a job is created so that even the money to stay at a shelter is more accessible than it’s something to consider. Urban Institute presents several ways that shelters can help meet the needs of the homeless, through improved supportive services, increased housing options and cooperative ventures among shelters which provide assistance for the homeless (Burt 37). The surveys allow for the reader to see the problems in the funding and legislation. Burt also speaks towards seeing the difference between fixing the problem in rural areas versus urban cities since it’s much easier to solve the problem in areas with ample amounts of land. I’ve visited Big Bend Homeless Coalition several times with my dad and believe it’ll be a great choice to implement a new work program in. Big Bend Coalition’s goal is to end homelessness in the Big Bend through leadership, education, advocacy, and the provision of quality services (Hargis).
Many Greek organizations at Florida State participate either here or at the Ronald McDonald House to complete their community service hours every semester. It offers many great ways to get involved but from first-hand experience it’s not enough. I’ve been there on days where they ran out of food because of how many people came in and I’ve also heard of people who have been stopping at Big Bend for over a decade. The Homeless Trust is where all the shelters receive their funding. Since it was established it has contributed to decreasing the homeless population from around 8,000 to a little over 800 through its year by funding places like Big Bend (Morgan 15). Over the last few years, the numbers have only decreased by a couple of people, increasing every two or three years. The shelter provides many options to help voluntarily but necessary jobs like Job Placement Officers, which are needed in shelters so that the homeless can find jobs willing to hire them, will not work for free. The average pay for a Placement Officer is $60,182 per year. For companies that make a high margin of profit that number is reasonable, but for the Big Bend which is a non-profit organization it’d be hard to create that addition to the governmentally funded payroll.
All the money made through fundraising events goes back towards the homeless to keep the cost for the homeless to stay a night as low as possible. Even Florida State has Job Placement Officers in the Career Center that help students and alumni obtain employment and experiential opportunities in all fields. So, for most shelters, it’s not possible to hire someone new to help the homeless find jobs. Instead, by creating a work program it lessens the need to hire someone else. The manager that already hires the people that works at the shelter and keeps them could also manage the homeless participating in the work program. The option of creating a work program comes from seeing how well a work program worked in Fort Worth, Texas. By creating publicly funded jobs for the homeless it will help reduce poverty just as it has in Fort Worth.
A program called Clean Slate, which is funded by the city of Fort Worth, Texas, and run by the Presbyterian Night Shelter, pays the area’s homeless to collect trash. Clean Slate pays the homeless $10/hour to clean the streets of Fort Worth. These undesirable jobs are given to people who really need it and don’t mind performing labor to earn money. In a time where everyone is striving to get a degree or two for six-figure jobs there’s no one working the jobs that require little to no education to complete other than illegal immigrants who’d do anything to survive in America. A job like this gives back jobs to citizens since it’d be governmentally funded. Clean Slate started off as a $50,000, six-month program that is now a $181,000 annual program that has inspired several shelters in cities like Denver and Dallas (Engel).
The wage paid may seem like much seeing as how the minimum wage in the state of Texas is $7.25 but it’s also important to understand that this job is temporary and with strong conditions. The homeless participating in the work program would first need to be cleared for work by being evaluated both mentally and physically. Those that truly did lose their homes because they were laid off at work or made little to no income are the first to be given jobs. Homeless people with poor or deteriorating mental health must first receive psychological help to take part and get cleared so that the shelter knows the money will not be used for drugs or alcohol. Only those physically able to work will participate leaving only those with physical impediments in shelters without work. Work programs like this need to be created because by doing so it’ll create people with a purpose and hope in life. Knowing a second chance is possible will change a person’s entire life and way of being. It allows them to renew faith in themselves that one day they’ll no longer have to depend on the shelter and can get a real job and receive their own income. We should help the homeless by providing jobs because doing so will promote a good work ethic, lower the poverty level and better the economy. It’s proven that by increasing jobs, the economy is stimulated. Stimulating the economy allows for money to be dispersed more broadly. This also helps lower the poverty level because the homeless make up a large part of the lower class. Those who can work have a desire to get out of shelters not stay in confined to living off the government. Citizens do not have a right to shelter but can get arrested from sleeping on the side of the road. Policy proposals are not possible because there are too many laws put in place against the homeless. An increasing number of new laws across the United States make it a crime to be homeless.
Instead, of investing in job retraining programs, which have proved to work, cities continue to pass more laws that essentially make it impossible for people to escape poverty (Goldberg). Laws that make it illegal to stand, sit, sleep and panhandle in public (Sayre). Police officers’ hand out fines, which often start out small but quickly grow into a large debt for people without the means to pay for these fines. Those who are arrested, even for minor offenses, end up with a criminal record that adds another obstacle for employment and housing. The more I’ve researched, the more I could see that each homeless person carries their own story just like us and has their own reason for being on the streets but in most cases, they never meant to end up there. Most just suffered at the wrong time and fell into the situation.
Without the governments support to end this issue they stay in the system not being able to take care for their families the way they believe they should. Instead, they have to worry every night if the shelter will have a bed for them. It’s clear policies cannot be changed, so it’s important to focus on each shelter individually. Everyone should volunteer at least once at a shelter or at least hear their story. One must remember that once these people were just like us. They had jobs once, they hung out with friends after school, they had a family. So, help the homeless.
This paper was written and submitted by a fellow student
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