A Kinder, Gentler Approach to Helping the Homeless

National City, Calif., a city located approximately six miles south of San Diego, decided that they were going to rid their city of a homeless camp, located near a shopping mall and the freeway.

The city had known about the homeless encampment for years but only recently made the decision to do something about it.

What led to the decision was mostly due to the number of fires that had been set in that area in recent months.

The city concluded that the homeless camps needed to be removed so that the citizens of National City would be safer from possible fires during the upcoming fire season.

Fires in California are typically more prevalent during the autumn months when warm dry winds called Santa Ana winds, blow from the northeast or east toward the southwest or west.

Many of these winds have resulted in some of the county’s largest destructive fires, such as those that occurred in 2003 and 2007, leaving behind them devastating financial and emotional burdens.

It’s not surprising then that National City would want to vacate its homeless camp before the start of fire season.

How they went about evicting those in the camps may be the result of a new trend in how law enforcement and others deal with the homeless problem.

Instead of giving the homeless occupants just hours of notice or no notice at all before the camp was dismantled, the city gave the families a 72-hour notice. In addition, nonprofit organizations were on hand to relocate the families and offer them additional help.

Cincinnati, Ohio also adheres to a kinder and gentler approach which no longer destroys shelters without ample notice.

Cincinnati may have gone a step further, however, in how it believes the removal efforts should be handled.

In a city that saw an increase of 38 percent of its homeless population in 2013, a consensus was reached that it was time for a new approach to handling the homeless issue.

The Ohio city worked with social workers over an extended period of time to gain the trust of camp residents in an attempt to convince them that they should move out before the start of winter. This process lasted approximately four to six months.

As with National City, the homeless in Cincinnati were also helped out with their individual needs and placed in other more appropriate locations after the evacuation process.

Why the change of attitude when it comes to how homeless camps and the homeless issue is resolved?

The answer may lie within what National City discovered during the removal of their encampment.

What was believed to be a typical shanty town of clothing littered on the ground with nearby trash from food containers strewn all around and a few homeless people living in a camp, turned out to be somewhat of a surprise for the police officers who came to enforce the eviction.

Approximately 100 families had erected walls and built individual rooms, containing bedroom furniture, pictures hanging on the walls, and other indications that these families had established “permanent” housing for themselves. The families also had pets living with them within the compound.

One homeless man had admitted to living in homeless camps in the area for over 30 years. He was concerned that he would have to leave most of his possessions behind because he had so much to move with no place to store his valuables.

This new approach, however, does not seem to answer the question of how to bring about long-lasting effects that will prevent the same individuals from setting up camp somewhere else.

While National City and Cincinnati didn’t speak of a plan to help the homeless stop being homeless, one church in a small California city in Temecula, located approximately 59 miles north of San Diego, seems to have found a viable solution to ending its city’s homeless problem.

Rancho Community Church (RCC) does more than offer its city’s homeless a handout. The church has found that if you offer a handout you are essentially asking for a revolving door of hardship to continue.

“Giving people a handout can sometimes lock them into a cycle of dependency that only serves to hinder their progress and enable destructive behaviors.” “We cannot keep giving people the same things to remain perpetually homeless,” said Scott Treadway, Lead Pastor, whose church ascribes to the principles of grace and mercy toward others.

Instead, the church offers the underprivileged, food and a blanket but then goes the extra-mile in teaching the homeless population how to become self-sufficient. They even offer them a place to shower and dress before a job interview.

Additionally, the church leases a small plot of land from a nearby bordering city to grow fruits and vegetables that it uses to feed the homeless in not only Temecula, but throughout Riverside County.

Although, the acreage is very small, the church sees huge harvests of produce, which can only be explained by divine intervention and the hard work of its all-volunteer crew.

Homelessness will not be resolved by simply destroying encampments but rather will be eliminated through such programs as those offered by RCC in Temecula.

National City and Cincinnati would be also wise to adopt a program that goes one step further in offering the return of dignity and self-sufficiency.

Only in this way, will the homeless population have any hope of moving out of encampments and back into a functional existence in society.

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