Opinion Columns & Blogs

Three housing needs exist in the community

You have a loaf of bread; I have bologna and mustard. Individually, you have a stack of carbs, and I have spicy protein. Together, though, we have lunch. The sandwich is the mutually beneficial deliverable, the process is the fair exchange.

This action, the fair exchange, is familiar to anyone who sees the benefit from stopping at red lights, or putting your shopping cart in the shopping cart corral, or replacing your divot on the fairway.

The fair exchange isn’t limited to altruistic behaviors - it really applies to the majority of reciprocal social interactions we encounter during our lives. When we “get” a cup of coffee or a smartphone or a house, we do so because we consider it a commodity worth acquiring for an agreed upon cost. Getting it makes sense.

The medium, or that which is exchanged, could be bread and bologna but more likely one party would utilize currency to represent their interest in such an exchange.

Currency, regardless of convenience, fundamentally reorders the aforementioned partnership into a pay-for-service model. This is probably for the good, because if I walked into Desco Audio & Video with 1,200 bologna sandwiches seeking a pair of reference quality speakers in exchange...well, it would be weird for everyone.

Paying cash in person for service almost always works. I have never not gotten my sausage egg biscuit from window two having already paid at window one. However, as distance grows between the partners in the fair exchange the success rate inversely shrinks. If window two was fifty miles from window one my biscuit could very well go missing by the time I got there. Increased spatial and temporal distances erode the likelihood of achieving a successful outcome (my biscuit is cold, and the egg has turned to rubber!!).

Another consideration when examining the fair exchange is product delivery. What are you buying? If I buy a chair online but three weeks later I’m still sitting on the floor I can be pretty sure that I never got my chair.

And what if I wanted to buy an end to world hunger, fight wretched diseases or finance anti-poverty housing on the other side of the world? How do I know what I’m buying is being delivered?

Questions of efficacy and effect become even more difficult when we are dealing with challenging topics and challenging people in challenging situations. Sometimes, as a community we may not be as interested in understanding a topic as we are in simply seeing it go away. If it doesn’t go away but doesn’t impact us directly we may simply choose to maintain the status quo.

In our community we need to move beyond the status quo and address the specialized housing needs of the stagnated working poor (40,000 households), the annualized temporarily homeless (3,000 individuals) and the chronically homeless (200 individuals). In reality, these are three distinct groups who really shouldn’t be lumped together at all nor addressed as a whole.

We should ask ourselves what we consider to be a fair exchange for the large amounts of governmental funding spent in these areas, frequently disproportionately between groups and largely outside of the view of the non-social service providing public (chances are that’s you).

What are the deliverables when serving this especially fragile and vulnerable portion of our community? Is a rapid stand-up cold weather shelter like the Salvation Army’s a valued deliverable? Is a highly successful, evidence-based best-practice program (see Drexel House) an acceptable deliverable? Programs like Sidewalk and Habitat for Humanity offer highly effective one-time services rather than an open-ended entitlement. Is this a welcome deliverable? Are there more of these?

Or, is simply talking about “the homeless” an acceptable deliverable? How about unrealistic programming that gets funded but is impossible to successfully implement? What about non-best practice programming that recalls 19th century quarantine “solutions”? Does it become an acceptable deliverable if it gets picked up by the AP? Are best wishes and high hopes a deliverable?

The people who need this help and who require the appropriate programming are sadly without economic power or social authority which in this society leaves one largely without a voice, absent holding a sign on the corner.

As a compassionate community, we should be most observant of the programming received by the weakest amongst us. And, thereby become true guardians of the deliverables through which we define our treatment of others, whose shoes we are lucky enough not to wear.