The Anatomy of Homelessness II
By Thomas Emmon Pisano
In my previous articles on homelessness I tried to point at the organizations, which are using the homeless to line their pockets. In this article I will look at how the homeless are defined and how one man has helped do that categorizing and one organization, which processes the homeless and creates the over view we all have of this, now new class of people we define as the homeless. I have read the reports and I have discovered that they have created a stigma, which we all use to define the homeless population in general.In retrospect, they almost got me; I was almost sucked in by their credentials and their rhetoric. Their own self-aggrandizements were overwhelming and glowing, but still you must look deeper into their natures. I did, and at first the information was too much to grasp, it was rich with facts and figures. These reports are so lengthy and complicated that it would lead any analyst to suffer from brain damage if not slip into a coma. I have been looking at the many reports on the state of homelessness here in Los Angeles County. I am talking about helping L.A. County's homeless population. I am also talking about one private 'nonprofit' organization, which receives funding from the various federal, county, state, and private grant organizations. One of the facilities, which is responsible for helping the population of people on the streets, is Los Angeles Family Housing. The government and the other providers of grant money have created a complicated way of distributing the funds necessary to get these monies to the care providers. This process is generally called, Assets for Independence. The Aspen Institutes Economic Opportunity Program; Report to the Field (11/03), shows how this funding process works by explaining the two basic concepts for getting the monies to the facilities in question. The Integrated Approach and the Single Focus Approach for distributing these Individual Development Accounts, these are the two main ways in which funding is transferred from the various agencies to the field in general. As I read this report I discovered that the process was extremely complicated and hard to understand and that the possibilities for money to be lost in the process were very great. Like I have said in my previous articles it is easy to use creative bookkeeping to divert funds from their true target. These techniques for streamlining funds need to be scrutinized closely to make sure that funds are used efficiently. Personally, this all looks to me like a 'shell game.'The director of personnel at Los Angeles Family Housing, whose name is Jerome Nilssen, is a well credentialed individual, who has been in the business of the homeless and other social problems for over thirty years, he fosters an out of sight out of mind attitude which reflects through out the whole organization in the mind set of the people who work under this callused individual. This man over the years has helped define the meaning of what it is to be homeless, he has helped create the way we look at the men, women and children, who have landed on our nations streets. These 'socially conscious' individuals have defined homelessness by painting the picture we all know today and the staff at L.A.F.H has helped create for us the stereotypical attitude we have towards these unfortunate individuals. They have created a cultural stigma, which portrays all of our homeless as being worthless 'Bums' or people who cannot be helped because they will not help themselves. In that light the homeless are viewed with a sense of scorn, or as worthless, at best. This feeling that the homeless in L.A. are less than human is apparent in the way that the homeless are processed through the Lankershim Blvd. facility, a minimum amount of effort is the best that a person can expect at this North Hollywood 'Bum Factory.'The city's homeless are not faces or names but in reality they are just numbers, which are used to justify the grant dollars, which come pouring in regularly to Los Angeles Family Housing. The world looks upon the homeless as 'losers' and 'mental cases' without seeing the true individuals thus they are lumped into one category sub-human and unworthy. The director of L.A.F.H. has on a number of occasions given himself over to the cold and hard attitude of seeing the homeless in L.A. with a hard and critical eye. The following quote if from the 2005 Homeless Count of Los Angeles County, a survey which was taken during the month of January (25 to 27) 2005, this is the conclusion to the executive summery of the report. "This report affirms the poor health conditions of this population, including a high incident of mental and physical disability. It also documents the high rate of unemployment and extreme poverty experienced by people who are homeless. Above all, the information in this report should help policy makers and providers alike sharpen their focus on meeting the needs of homeless persons and bring to the fore front the urgent need to end homelessness for all populations." This report was a way to bring about the understanding of the needs for funding in essence and justify the monies needed to 'put an end to homelessness' here in L.A. County. But here we are well into 2007 and the homeless population is still out of control. By the way, this report was very expensive and cost the tax payers a pretty penny, was it justified to submit this report? The main reason that homelessness still exists here and through out the United States, is because the homeless attract funding on so many levels, which make homelessness a big business, here and across our nation. For the record, Jerome Nilssen was one of the co-producers of this report to the city of Los Angeles (Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority). The report states that the homeless count for the County during this period was 82,291 people of which 72,413 were unsheltered. The report really does not address the elimination of the problem; it just presents facts and figures to the county so that the applications for grant money can be justified.It is reports like this that slant the average person's bias against the homeless. How does that happen, this biasing of the public against the homeless? In two ways; first by the categorizing and pigeon holing of the homeless, by stating publicly that they all have mental and physical problems, by saying indirectly that the homeless have control over their lot in life and creating for us a way of accusing them for their problem. This form of misinformation was used on AIDS victims by the religious groups making them monsters, outcasts, and threats in and to our society. The same thing is happening with the homeless and these reports help create that stigma. The second is the grant money; the average tax payer does not want to 'foot the bill' for the homeless, so the homeless are looked upon as a drain on society's funds.So people like Mr. Jerome Nilssen help shape the society's opinion of the homeless and they also contribute to the definition of what homelessness really is. I have spoken to a myriad of people booth professional and nonprofessional and I have discovered that they are of almost one mind. The propaganda machine concerning the homeless has been working over time. Some of these people, not all, think that the homeless want to live on the streets and they are comfortable living there, and that they will not change for anything. I have heard this statement come from the mouths of social workers and others who work with this population at large. I guess you can get used to any thing if you have to endure it long enough.If people like Jerome Nilssen, who fake concern, effort, and compassion, were to live on the street for a month, struggling to find food, shelter and a toilet for relief, or if they would stand in line waiting for a hand out of food or clothing. Perhaps these 'fat cats' would discover the compassion necessary to do their jobs efficiently and honestly. But still this private organization goes through the motions with a Ho Hum attitude. And when the workers there go home to their nice homes in suburban America they forget about the plight of their charges. And when Mr. Jerome Nilssen is snuggling warm and safe in his bed, countless number of L.A.'s homeless are shivering, wrapped up in newspapers on the sidewalks of our city.
|A homeless person in Paris in front of his belongings
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Mr. Thomas Emmon Pisano, an electronics-engineer-turned professional writer, serves as US correspondent for The Seoul Times. A New Jersey native he has lived in California. He has started his writing career in 2003 and has authored four books including “No Murder Too Small” and Big Crimes Small Miracles.”