By Dick Lyles
To see what’s happening in the world of homeless services in our region I Googled “Poway homeless shelters.” Twelve paid ads for homeless shelters appeared ahead of the list of 1,080,000 items identified by my search results. Not all those listed were actually in Poway or Rancho Bernardo, but all were within 15 or 20 minutes.
The City of Poway lists 12 providers on its website, and yellowpages.com boasts 26 listings with “reviews, directions and phone numbers for the best homeless shelters in Poway.”
A few more clicks then reveal homeless shelters for battered women, sexual assault victims, veterans, the mentally ill, homeless families, seniors and for people who are homeless for any reason I could postulate. These are in addition to the wonderful work done by Father Joe’s Villages, including the incredible support his organization provides for runaway teens and indigents.
Over the years I’ve been blessed to interact with many of the people who provide these services and have always been impressed by their dedication to their mission, their zeal to serve those in need and their selflessness in a world that is becoming more self-centered and selfish by the day.
So in answering the question “What can be done about the homeless?” I think we should simply look around. We don’t have to look that far. We are surrounded by organizations, for the most part public benefit corporations (nonprofits), more often than not supported by a church or affiliated with some faith-based group. We are surrounded by best practices — organizations that deliver good service with compassion, and they do it efficiently.
The problem is that these organizations — that deliver services efficiently through caring and compassionate providers — have become a threat to some simply because they are faith-based. Those threatened think government should take over this role because government is unencumbered by religious beliefs. It is ironic that one never hears any service recipients complaining about the services they received or the providers who delivered them. Rather the complainers are the anti-religious forces on the left who file lawsuits and stir up the issues because of their fear that the success of faith-based organizations in this arena gives them credibility in the public square.
Government agencies are not best equipped to take care of the homeless. This applies to every type of homelessness that exists. One such lesson came in spades when the Witch Creek Fire made 1,350 people in San Diego County homeless in 2007. FEMA employees descended upon us in droves, all collecting travel expenses, per diem, and overtime. They processed a ton of paperwork and gathered reams of data but did little to help victims. The Red Cross was extraordinarily helpful, as were our church and many other volunteer organizations. The City of Poway’s response team was helpful, as were San Diego’s and a few others, but FEMA was useless. We don’t need bureaucrats taking care of our most needy. We need compassionate caregivers who are providing the care based on charitable love, which is the hallmark of faith-based service providers.
Local government should have a role; state and federal government should not. That role should be supporting and facilitating local care providers, regardless of their religious affiliation. They should ensure that if a need arises in the community, it is identified and responded to by a non-government organization. If such organizations need start-up money to provide new services, or bridge money to get through tough times, then government should provide the resources without worrying about whether that support violates separation of church and state. It doesn’t.
Lyles, a Poway resident, is a business/management consultant and best-selling author.