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Why Some Individuals Choose Homelessness Over Receiving Shelter from Religious Organizations

Homelessness plagues the lives of hundreds of thousands of people daily. The Department of Housing and Urban Development found that at least 550,000 Americans experience homelessness a night, and in a single year 1.4 million spend time in shelters. This is a dire issue because according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, at least 700 people die from hypothermia annually.

Seeing as temperatures are dropping, it’s a good time to begin thinking about how to find solutions to the issue of homelessness in America. A prevalent approach that shelters have been taking is getting volunteers and outreach workers to encourage people sleeping rough to head over to shelters. Surprisingly, many of these individuals tend to refuse a place to sleep, especially when the help is extended from a religious shelter.

This raises questions about why many homeless people aren’t keen on receiving help from religious shelters and what can be done about it. The solution may require looking deeper at the perceptions, attitudes, and values that are held by the homeless about religious shelters. It may also be worth exploring whether or not these religious shelters are sensitive enough to the unique challenges and needs of the homeless.

The Struggles of the Homeless

To understand why people choose to be homeless, it’s necessary to first understand the struggles that homeless people face. An estimated 144,000 people who are homeless across the United States also face mental illness, making it one of their most salient struggles. The stress and isolation that accompanies not having adequate housing could also impact their physical and mental health negatively.

Another challenge that the homeless have is the condition of the shelters sometimes being less than conducive. Some of the things they’re faced with in many shelters include overcrowding, poor hygiene, a lack of regulation, and not having enough personal space. Such challenges can be off-putting for homeless individuals who are already battling personal issues like declining mental health, deteriorating physical health, or addiction.

Shelters also tend to have barriers that sometimes don’t take the vulnerabilities and complex needs of homeless people into consideration and keep them stuck in a cycle of poverty. Good examples of such barriers include not being able to receive help if you’re intoxicated, not being offered secure treatment, or not having anywhere to store their belongings while they work. Another challenge for many homeless people is that most shelters are communal spaces which means they don’t have privacy or personal space.

Why Is Shelter Refused?

A core reason they may refuse accommodation from religious shelters, in particular, could be because of a fear of being judged. The National Coalition for the Homeless has found that 16% of the population is battling severe mental illnesses while others are struggling with drug addictions. Reasons such as these could make individuals choose to be homeless as they’re under the assumption that the religious beliefs of such shelters will be imposed on them.

As with most individuals, homeless people value independence as well as the right to make their own choices. When being approached by volunteers from religious shelters, it may feel as though they’re bartering their freedom for support and a place to stay. As a result, they may refuse shelter as they’d rather stay in their zone where they can retain their peace, sense of identity, and not feel judged.

Further reason that shelter may be refused is because of bad past experiences with shelters. It is key to remember that these are vulnerable people who are likely to have a history of bad experiences already, so one more could worsen the state of their mental health. Instead of moral lessons, they often need healthcare professionals who respect their independence and meet their specific mental health needs

Possible Solutions

Religious shelters should attempt to reverse negative stereotypes by ensuring the beliefs and individuality of homeless people is always respected. It may also help if volunteers use relationship building tactics such as talking to them about past encounters with religious shelters and seeing if they can offer them better alternatives. Providing people without a home a range of options and non-religious solutions could help them feel empowered as opposed to children in need of help.

Policies that make it mandatory for shelters to partner with one another could help create a more coordinated approach to tackling homelessness. Putting cohesive information-sharing structures in place could also make it easier to house individuals, regulate, address complaints, and deal with overcrowding. Shelters should also collaborate with social workers, healthcare providers, and housing providers to offer a range of services that will help people get back on their feet.

The lack of personal space was another major challenge, so providing individual rooms or permanent housing for individuals is a solution that could encourage them to accept help. A bonus is that this could reduce the cost of homelessness which a 2006 study by the Denver Housing First Collaborative says would take the cost from $43,239 down to $11,694 per person annually in the city of Denver alone. By shelters allowing the homeless to retain their autonomy and individuality without offering a moral compass, they may be able to get more off the streets.

As charitable people, it is our duty to make everyone feel loved despite their struggles or shortcomings. As the winter season kicks into gear, we should seek to extend a helping hand to those in need. This helping hand must come with a reassurance that our only motives are to offer warm shelter and non-judgmental support.

Posted by jhamilton at December 30, 2019 1:49 PM
Comment #452127

I read this and learned absolutely nothing of value. The writer appears to believe that homelessness is best addressed by spending more public money.

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 31, 2019 5:35 PM
Comment #452128

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here is part of the solution to acquire $275 Billion per year to address U.S. citizens’ needs.

All of this makes you wonder where all the money for welfare it going.

Posted by: d.a.n at December 31, 2019 5:41 PM
Comment #452129

For someone who is hungry, is there any difference between knowing the food comes from government, or a religious charity?

Is the governments motive for feeding the hungry more “pure” than the religious charity?

Didn’t the government first have to take money from someone by taxation before handing it out?

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 31, 2019 5:53 PM
Comment #452130

Royal Flush, Good points.

I think there would be plenty of money for the truly needy U.S. citizens, if $0.75 Billion per day ($275 Billion per year) were not being given and stolen by illegal immigrants (not to mention the untold cost of 2,000 homicides per year by criminal non-citizens, and tens of thousands of victims per year of crime by criminal non-citizens), which is all being incentivized by Democrats.

The fraud, waste, and corruption by state and federal governments is possibly in the trillion$ per year.

Posted by: d.a.n at December 31, 2019 6:04 PM
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