Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Expanding Homeless Utility

I've had this idea for a while, but I decided I won't be the one to implement it, or at least not any time soon. So I'm sharing it with you.

The idea is for something like a homeless shelter, only it also provides opportunity for homeless persons to get back into the job market. It actually wouldn't be one homeless shelter, but many across the nation, handled by a single not-for-profit organization.

Any given center should provide:
-clothing (including professional attire to borrow)
-a usable address
-computers with internet
-help with resumes by someone competent in resume-making
-training in certain job skills
-a small library (with books pertaining to those skillsets, and on landing jobs)

But that's not all.
Every homeless person who enters into this program must sign a contract. The contract states that, if they get a job using this service, they must pay a certain percentage of their wages to the organization for as long as they're working. That means until retirement. This is how the organization would be able to afford all these services; without this, it might be impractical, or at least it wouldn't have the ability to expand into something very large.
It might seem harsh to garnish someone's wages for the rest of their working life. Some people think it's exploitation. But it's the only way to provide an opportunity for *mass* numbers of homeless people to get off the streets (with enough money, the program could afford also to take care of some homeless people who have no interest and/or no capability to get a job..), and for those working, I'm sure they'd rather be working and paying gratuities than still being on the streets. One could even consider it like any other tax and its accompanying social service, applicable only to a certain sub-economy within the United States. The US, as it is, has the lowest taxes of almost any developed nation, and in some of the richer countries, like Switzerland, those without jobs can collect unemployment benefits indefinitely; so rather than exploitation, the program can be considered a step in the direction of other developed nations.

Of course, it would be cruel to demand money of people who are just barely making it by as it is: consider someone who's just gotten off the streets, has 3 kids, one in college, and has some chronic medical condition.. while "expenses rise to meet income" and therefore we need to be careful with providing breaks to those "barely making it" by their own standards, in some situations we really should provide breaks. This should be a part of the contract, with the general rules laid out, though specific cases would, of course, be handled by third-party arbiters (or at least would be in the cases in which the person denied a break files an appeal).

Another option to explore, would be to require payback only during the first year (or two years, or three years or whatever) of employment directly after use of the services. This would seem less heavy-handed to would-be objectors, but it would provide only a *small fraction* of the funding otherwise available, so the program might be able to help only a small fraction of homeless persons that it otherwise might -- particularly among those who simply can't (or won't) enter into the workforce.

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