Saturday, March 15, 2014

Republicans Will Drink To This

“I arrived in town on a one way ticket from Baltimore, and I just need a few dollars cash to eat.” “I’m from Newark. They gave me this one way ticket to Harrisburg and I need a few bucks for bus fare.” “I have this one way ticket I just used from Penn Station and I need some change so I can get settled...”
As one who often rides the train and often walks along Sixth Street, a street strategically located on a straight line between the Amtrak Station and a homeless mission, I often encountered people begging for money. Their styles differ. Some are shy and seem afraid; others are quite aggressive. I often find people asking for money inside the train station. For years, I often wondered, what was it that makes beggars start their tales of woe with a story that they had recently arrived in town on a one way ticket?
What is the “street cred” that establishing one-self as a recent arrival makes one appear more sympathetic as a beggar? Are people more apt to give money if they think you are new to their community? Are people more prone to welcome new arrivals with cash? Eventually, I believe I learned why I often heard this story: Because it is true.
Harrisburg and Philadelphia have reputations for being generous with their services to homeless people. I fully support this. We should be proud that we reach out and help those in need. The problem is there are people who exploit our generosities. Part of this was Pennsylvania’s own making.
There were unintended consequences in changes in Pennsylvania law. When people with drug and/or alcohol use problems were kicked off general welfare, what did people expect would happen? Did we expect people with dependencies would magically decide, since they’ve lost their benefits, they will now instantly decide to give up the substance(s) upon which they are dependent?
Many dependencies are found to alter brain functions. It often takes time and several attempts to overcome some dependencies. A drug dependency often requires a complex medical and often psychological recovery that differs for each person.
Many people who lost their benefits due to drug and/or alcohol issues were able to qualify for chronically needy benefts. These benefits were less monetarily yet held the likelihood of lasting longer. Since they were receiving less money, many people with dependencies could no longer afford housing. Still they were receiving money. The result was the vast growth in the recovery home business.
The recovery home owners and operators recruit people with dependency issues who receive  public assistance. They also may recruit and guide people towards qualifying for public assistance. A typical recovery home system is the residents pool their public assistance funds and give them to the recovery home operators. In return, the residents are to receive housing and recovery assistance.
Recovery homes are not regulated. There are good, bad, and ugly homes out there. Some are professionally staffed and provide excellent services to residents in overcoming their dependencies. The well run ones often are recognized by people in the criminal justice system who steer troubled people dependent on drugs and/or alcohol towards these recovery homes. There are bad ones that cram as many people as they can into the home and provide few or no actual services, Some are known to become places were drugs are used and sold. Others are in-between. Some good programs involve counselors who are not professionals yet are people who have recovered themselves and counsel people how to similarly recover. These programs are probably only as good as the counselors, with some involved dedicated counselors and operators who have helped many people. Other homes have staffers who lack the knowledge to properly counsel others.
Because these homes are not regulated, there is uncertainty as to how many there are. The Public Welfare Department (DPW) supposedly was making an attempt to discover this. They can note when a large number of assistance checks go to the same address. There were also reports of homes in Scranton and elsewhere with horrific conditions they may have prodded them into actions. It is believed DPW originally started looking at this for welfare fraud purposes and instead are finding a large number of recovery homes. It is not yet clear how much effort is being put into this nor what their plans are. Yet perhaps DPW will someday determine how many recover homes there are. A Temple University researcher a few years ago estimated there were 400 to 500 in Philadelphia. I have seen no estimates for how many are in Harrisburg.
Another problem is, since Pennsylvania is now known as the state with lots of recover homes, others have taken advantage. There are programs in Baltimore and New Jersey that have admitted that one of the ways they handle their problems with homeless people with drug and/or alcohol dependencies is they give them a one way ticket to Philadelphia or Harrisburg along with the name of a homeless shelter. Some report that New York City, especially during their ‘clean up the city’ days of a former Mayor, sent homeless people to Pennsylvania. The Temple University researcher found evidence that groups in Puerto Rico were giving people one way air flights to Pennsylvania. Philadelphia officials went sought actions against New Jersey officials for sending too many New Jersey homeless to Philadelphia,
These new arrivals are often prime targets for recovery home recruitment, once they qualify for public assistance. (I presume if one could afford to pay to enter a home, such a person would not be rejected. I once asked some experts if this happens and I was greeted with a blank stare and a statement that “no one pays their own money to enter one of these homes.” While I gather few would pay to live with recent homeless people, it seems apparent the recovery programs are not well regarded by experts.) Recruiters literally search the streets and attend AA and similar group meetings looking for potential residents.
So, we may congratulate ourselves on being more caring about the homeless than many of our neighbors. In my opinion, we now need to act to see that people in these recovery homes are getting proper shelter and treatment. The shelter part may be easier to inspect. The treatment part is more difficult to assess, as those with lower success rates may actually have more difficult cases.
There are some ways to legally take actions against badly run recover homes. Inspections could determine if the homes are livable, Further, if a recovery home has become a nuisance in terms of repeated drug dealing violations and the owner and operator appears unable to prevent the home from being a repeat drug dealing offender, chances are good that is a hazardous residence that should be closed. Some local communities have nuisance ordinances that would accomplish this.
These homes should be regulated, in my opinion. There should at the very least be minimal standards that protect the residents. The problem is the recovery home owners do not want to be regulated. Some people have been able to make themselves wealthy by owning recovery homes. Many of the recovery homes actively work the political system to prevent attempts at regulating them. Some recovery homes have created, in the name of providing them treatment assistance, programs getting residents  to volunteer in political campaigns and to lobby elected officials against creating regulations. If one wants an example of wealthy people getting poor people to actively work to keep the wealthy people rich, this is a good one.
A cycle exists. Because we provide services to a greater proportion of the homeless and people in need compared to other nearby states, more homeless and people in need come, or are sent, to our state. So, when one makes the observation that there seem to be more homeless and people in need on our streets or train stations than we see in other cities, that may be an accurate statement. Sadly, we do not have enough resources to provide proper services to all who need them. Therein lies the real tragedy.


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