Help for the homeless

Kudos to the Keizertimes for the piece on homelessness. Although the numbers of these Americans wax and wane through the months of the year, colder climates like those of New England, with undesirable outside-living conditions, are set in juxtaposition with states like California, where the climate for most of the state is outside-worthy all the time, it, like western Oregon, having greatly increased in homeless numbers in recent years.

Fact is, we Americans have a problem that’s not accurately reported or not reported at all in some states and the nation as a whole where guesses come in at total counts from one to two million. But we know from the way our economy moves around from good times to recession, what economists are now forecasting in the near future, we should plan for what likely will be more homeless persons.

A few years ago, while a graduate student at the University of Oregon, I chose to do my doctoral work with Professor Art Pearl as my advisor. Before coming to UO, Dr. Pearl had been active at working to correct social injustices by teaching in California prisons and been the director of New York City’s Department of Youth. He had also been an instructor at other colleges and universities, wrote his New Careers for the Poor, and been the principal speaker at a White House conference on Teaching the Disadvantaged from which federal budgetary advantages followed.

One program site was in Tacoma-Olympia, Wash. My involvement came near its outset when the program had vetted and appointed about three dozen participants who came in with the intent and dedication to improve their lives from having been poor, unemployed and lacking saleable skills. The racial mix was an even number of Caucasians, blacks and Hispanics. They were placed in state agencies, like Corrections, Employment and Welfare, where they worked at learning agency policies and procedures three days a week and attended Tacoma Community College for relevant classes the other two days.

Of course, participants had problems, the first and foremost was not owning a car or access to transportation of any kind. Then there were the inevitable baby-sitting issues, marital problems, sickness, old habits, recidivistic alcohol and drug problems, chronic homelessness, persistent negative influences by “friends,” and a multitude of other hinderances to progress with which to grapple. Nevertheless, by the Pearl design, success stories became commonplace.

Six of us formed a work unit to bring these people along. A lot of my doctoral studies were focused on curricular design and teaching methods; hence, I spent time devoted to making what happened to the participants at work by being embellished through their studies at Tacoma Community College. I had completed a Master’s degree in U.S. History at UO plus my baccalaureate studies at Pacific University in preparation for teaching certification so my academic background fit that part to provide the participants applicable general education classes and specific skills-set foundations. 

Although the experience seemed at times equal parts heartbreak and breakthrough, the overall success rate was high while the effort proved over time to bring success to lives that had not enjoyed much of it to that point. A phenomenon in growth, we’re encouraged now to find ways for the homeless to work and establish livelihoods. One way of proven success is in the public sector, state, county and city agencies, along with public schools, that could use more trained Americans to help other Americans. The Pearl model could serve to bring success while it’s up to us to influence our leaders to make it happen.

(Gene H. McIntyre shares his opinion regularly in the Keizertimes.)