Give A Man A Fishing Line

There's a very old saying: "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime."

A lot of our homeless services are focused on emergency relief. They are focused on feeding people for the day, both literally and metaphorically.

We will always need emergency services of that sort so that people have the strength to "learn to fish." But we need more programs that provide a metaphorical fishing line -- that provide critical connections necessary to being able to "fish" that many homeless people lack.

Here are three things that homeless people could use a lot more help with which are critical to being able to job hunt or otherwise earn a living legitimately:

  1. Phone number
  2. Mailing address
  3. Short term, highly accessible storage

These days, it's possible to own a mobile phone while homeless. Many homeless people have them and it's a godsend for the homeless.

But I would like to see more programs that try to get phones (and even tablets and laptops) into the hands of homeless individuals.

A mailing address is a big deal. This is even more challenging to arrange while homeless. Even in big cities, you tend to see few organizations that provide mail service for the homeless population.

Storage seems to be served even more poorly. Having to carry all your stuff everywhere all the time is not only exhausting, it's stigmatizing. It marks you as visibly homeless and becomes a means to bar you from shopping.

Most storage facilities for the homeless are long term storage with limited access. I would like to see lockers that can be accessed at least 12 hours a day where someone could secure their backpack, tent and bedding.

Storage done well would likely cut way down on theft of shopping carts, high visibility of homelessness and reduce barriers to shopping, job hunting and other vital tasks.

Many programs trying to help "teach a man to fish" -- in other words, trying to really fix the problem and return people to a productive life -- have high overhead and are invasive such that many homeless people don't welcome such help. The ideas listed here are intended to be relatively low overhead while preserving and enhancing individual agency instead of being invasive and controlling.

Some homeless people solve their own problems without going through a program. That's easier to do if you can readily find the means to receive phone calls and mail and have some means to secure your belongings while shopping or going to a job interview.