Real Solutions Tend to be Non-Obvious

I previously said that I fantasize about Aberdeen, Washington's library having longer hours. I do wish this were true but this is also potentially an attractive nuisance that would help the homeless but worsen Aberdeen's homeless problem.

Aberdeen has a large homeless population for such a small town but that's because this town of around 17,000 people is "the big city" for this area and this is where the services are and where the region comes to shop.

So Aberdeen's homeless problem is similar to how California is the dumping ground for the nation's homeless: This small town is the dumping ground for this region's homeless population.

Homelessness is a hard problem to solve in part because the knee-jerk "obvious" answer of wanting to "help the homeless" is rife with perverse incentives that help keep the problem alive. Wanting to "do something about the homeless problem" in Aberdeen is similarly prone to making things worse for Aberdeen by making this the best place for the homeless to go.

In December 2017, I applied for a local economic development job for which I was highly qualified on paper -- so highly qualified that to my shock they emailed me back and asked me for the part of the application I hadn't included with my decade-old resume submitted five days after the listing closed -- but "qualified on paper" is kind of like "in theory."
In theory, theory and reality are the same. In reality, they aren't.
Locals both wanted me and also didn't want me, so for two years or so I kept being told I might have another shot at the job. During that two years, I did the research for a website 'for when/if I get the job' and I eventually started a website called Eclogiselle.

My original, unpublished version of the first site listed Eclogiselle as a side business for me to do consulting work to help other towns in the region outside of my day job because the job in question is about developing Aberdeen's downtown in specific. That got edited out when I chose to give up on ever getting the job and published an edited version of the site that removed all the "I have this job" parts of the site.

So I really started Eclogiselle because it became increasingly clear in my mind that Aberdeen cannot solve "Aberdeen's homeless problem" by trying to "fix Aberdeen" and fixing this problem would be something expected of me if I got the job. This is where the homeless go and trying to fix it here is like asking more homeless to show up, so I would need to do something else outside of the scope of my job duties to actually accomplish this goal.

I came to Aberdeen to get back into housing, so I came to this area as a homeless person and still had a tent to sleep in. I was in Washington state three days when I got back into housing, but during that three days I went to three different branches of the Timberland Regional Library system and Aberdeen's library was just one of those branches.

A lot of the branches have even worse hours than Aberdeen. If the branches all had better hours, not just Aberdeen's branch, you could potentially be homeless and float around the region because we have unusually good bus transit for a bunch of small towns (and at the moment it's FREE to take all the buses, even from one small town to another).

A lot of homeless services actively encourage homeless people to stay in a particular area and this then becomes "homeless central" once you hit some critical mass of enough services to make life survivable on the street. I wanted to help other small towns address their problems as the only hope Aberdeen has of walking back this issue rather than being bled to death by other towns not dealing with their piece of the puzzle.

I wish all towns in the region would implement the following: The library is regional so this isn't necessarily a direct cost burden for the small town in question. A zero tolerance policy for stolen shopping carts should also be a negligible cost to the community (and would likely pay for itself).

Brown bag meals would allow even very small communities to provide free meals locally and without encouraging homeless people to mill about in some particular area. They show up, grab their brown bag meals and go where they want with them.

You don't necessarily have to provide tables to eat at. It could potentially be handled as a walk-up window or something like that.

It is potentially very low overhead and can be prepared elsewhere and driven in to a distribution point and doesn't necessarily take kitchen facilities to assemble. It could be done in office space on table tops.

If there is no refrigeration and a low homeless population, you could skew the recipes towards those that are entirely shelf stable and will reasonably keep for a few days without refrigeration. Give fresh veggies and ramen soup for one bag and a shelf stable version for any additional bags -- or even swap out fresh veggies for dried veggies and thereby make them all shelf stable.

It doesn't even have to be open daily. It could be open for an hour every other day or you could make it available "until gone" at some other service (library? police station?) and just make sure you get reasonable coverage that prevents starvation.

As noted previously, I would not "treat them like they are five." Make it possible to get enough free food to live on entirely if they are completely penniless but recognize that some people will have some income or food stamps and only need food to fill in the gaps -- and how much "extra" they need may vary from one week or one month to the next.

Brown bag lunches would also be a flexible program that could be scaled back readily, so hopefully less prone to The Shirky Principle.

Finally, I would like all towns and even a lot of unincorporated communities in the region to have more affordable housing, such as my proposed Two Towers project. Because ultimately the real cause of most homelessness is our national housing crisis.