Each Sunday over the past five weeks, The Guam Daily Post has explored the various issues related to our community's challenge with homelessness.
We've seen the faces of our community's homeless population shift over the past decade or so - there were homeless people on the streets on Guam, but the highly visible ones were typically single individuals, mostly men, begging for money.
In the last several years, our homeless population – at least the ones we've seen in public places - has changed. We've begun noticing families - many with young children - out in the streets and parking lots asking for money. We've seen elderly women, too. We've seen able-bodied homeless men getting in trouble repeatedly - giving credence to those who say they want to land in prison where they can be assured of food and shelter.
In some of these cases, drug addiction of a household member or former breadwinner has been a contributing factor, based on our previous reporting on this issue.
However, there is also a more complex problem that our community needs to delve into if we're to find meaningful solutions.
This deeper problem has to do with a mindset that thinks it's OK for some able-bodied adults in our community to give up trying, and not find work even for part of the day.
Diana Calvo, executive director of Catholic Social Service, which partners with the Guam Homeless Coalition to offer services to the homeless on Guam, acknowledged, in one of our homeless series of stories, that the island could use more efforts to help individuals and families - before they lose their homes or slide deeper into the hopelessness that often comes with being homeless. A reliable mass transportation system will help our low-income individuals get a job and keep a job even when they can't afford a vehicle. A mass shelter that provides overnight beds, showers and a simple warm breakfast can go a long way to help people become employed and end a life in the streets.
But as important as government, faith-based and other nonprofit services are for many, a way out of homelessness begins with changing attitudes toward self-reliance, according to Calvo.
A community that not only offers social safety nets but also promotes and encourages families to work toward being self-reliant really is crucial.
Federally funded housing and food stamp programs are some of the biggest forms of assistance for our low-income families' survival. These programs should be tied to more stringent requirements to get a job and keep a job. These programs should not be provided in perpetuity with no strings attached. Providing an end date – with ample notices – will serve as a wakeup call for people to strive harder.
While these programs are a big help – about 27% of Guam's population – have been on food stamps. That's been the case for at least a decade, give or take a 1 percentage point change.
We must keep on caring for our homeless children and the elderly. But for the able-bodied adults, it's time for our government to set deadlines to wean them off government assistance. Perpetual public assistance will enable many adults, and their children, and their children's children to keep things the way they are.
We cannot be enablers anymore.