Providing shelter to homeless people is a compassionate act; making it so they no longer need that shelter is an even greater gift.
There's an old saying about "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
That's sort of the philosophy behind the Salvation Army's new policy requiring that people who stay in its homeless shelter also take classes that could help them get a job and become self-sufficient. The classes being offered at the shelter will include computer training, resume writing, personal hygiene and stress management. People who stay at the shelter will be required to attend nine of the one-hour classes a month -- or find another place to sleep at night.
Although it seems little enough to ask of the people taking advantage of the overnight shelter, predictably, not everyone is happy with the class requirement. At least one homeless man told the Journal-World he found the idea demeaning, and several who had signed up for a class last week failed to show.
Rich Forney, the Salvation Army's administrator, said the organization was spurred into action after it realized that about 30 people had made the temporary shelter their permanent home for nearly three years. Some of those people may be unable, for various reasons, to hold a job, but the community isn't doing able homeless people any favors by maintaining their lifestyle without providing any opportunity for improvement.
In fact, Salvation Army workers may be having an impact simply by setting the expectation that their homeless clients should make some effort to improve their lives. Forney said seven people already had found full-time jobs and others suddenly have relatives or others with whom they can stay rather than depending on the homeless shelter.
It sounds like some of these people just needed a little push. For others, the classes being required by the shelter may be just what they need to get over the hump and become employable.
Maybe the classes aren't the perfect solution, but the community should applaud the Salvation Army's effort to try to move able homeless people into jobs and independence. This is a compassionate community that already has shown its willingness to help those who are homeless. It's an even greater goal, however, to try to help those who are able to leave their homeless days behind.