Helping homeless communities helps ourselves. We all have an opportunity to share, at the very least, the responsibility of being a “brainstormer.” Do we have friends in the power structure that might be able to influence things in a positive way? And, can we participate at our maximum potential to contribute toward the well-being of the homeless? Once we realize this is not just about helping homeless communities, it helps free us from compartmentalized thinking that contributes toward a sense of separation from our fellow citizens in need.
Note: Below, you’ll find timecodes for specific sections of the podcast. To get the most value out of the podcast, I encourage you to listen to the complete episode. However, there are times when you want to skip ahead or repeat a particular section. By clicking on the timecode, you’ll be able to jump to that specific section of the podcast
In The Missing Conversation podcast, we will propose critical new strategies to address world issues, including homelessness, immigration, and several others societal issues. We’ll make a connection showing how our individual psychology contributes to these social challenges and also how it can help transform the dangers that we face. We will break from traditional thinking as we look at our challenges from a freer and more independent point of view. Your host, Robert Strock, has 45 years of experience as a psychotherapist, author and humanitarian, and has developed a unique approach to communication, contemplation, and inquiry born from working on his own challenges.
Robert Strock (00:43):
I really appreciate you joining us for this very important conversation today. We’re talking about homelessness and the low-cost communities that offer career and skills development and high community return. At first, I’d like to introduce Dave, who’s been my dearest, closest friend for 50 years and my partner in the Global Bridge Foundation. It would be impossible to do more than summarize the massive ways that we’ve interfaced in each other’s life. So, I’m very grateful to have him here to support what we’re talking about.
Dave Knapp (01:21):
Thank you for that. And of course, the feeling is mutual, it’s exciting to be here once again for this element of the series. It’s so important. Your passion is so large. I look forward now to moving into this aspect of the homeless solutions.
Robert Stock (01:43):
I’m so glad that in the beginning introduction it references my own challenges because I really want to highlight that it’s the various things I’m presenting, and not only have them represented in my prior challenges, but they also represent my present challenges and that all of us are human. And I’m not trying to give firm answers; I’m trying to catalyze potential solutions, and for you to help contribute to have these solutions for the homeless be more viable.
Robert Stock (02:21):
So, in this episode, we’re going to explore practical solutions to really move various homeless communities towards self-sufficiency, to the maximum potential that they have, and that includes career and skill development. And also to see the many beneficial returns that they’ll be to our society. Now, I don’t want that to just sound passive. That alone is so extraordinary—if we really let that in—that helping homeless communities helps us. So, we’ll highlight the many economic and financial obstacles that can be overcome, and how to do it, and at least give a very good starting point, for some really thorough programs. As you listen to these podcasts, I’d like to ask you to experience yourself as a co-creator. That means you’re not just a passive listener. You’re actually empowered to be somebody who’s thinking, “What are my best thoughts? How could I contribute to this on every level: ideas, connections, money, time, energy, volunteering, whatever it is.” And we’ll be presenting you a pretty well thought out and comprehensive plan. But we really want to make it clear that this is not intended to be a fixed solution and we’ll always be receptive to constructive ideas and changes. And as you’ll see, there are so many nuances, so many differences from place to place to address all the issues that would be way too big for any one plan.
Robert Strock (04:21):
But we’re hoping to set out the key elements and principles that can be moderated and activated, depending on which locale is really addressing them. Your ideas can definitely be sent to my website at robertstrock.org.
Dave Knapp (04:43):
I just want to say in regards to your ideas, we’re hoping clearly the purpose of this is to provoke people to participate, to take the opportunity to send not only ideas, but maybe even connections to ideas that they know other people have, so that together we can address this, which is really the purpose. I know Robert, your passion and that you’ve been working so hard. It’s a group effort, a joint effort, and it’s going to take all of us.
Robert Strock (05:23):
Yeah. And highlighting that is just so crucial. There are so many people that we’ve come across as we’ve been really looking for—let’s just say—the best of the best of programs, the best of actual housing opportunities, the best of vocational training, the best of psychological care, and that there are some extraordinary people doing great work right now. And we’re really hoping that this is experienced as an invitation to join in a vast brainstorming that really can tackle this in a much broader way, where it can be in the hundreds of thousands eventually. And not just in the few thousands, which is really the main uniqueness, along with a bit more comprehensive care than in most of the programs. However, I really want to honor the people that are doing that great work and have been, in many cases, doing it for 40 years.
Dave Knapp (06:29):
And as I think about this, as I’m contemplating some of the things I know that you’re proposing and looking at. Some recent things, in the state of California, for example, is proudly spending, I don’t know, maybe $100,000 , $200,000 per unit, for example, to buy motels, to buy apartments, to say nothing of the other services, other needs, not even addressing those, but just to take people off the street. To potentially take them out of shelters. It just seems so inadequate. It seems like that conversation needs to happen. And I hope we have it now. Yeah.
Robert Stock (07:19):
And again, it’s sort of like a best effort, which it really is to have a short-term fix. And of course, all of that is needed. But imagine if we really had communities on the outskirts of the city and LA, and we may be even more generous enough to throw in a park that was in a safe area or a golf course, hopefully not my favorite golf course, but, something that’s in town that would be for one of the safer communities so that it would create the least amount of resistance in the sentiment of, “not in my backyard,” a seemingly almost universal community response to the homeless communities coming into our neighborhoods.
Robert Strock (08:11):
And it’s so important that each of us sees ourselves as a co-creator, and that you’re not just a passive listener. You’re not just saying, well, these guys are going to do something. It’s more like, how can I bring connections? How can I bring time, energy? How can I think about it: do I have any ideas to contribute? Because this is going to require almost a different archetype or a bit of a lobotomy to actually sense that we are all interconnected. And it’s so crucial that we solve or come close to solving the great issues with the homeless community. And of course, that’s going to involve the poor community, as well, where we’re potentially solving many other problems, like murder, police issues, issues that Black Lives Matter are fighting for, for not creating communities that are breeding grounds for terrorism, for communities that are in disarray and alienated from the rest of society. There are so many hidden benefits that would come from offering everyone to have a chance to survive. And as I say that it’s both unspeakably heartbreaking, unspeakably sort of self-isolating to not see everyone who doesn’t have an opportunity as being important to those of us that do have an opportunity.
Dave Knapp (10:01):
Something you said, I don’t want to let pass because it’s such a radically different paradigm. When you say creating communities on the outskirts of a city like Los Angeles or wherever it may be, that it is not happening. How does that happen? That’s completely off the rails of what is currently the best ideas that the government so far seems to think are viable.
Robert Stock (10:32):
Such an important, literally grounded question. In order for these changes to happen, zoning laws need to be changed, as much as possible. Agricultural or commercial zoning will need to be made more flexible. That’s going to require government cooperation, it’s going to require a different distribution of wealth, potentially some elements of higher taxes for the wealthy, also if it is in sync with Governor Newsom offering several hundred sites that he said he will lease for $1 to help the homeless communities. And there’s no reason why counties and cities and federal government can’t see this as being inspirational, as being something that is going to be virtually a no cost. Ultimately, it will appear like a cost because you’re going to have to build either a sewer system, or connect pipes, some infrastructure, and create roads into communities. That’s going to cost something, but it’s going to pale in cost relative to building apartment buildings where the costs are $300,000 or $350,000 per unit.
Dave Knapp (12:10):
And as you envision it, I see, even in my mind’s eye right now, these communities. And at the same time, alongside of that, I’ve been to skid row, been to the places where the homeless, the entrenched, particularly the ones that are more or less in a permanent homeless population call “home.” How do they decide to move from what they call home? Not the transient, they’re out of work or underemployed, but the ones that have been, for even years using shelters now and again. But when the weather’s right they end up in the street. How do they decide to feel compelled to want to leave their home?
Robert Strock (13:01):
It’s one of the great questions. And I would say, even very sophisticated people that have been involved in homelessness work or government, they have a very strong bias that the homeless community will never want to leave the streets. And I think that’s understandable because they’ve been alienated by every alternative that’s ever been presented to them up until now. And so, I think there are several things that would be required to put a dent into that skepticism or maybe create more flexibility. One idea would be the possibility of them receiving a thousand dollars a month on SSI and contributing a significant portion of it toward the costs in the creation of the community that would give them some incentive to feel like “wow,” I might have a community. I may even have a couple hundred bucks a month of spare money to make choices to decide where I could have fun and enjoyment in addition to having a chance to develop.
Robert Strock (14:05):
That would be a big one. And I think that when I first talked about elements of the government, they were thinking seriously at the beginning of setting up communities, but not the kinds of communities. They were/are considering locked-up facilities where doctors and a psychiatrist or psychologist would come in and assess individual people that are on the streets. And if they were not able to take care of themselves, they would be forced to go into a locked and closed facility. And I got into a fairly, let’s say, large dispute about the fact that “how can you possibly send people to a closed community when you’re not giving them an opportunity to go to an open community?” Or, I could understand that if there was somebody that was truly destructive to themselves or a danger to other people, that that could happen, but for all the people that are less than that, it seems that we need to offer something that would give them opportunities.
Robert Strock (15:08):
And then a really hard to decide issue that I’m not even going to begin to do more than just throw out ideas, is, after you have successfully created a number of communities on the outskirts, and hopefully a couple on the inside of the community, do we then have the right as a society to say to the people that are remaining, “You have a choice to go to these communities?” And because you’ve been assessed by professionals as being a danger to yourself, or a danger or burden to others, we have the right to take you off the streets. Or do they have the right to stay on the streets forever? Even if they are a burden, even if they spread disease, even if they spread crime, even if they are a danger to others, do they have a right to stay on the streets? Now I’m clear they have the right to stay on the streets if we don’t give them a better alternative. It’s a much harder question to decide whether or not we have the right to put them in a closed facility. The upside of that is if they know eventually after we’ve started that this is something they’re facing that will also give them a much greater incentive to want to sign up, to have more opportunity.
Dave Knapp (16:34):
And thank you for that it clarifies a lot. I want to take one step back to the motivation, the incentive to move from wherever they may be, whatever they call home to these communities. What else, other than a couple of hundred bucks a month we were talking here about, are they going to get, training? What are the other benefits that possibly could be offered to them?
Robert Strock (17:02):
What is part of the benefit of doing some level of subjective segregation? And I say subjective in a very professional sort of way. I don’t mean arbitrary. I mean the individual is doing their best to decide, or the individuals are doing their best to decide which communities could possibly be overlapping. Some communities are going to be really, really primed for vocational training. Some communities are going to need psychiatrists to give them medications to deal with serious mental illness. Some communities are going to need to be given opportunities for people that are just underemployed, and they’re going to need connections. Some people are going to be ready to work inside the community to develop a self-sufficiency program that could be local and inside the community. So every individual community would have a different kind of set of opportunities, but the thing that’s really beautiful or optimal about the situation is that you can target the locations from maximum economic efficiency, and more importantly, even maximum individual efficiency for each person, having the chance to reach their highest potential. Again, I want to really say that this is not a free lunch. This is asking each person to develop their highest potential, no matter what that is. And it’s not a one size fits all.
Dave Knapp (18:35):
So, in saying that it’s not a free lunch, one aspect of that to me is just plus and minus, is it less expensive or is it more expensive for society? And I think you’re clearly saying it is less expensive. I think you’re also, as I just heard you and correct me if I’m wrong, saying there will be a segment of these folks that no matter how hard we try, they will not be able to function in society for whatever their own personal reasons and that they need a place to be for the purposes of society sake. I think what you’re saying is if they don’t have an alternative that we provide them with, then the street, as a place is home. But if we offer them a place, as I think I’m hearing you say, then maybe that choice is different. Maybe it’s the societal choice to say, “Nope,” we’re giving you an option, if you don’t want to take that option, then you don’t have the option or right to cost us more as a society or to harm us potentially as a society. Am I hearing you, right?
Robert Strock (19:47):
Yeah. The operative word is “Maybe.” I’m not going to sit in the presumptuousness of trying to make that decision; I do have my own prejudice. There may be a lot of well-established communities where individuals are stuck to the locale of a certain location and are in danger. But I think until, and if we’re able to successfully give people an opportunity to survive and thrive, we don’t have that right. So, I also realized that I’m just me, and that there’s a lot of people that are going to have a lot ideas about that and that the legislature would obviously have to legislate. That’s not something that would be done by a local community, a rogue community, which is just going to rip people off the streets. It’s going to have to be something that’s going to be well-publicized. And hopefully they’ll be enough interest on those that are listening and spreading the word to a number of people that it would create a motivation to really have an informed vote on what the legislation might be and an informed influence.
Dave Knapp (21:05):
So how does the world, as it exists now, especially locally here, participate? Are there any elements that you see in our society right now? Any groups, potential for participation just right off the bat that are doing work maybe on their own or doing work that’s similar, or maybe even examples of where this has been seen around the world.
Robert Strock (21:36):
All of us certainly have the opportunity to start with brainstorming and to share the responsibility as being part of a brain-stormer. That would be the least involvement. And then we have Google as our friend. We can go on Google and look for volunteer opportunities in homeless programs that exists throughout our locale. And then we get to look at, “Do I have any friends who know friends who are in the power structure that might be able to influence things in a positive way?” And all of us really are being asked to participate in what’s my maximum potential to contribute in this well-being of the homeless. And I think it helps a lot to create the inspiration. If we realize it’s not just helping the homeless community, it’s helping us live in this compartmentalized psychology where, “Oh, yeah, I’m over here with my friends who really don’t have any serious economic problems.”
Robert Strock (22:42):
And I’m over here in the streets where I don’t really have any friends that have opportunities and I realize how much that has to do with opportunity and how much that has to do with being interrelated. And that if they’re “affected”—operative word there—if the homeless community is affected, we’re all affected. And that’s why we’re set up, as you talked about earlier. We get out of the car; we’re bummed out. Well, guess what, underneath that, if we’re willing to look deep enough at ourselves there’s a tremendous amount of shame and guilt, inadequacy, and embarrassment that in general is avoided like the plague because it’s intolerable to see having a nice lifestyle and then have a feeling of burden, “Oh, this guy’s knocking on my window again, while I’m just waiting at the street light” versus every time that you take an interest of wondering about the person’s life story.
Robert Strock (23:49):
I wonder if I’ve done what I can to go to these great examples that are happening. So, for example, in Trieste, Italy, they have a vast homelessness program that has very significant psychological care, very significant, vocational training, and they have reduced their homelessness problem to a great minimum. A lot of the modeling of what we’re talking about includes really the best elements of what they have successfully already accomplished. It also includes a lot of the best elements that has happened in Community First and The People Concern in Los Angeles, a relatively new project called “Kensington.” And that is another example of permanent supportive housing, where it’s combining a lot of the best elements.
Dave Knapp (24:51):
When you say permanent supportive housing, are there residents looking at that as permanent for themselves, or is the housing itself that you’re referring to as permanent?
Robert Strock (25:04):
Well, thank you for making me stand to be corrected. It should be potentially permanent supportive housing. The housing itself will be permanent, but the individual will always have the free choice as to whether or not it is home. Is this community their dream or is their dream and potential to go somewhere else? So that’s an important point: there’s always that free will.
Dave Knapp (25:30):
And again, I so identify with that example of being at a stoplight and having somebody knocking on my window I imagine we have these communities and think, “Where is the conversation, is it moving through the system? Is it truly a halfway point? Are they looking at that as my new home?” And they get to stay there so there’s an element of permanence to it as a living space. Yes, it’s a choice, but is there a fundamental goal? Is it a wide-open question? Is it what is the value relative to that issue?
Robert Strock (26:14):
Again, it’s a great question. It’s too good of a question to really answer well, but I’ll give you my best shot. It’s—at one level—kind of like a caboose, you know, where that could be a long-term housing alternative. On the other hand, it could be like what you and I did with the three apartment buildings. And it could be more like a halfway house where, okay, where I want to get training, I want to get on my feet, I want to psychologically be supported. And I have the abilities and the clear enough mental health state enough to really be motivated to move outside of the community. The beauty of it is it’s not designed to be either way; it’s designed to give the option either way, but it’s not forced. There’s no pressure. There’s free will. So important. Thank you for clarifying that.
Robert Strock (27:11):
So, the other element beside philanthropy and the government is something that’s not that well known, It’s B corporate businesses. And B corporate businesses are businesses that have social welfare as their number one priority. And they have profit as being number two. So oftentimes they’re satisfied and thrilled to do something that’s of value to society and make 2%, 3%, 4% on their investment. If the government, from my vantage point, had the wisdom to see that the thousand dollars a month—and I don’t know the exact figure, maybe it’s $1,500, maybe it’s $800—but if that dollar amount was invested in the people that are the poorest people in our country, if we really did that, it could be set up as a business where the B Corp could come in, could have a tiny home made for $25,000. Banks could loan 70%, but the individual could come in and they could literally pay down the mortgage.
Robert Strock (28:27):
They could also contribute. They could pay for the community-oriented food that could be done at such a lower cost. They could pay for their share of the housing costs and the B Corp. And a lot of the impact investment firms that are happening, or social investment firms throughout the country, could be motivated because there are a lot of people like the Buffets and the Gates who really are looking how to create the maximum quality of life, survive disease, and have a greater effect per dollar. And if that element of the business community joined the philanthropic community and joined the government, we’d be well on our way to creating this as a realistic possibility. So again, I would like to really invite you, wherever you find yourself, whether you’re a part of a homeless program, whether you’re just an individual thinker, whether you care, whether you’re somebody who is upset with yourself for being upset with the people that are knocking on your car window, no matter where you find yourself, whether you have a connection to a connection, whether you want to brainstorm with friends, whether you want to have a house party where you make it a topic of conversation, I really encourage you to create this vast community of support.
Robert Strock (29:59):
Your ideas can definitely be sent to my website, robertstrock.org, so that we can spread this to as vast amount of informed and caring citizens like yourself as possible. Thanks so much.
Join The Conversation
If The Missing Conversation sounds like a podcast that would be inspiring to you and touches key elements of your heart, please click subscribe and begin listening to our show. If you love the podcast, the best way to help spread the word is to rate and review the show. This helps other listeners, like you, find this podcast. We’re deeply grateful you’re here and that we have found each other. Our wish is that this is just the beginning.
We invite you to learn more about The Global Bridge Foundation—an organization collaborating to heal communities and the world at TheGlobalBridge.org