Stop saying “they don’t like the rules”

When media reports on the houseless and why many choose not to enter shelters, specifics matter a great deal. Here's why:

Curtis Kropar

Image: a houseless woman packs up her belongings before being bused to Lighthouse Shelter in Waipahu | Governor’s Office

Reporters need to stop using the line that homeless people “do not like the rules” as the reason for low turnout at shelters. While that may be somewhat true in some sort of vague, blanket statement, what it ultimately does is undermines all of our efforts to get the community involved in actually helping people.

“They don’t like the rules” implies that the homeless are, instead, seeking a life of anarchy, turning many ordinary folks off to trying to help them. No one wants to help someone that is totally rebellious. It makes all of our jobs harder in seeking donations, support, volunteers and, ultimately, helping people.

It’s not just reporters though. When being interviewed, we in the service community need to, instead, name specific rules and issues that are not compatible and explain why people refuse particular shelters. For Instance, Lighthouse in Waipahu—where the governor recently announced 13 Kakaako homeless were transported by a city bus to receive needed services and temporary housing—does not have showers. It also has an early curfew that can make working a job difficult. If more people knew that these are the specific reasons why some people do not want to stay at Lighthouse, it might provoke sympathy from the larger community rather than scorn. Heck, maybe we could even raise enough money to help pay for the installation of showers.

Every facility has a unique set of rules, and some of those rules are not going to be compatible with every person seeking services. One of the most common rules is “No Pets.”  I know a number of people that will never give up their pet. Naming that as a specific rule/obstacle might help get more support for k9 Kokua and other organizations, and even help in getting shelters to set aside space for animals, or getting people to volunteer to care for animals while their owners are trying to get their life put back together.

The bottom line is. Saying “they don’t like the rules” does not help any of us. It is counterproductive. Naming specific obstacles, on the other hand, creates a call for action on how to overcome those obstacles.

Curtis J. Kropar is the Executive Director of nonprofit Hawaiian Hope, which provides technology services to other nonprofit organizations.