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October 6, 2003
Conduct Codes Right for Shelters

by George McDonald
Being homeless does not exempt anyone from abiding by laws. It also doesn't exempt anyone from personal responsibility. So affirmed the state Court of Appeals last month by letting a lower court ruling stand that allowed a code of conduct in the city's shelter system.

The Bloomberg administration has rightly and justly advocated for the code to bring sanity and humanity to the system. The enforcement of standards of conduct is not, as asserted by the Coalition for the Homeless and several other advocates, a heartless effort by the administration to cut back on housing for the homeless. Nor will thousands of homeless people be turned out into the streets. This kind of misguided rhetoric patronizes those in the shelters rather than recognizing that many who are homeless are capable adults with the potential for positive change.

It is absolutely correct to expect those who stay in shelters to adhere to basic laws and codes of conduct. It is also reasonable to expect that individuals using the publicly funded emergency shelter system participate in life plans that help them achieve the highest level of self-sufficiency possible.

Not enforcing laws only allows for irresponsibility and unacceptable, if not illegal, behavior. It also makes it difficult for those trying to leave the shelter system to focus on and achieve their goals.

Sure, there are those homeless who suffer from grave psychiatric disorders, but certainly they can and will benefit from a safer and more structured environment that helps them prepare to live in appropriate supported housing.

The city's ability to eliminate crime and drug abuse from shelters will give more homeless people the security they need to feel comfortable staying in a shelter and working to get out of it. At the Doe Fund, which supports the codes and is working with the city, we believe that a sense of responsibility is the key to self-esteem and to developing the tools one needs to become independent and self-sufficient. Participants in our Ready Willing & Able initiative are required to work paid jobs cleaning city streets, during which time they receive drug treatment and other types of counseling, live in violence and drug-free transitional housing and take life-skills and job-training courses.

Being exposed to a supportive environment, rather than a stagnant, dangerous one in which the people continue to wallow in drug use and delinquency, is an incredibly powerful motivational force. Based on our more than 1,500 successful graduates, we know that people, including homeless people, seize the opportunity to build better lives when more is asked of them.

McDonald is the founder and president of the Doe Fund, dedicated to providing permanent solutions to homelessness.

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