Unless – Why Low Barrier Services Matter

Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Blog | 4 comments

Unless – Why Low Barrier Services Matter

At the Ending Homelessness Charrette meetings in late April, a speaker from Indiana’s Department of Corrections helped me understand the importance of our services in a new way.

To paraphrase, he said, “Too many times, the people trying to help are saying we can help you unless… unless you have an addiction problem… unless you have a felony… unless you are mentally ill… unless you can’t get a job… unless, unless, unless. If your goal is to end homelessness, you can’t say unless.”

Shalom is a low barrier daytime resource center. Interfaith Winter Shelter is a low barrier shelter. The new Crawford Homes permanent supportive housing is also a low barrier or what’s sometimes called Housing First program. The meaning of low barrier is simple… we get rid of the “unless.” We try to place as few barriers as possible between the guest and our services.  The only true requirement is safe behavior. Our business is hunger, homelessness, and poverty; if you’re hungry, we’ll feed you, if you’re homeless, we’ll shelter you, if you’re impoverished, we’ll support you.

The low barrier model is a national best practice for reaching the most people in need, especially the most vulnerable among us, the mentally ill and the addicted. It emphasizes safety, access, and engagement above all else. But it also saves the community money by reducing arrests and hospitalizations as we connect “frequent users” with essential services. It’s not always pretty, but it works.

Someone wrote a comment on an article in our local paper. “We only should help the worthy poor.”  That’s exactly what we do. Because we believe everyone is worthy… worthy of dignity, worthy of a home, worthy of health care, worthy of life.

I recently spoke to John Fallon, the Program Manager for Reentry at CSH. When asking him about the value of low barrier approaches, he said that he always had a principle when deciding who he would help: “If not us, then who?”

That’s perhaps the simplest way of all to say what it means to be low barrier: If not us, then who?

If we truly want to end hunger, homelessness, and poverty, we can no longer say unless.

To read Million Dollar Murray. part 2 in the low barrier series, click here.

This piece was written by Rev. Forrest Gilmore, Executive Director of Shalom Community Center. To contribute to Shalom, please mail in a gift to PO Box 451, Bloomington, IN 47402-0451 or donate online at www.shalomcommunitycenter.org.