A director of homeless shelters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, outraged homeless advocates when he said that people shouldn’t give homeless people handouts because it worsens the problem.
Heading Home CEO Steve Decker made the comments in an Instagram post.
“The biggest issue we deal with across the board is people accessing the help that is there. Many people trying to help sometimes actually add to the problem,” wrote Decker.
“This will be counterintuitive to many people — when you give handouts to people on the streets — whether that be cash, food, water, clothing, blankets or tents — you’re not helping. Until living on the street becomes severely uncomfortable, many people won’t seek services,” he added.
“The more we try to help with hand-outs, the worse we are making the problem,” Decker concluded.
Homeless activists immediately excoriated Decker for the comments and called for him to be fired. The Instagram statement was deleted soon after.
“We don’t want to make people so uncomfortable they are sleeping on the ground. I think we can understand it’s not a comfortable lifestyle,” said Monet Silva, the executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness.
“Mr. Decker’s statements have seriously jeopardized the reputation of Heading Home, not only with other providers but with the un-housed themselves,” said Sarah Malone, a homeless advocate.
On Thursday, he addressed his comments in a meeting with board members.
“I have been torn up inside about this lack of communication on my part because I am not as eloquent as others and I feel like my message went sideways,” said Decker.
“The reality is that I screwed up, pure and simple,” he added. “I said words that I have never should have said. I apologize to the staff that does this work and is the difference in the daily lives of hundreds upon hundreds of people.”
The board decided to let Decker continue in his job after he issued his apology.
Here’s a local news report about the incident:
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