On May 20th, Thursday night, I watched two programs about helping homeless people on WTTWC which is 11-3 on broadcast TV in the Chicago area. I was struck by how different the outcomes were.

The first program was part of the America ReFramed series. It focused on the homeless in the St. Louis area, specifically a homeless encampment called Dignity Harbor. Dignity Harbor was one of three homeless communities situated on city land, along the Mississippi river in downtown St. Louis. It started off with the people (squatters) living in tents, even through the minus 30 degrees of the winter season. Later they built wooden ‘structures’ to live in. Dignity Harbor had no drug problems or run-ins with the law as did the other two. However the city eventually moved the inhabitants of all three communities into free, temporary housing for one year. The homeless were given free bus passes to look for jobs and final housing arrangements and were supplied with food and clothing from charitable organizations. Unfortunately, most of them moved back out into the streets after the year was over.

The second program was about the Skid Row Art Workshop in downtown Los Angeles. A woman named Lillian Abel convinced the city and charitable organizations to allow her to set up the workshop in a building on 5th Avenue, the location of Skid Row. They don’t teach art there; they simply provide art materials for the local homeless people to use. Some homeless had never painted a picture before. You might think all their art would be amateurish. You would be wrong. Some paintings were superior to paintings I have seen hanging on the walls of Chicago’s Art Institute. Lillian Abel was so impressed she asked an artist friend to visit the Workshop. The friend was also impressed with their work, so much so that she helped arrange a showing at the Skid Row Art Workshop. It was highly successful and many artists sold pictures. The workshop continues its operations.

Different approaches produce different results.