Forum: Services not enough for homeless

The wealthy benefit from the same structures that hurt the poor, Joseph's House founder Dr. David Hilfiker said Thursday afternoon during a forum on poverty and homelessness.

"I was shocked for instance to discover that you can be absolutely penniless," he said. "And still not be eligible for welfare," Hilfiker said.

AU's "Public Relations Portfolio" class hosted the forum as part of its work with Joseph's House, a home for a residence for terminally ill homeless men and women who have AIDS and cancer.

D.C. has one of the highest rates of homelessness in America; there are more homeless people in D.C. than in some states, according to the event's program.

Hilfiker said he lived in Joseph's House with his family for three years after it opened.

"For me, the impact was profound," he said. "When you start looking at what's happened, what's reported, from the point of view of people who are oppressed by the system, the world begins to look very, very different."

Joseph's House tries to bring both compassion and justice into the same place, Hilfiker said.

Many people at Joseph's House worked their whole lives, but did not have health insurance, so they began self-medicating with drugs and alcohol when they get sick, according to Executive Director Patricia Wudel.

A student question about Schaler's position on government funding sparked off a disagreement between the panelists.

Joseph's House receives 60 percent of its funding from the federal government, Hilfiker said.

"The government is how we, as a community in the U.S., make decisions about how to use our resources," he said.

Dr. Jerry Schaler, a professor in the School of Public Affairs, said that when you give the government the power to do good, you give it the power to do evil.

"I'm very wary of government assistance," he said. "I don't think we should have a government that has a conscience."

It's extraordinarily important that government help people, and although it does need powerful limitations on what it does, it should not be reduced to small functions in terms of helping, according to Hilfiker.

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