Old McDonald’s Homeless Farm

I’ve been privy to some crazy ideas over the years about solving homelessness. The one that always get a chuckle was when I was asked if I owned a farm. And if I did, was I enslaving the homeless and forcing them to work against their will. And if it is true, did I have any room?

Here is the text of the actual e-mail that I received:

To: Daniel McDonald
Subject: farm?

Hi Dan,

I hope this finds you well. I have the strangest question to ask you. One of my homeless friends was telling me that you personally own a farm and you sometimes take homeless people there and expect them to work there, even if they don’t want to. This sounded really farfetched (sic) to me, but I decided I’d just go directly to the source and ask you about it.

Perhaps like so many things there are parts of this story that are true and elements that have been omitted that don’t present the whole story. SO, do you have a farm? Do you employ homeless people? Do you provide housing and or wages? If so, are people free to come and go as they choose?

Please forgive me if this is uncomfortable. I wanted to get the facts and be able to “defend you” from such accusations if they are unfounded. I also wanted to know if you do have some kind of farm or training program where I could send people to work for room and board.

I was never quite sure if the sender was serious, or if Allen Funt of Candid Camera fame was laying in wait behind a bush. I suspect the author’s willingness to “defend” me meant that this rumor really was circulating around town.

For as long as I have worked in law enforcement, many crooks-turned-comedians would constantly ask if I owned a farm, an obvious references to the nursery rhyme “Old McDonald Had a Farm” (yes, I had to explain this to more than one person).

I thought it would be interesting, from a homeless systems point if view, so see if this idea has any merit (hopefully you already know the answer).

  • Slavery and human trafficking is illegal and immoral;
  • Sending your homelessness to other areas, such as agricultural areas, only displaces the problems, and creates tension between communities (this refers to “greyhound therapy. Reuniting the homeless with their support system has merit);
  • Permanent housing solves homelessness. Come-as-you-are shelters, agricultural training programs, work therapy, jail diversion programs only waste resources and kick the can down the road;
  • Housing makes other issues such as employment, addictions, mental and chronic health issues much more manageable. If your shelter is based on programming with lots of rules and red tape, then you are doomed to failure. This is the basis of Housing First.

New ideas are welcome as long as they are legal, ethical and follow best practices. However, if your plan is based upon not so good practices or even nursery rhymes, it’s time a new plan.