Sunday, March 8, 2015
When I talk about a homeless person, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Some scruffy, dirty, bearded guy who is hanging out on a street corner? Or maybe something similar to that description? What you just did when you read the word or hear the word “homeless” is that a profile immediately came to mind. We all do this and we all (or at least those who are honest with themselves) profile people, place people into a category or a box that we have been taught by our society. It’s true. I am just as guilty as anyone else except I try extremely hard to not do this.
As a homeless person myself and having seen up close and personal people who live with that label, I’ve seen that there is as much variation among the homeless community as there is amongst those who are not classed as homeless. Let’s take this one step further. What is homelessness? Really. There are all kinds of definitions so just for the sake of simplicity let’s consider a “homeless” person as someone who lives in a shelter, a camp, under a bridge or an abandoned building and may not have the means or desire to live as a “normal” person does.
When I interact with a ‘homeless” person I find that I have to vary my technique, language and style as much as I would do if I was interacting with a “normal” person. There is that much variation amongst all of us. The only real difference is our personal reactions or how we deal with our lifestyles. Yes, some of the people classed as “homeless” are that way because they want to live that way. There are others who have physical or mental problems that keep them there. Others are just simply down on their luck. The bottom line here is that the reasons they are in that position is unique to each one of us.
When dealing with a “homeless” person there is no one cookie cutter approach. Much as we would prefer it to be that way just to make things simple for us trying to help. I’ve been accused of not being as compassionate as I should be when I deal with some “homeless” people. The reason is that they are all different. Once you get that then the way you deal with anybody will get both easier and harder.
Yes, there are those who deserve gentle treatment and help with getting things done to improve their situation. There are others who can do things for themselves but would rather act otherwise to get you to do for them what they can do for themselves. Then there are those who “got game” and work the system. You know who they are too if only you or I would stop long enough to see where they fit in. What I get accused of from time to time is that I take a hard line with some people because I was once like that. I had the mindset myself that it was easier for me to let someone hand me something, whether it was money or food or something else I needed, than it was for me to get off my backside and take care of business on my own. You just have to know when to draw the line because the level of assistance needed differs as much as it does for everybody. There is no one way to help those who are in the “homeless” category.
Keeping this in mind will help you as much as them in the overall scheme of things. Today I still need help but even with that said I can a do many things for myself that I would much rather others do for me.
Just my two cents worth…
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Far too many people think that the transition from homelessness to a more “normal” lifestyle is a simple thing. Going back to work or having some sort of income and getting into housing are all that are necessary for the transition along with some easy lifestyle adjustments. Others may have a very general idea of the problems a homeless person faces during the transition.
In truth, there is no one solution to the problem. No one size fits all solution. Each homeless person, myself included, is a unique set of problems that must be addressed when the ex-homeless person arrives in his or her new home.
In every case there are some serious adjustments to be made and depending on the person these adjustments can be easy or hard for that person. All sorts of factors come into play. How long were they homeless? Are there any mental health issues? Are there addictions? What kind of support do they have? The list goes on. It’s really not that simple.
Speaking from personal experience, I can say that I have not even come close to being adjusted to this new lifestyle of mine. I have been working and living in my apartment for over a year now and I still think in terms of my old homeless lifestyle. In some ways this is good because my job now is doing outreach work to help the people who I used to hang out with. I can bring a unique perspective to my job that my co-workers don’t always understand without having directly experienced homelessness themselves.
But there is a down side too. In the last year since I left my tent in the woods, I have literally had at least 4 pretty serious meltdowns. Stresses that other people take for granted and can easily cope with are not easy for me. Job performance issues, money issues, social issues of all sorts and at all levels are only some of the things that cause me problems. Then there are issues that arise from my drug and alcohol addictions. Especially now that I can afford them. Or how about just dealing with the people, on a daily basis, with whom I used to live around, talk to and get high with. Only now I am on the other side of the fence, having to show them that I can do this.
Having a support or peer group helps. Talking to people I trust makes a difference. Writing in this blog does too as does just keeping a journal. I’ve talked to my manager at work. I’ve taken some classes designed to help me adjust to the new, not homeless lifestyle. After more than a year I am nowhere near readjusted to all this. i also now know that if I had just tried to do this on my own without all these other people, new people, people who want nothing more that to see me succeed, I would have by now lost my job and my new home.
But, keep in mind that what may be working for me WILL NOT work for anybody else who is coming out of homelessness. Everyone is unique with unique problems. There is no one size fits all solution to the problem.
One thing is completely clear. Just putting a homeless person into an apartment without ongoing and sometimes long term support of all kinds is not the solution. The “Housing First” approach is a good approach as long as there is the support needed to make the adjustment either through case management and an active support network for as long as it takes after moving that person into housing. Otherwise all you have done is moved a homeless person into a position where he or she will, not can but will, fail in the long run.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Locating camps in the dark and often in an unfamiliar part of town is a huge problem for those who will be doing the count. Some camps are so well hidden that it would be difficult to locate them even in the daylight. On top of that, the weather is predicted to be cold with freezing rain which means that the survey teams will be less likely to search for the camps very hard.
The idea of having the count done at this time of year is that it is thought that most people who do not normally go to the shelters will do so that night. Especially during bad weather. So all in all with the weather, the uncertainty of going into certain areas and just plain being uncomfortable will mean that the people doing the count will miss the unsheltered homeless people who are still out and will not be counted. That’s just the way it is.
Now on to a slightly different topic.
Over this past year I have noticed an increase in the number of camps. For example, in the area where my camp once was there has been 1000% increase in the number of people. From 2 or 3 people to over 30. Other areas that I see or visit are showing similar increases. Now some of this is because other camps have been closed down and those people just moved, but overall I do see an increase in the unsheltered homeless population.
With the three major homeless shelters running at or near capacity, living in a tent encampment is probably the only realistic option for many people. Also the shelter rules, crowding and just plain discomfort with living in a shelter makes a camp look pretty good.
In the past I’ve mentioned micro or tiny home communities for homeless people as one option to get folks into housing and to help the overcrowding situation in the shelters. The other day I ran into another option a major city is looking to implement in order to assist the homeless people “right now”. What they are proposing is to establish 3 camp areas with appropriate services, such as those found in any basic campground that will accommodate up to 100 camps in each area. The catch is that each area must be managed by a church group or other responsible sponsor and certain rules of behavior will have to be maintained by the residents.
I like this option. Not only will it help the overcrowding in the shelters if done correctly, setting up legal encampments with appropriate services will go a long way to ease the problem of illegal camps and the mess that tends to accompany them.
With the amount of wooded or open land within the Ft Worth city limits, setting up several managed encampments would be fairly easy, relatively cheap especially when you consider the money spent by the city doing illegal camp clean up and finally much safer in terms of health and physical security for the residents.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
With that being said, this is only one time of year where giving abounds and in all honesty, homelessness is a year round condition. Yes it feels good to receive things, especially needed things, during this time of year.
The problem is that with the end of the holiday season, so ends the giving many of you do as well. Why not instead of doing a once a year feel good exercise establish a pattern of giving to the homeless year round.
Talk to your neighbors, to your church or set up your own group of people and do a “drive” a few times a year. Money is good too. Instead of going to the homeless district, contact the shelters and outreach organizations to distribute the items and money for you. They will do it fairly and make the best use of your donations.
Everybody knows about the shelters and truthfully they have the largest need because they serve the bulk of the homeless population. The ones that are forgotten or fall through the cracks are the homeless people who do not stay in the shelters. The campers or the ones who live in abandoned buildings, in their cars and under bridges. In many ways these are the people most in need of your assistance. I too was one of these people and more often than not I fell through the cracks of the system too.
Getting things to those unsheltered people is simple too. There are organizations who are more than happy to take your contributions and make sure they are distributed fairly and evenly as well.
One organization of note who works with the unsheltered homeless is the Catholic Charities Street Outreach team or SOS team. They make contact with many of the unsheltered homeless by going into the camps and other places where those who do not go to the shelters live.
Another outreach team is The Tarrant County Hands of Hope. This is another group who work with the unsheltered homeless mostly in north Ft Worth and the northern suburbs. They too go into the camps and under bridges to help those they find.
1st Street Methodist Mission is another example of an organization who works with those who are unsheltered. While they serve all homeless people, many of the unsheltered use their services. Not only that but Catholic Charities SOS, the MHMR PATH team and the JPS Hospital outreach teams are present on the days 1st Street is open to the homeless.
Beautiful Feet Ministries is also a good place to send items or donations for the unsheltered homeless. This organization is open 7 days a week providing meals and other needed supplies to those who live in the area. They also have a free medical clinic and other services.
There are many other organizations around and the ones I spoke of are only a few that I personally am familiar with from my homeless years living in a camp. By donating to them on a year round basis you can be assured that your donations are fairly and equally given to those who most need our love and caring.
If you wish to make donations to any of these organizations or wish to know more about them, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment here on the blog with a way for me to contact you or forward the information to you.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
1. Most homeless people are middle-aged men.For many, the word “homeless” conjures up images of scraggly men standing on street corners holding cardboard signs. The face of homelessness is changing. In fact, the fastest growing segments of the homeless population are women and families with children. The average age of America's homeless is nine (9) years old.
2. Homeless people need to “just get a job”.Getting a job is a challenge for most people in these days, and incredibly difficult for a homeless person. Most lack clean clothes, showers, transportation, a permanent address and phone number. Others have a criminal past, learning disabilities and lack of education that holds them down. Even if they find work, their low income often cannot sustain them.
3. Homeless people are dangerous.Homelessness is often associated with drugs, alcohol, violence and crime. So yes, life on the streets can be perilous for homeless men and women. But very few crimes are committed by homeless people against those of us who try to help them. At Arlington Life Shelter, the attitude we see most often from homeless men and women is gratitude.
4. Homeless people are lazy.Surviving on the street takes more work than we realize. Homeless men and women are often sleep-deprived, cold, wet, and sick. Their minds, hearts and bodies are exhausted. Though help is available, they may have no idea where to begin navigating the maze of social service agencies and bureaucracy. With no transportation and little money, they can spend all day getting to food and maybe an appointment before they need to search for a safe place to sleep. And they do this while lugging their precious few possessions along with them in a bag or backpack. It is not a life of ease.
5. People are homeless by choice.No one starts life with a goal of becoming homeless. People lose jobs and then housing. Women run away to the street to escape domestic violence. Many people have experienced significant trauma and simply cannot cope with life. Others struggle with mental illness, depression or post-traumatic stress. Yes, poor choices can contribute to homelessness. But outside circumstances strongly influence those choices.
6. If homeless people wanted to, they could pull themselves out of it.Once a man or woman loses a job or a home, getting those things back can feel nearly impossible. Imagine trying to get a job when you have no address to put on a resume, no phone number, no shower and no clean-pressed clothes. Often, things like legal issues, criminal history, mental illness, physical and emotional health hinder progress even more.
7. Providing food and shelter only enables people to remain homeless.Food and shelter are essentials for life. By offering these and other outreach services, like showers, laundry, restrooms and mail service, we build relationships with people in need. Then we’re able to offer them something more through our recovery programs, like counseling, addiction recovery, emotional healing, education, life skills and job training.
8. If we provide sufficient affordable housing, homelessness will end.Putting a roof over the head of a deeply hurting person will not heal emotional wounds, break addiction, create relational stability or establish healthy life skills. Housing can help people who are homeless due to poverty. But it can be a shallow and temporary solution for the many people who are homeless because they are unable to function in a “normal” life.
9. Homelessness will never happen to me.Talk to the hundreds of homeless men and women we serve each day and they’ll tell you that they never intended or expected to become homeless. They’ve had solid jobs, houses and families. But at some point, life fell apart. They are desperate for a way back home.
10. Homelessness will never end.Many U.S. cities have established ambitious goals with 10-year plans to end homelessness. While these plans to provide housing and better centralized services to homeless people are important in reducing the scope and duration of homelessness, they will not completely eliminate it everywhere for all time. But homelessness does end—one life at a time. With your help, we continue to restore the lives of hurting men, women and children every day.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
While they expressed several reasons for the elimination of the program, some of which i have a problem with, what concerns me most is the impact this will have on the homeless community.
Recently, there was a “Transportation Summit” that was put on by the Tarrant Area Homeless Coalition. Basically it was held to let people in the homeless community express their concerns or opinions about the elimination of the free fare program. There were many concerns discussed but what it really boiled down to was in order to accomplish anything to end that person’s homelessness, transportation to and from various parts of Ft Worth is a major consideration. Here is a short list of some of the more popular / necessary destinations.
1. JPS Hospital for specialty medical appointments, medication pick-ups at the pharmacy or getting to the Urgent Care unit at the hospital when the local JPS clinic is closed or not an option.
2. Texas Workforce Commission for the obvious… job hunting and training.
3. Social Security Administration for anything related to Social Security that requires a personal visit, which is most things that affect a homeless individual.
4. Texas Department of Public Safety to replace lost or stolen identification cards.
Even though there is now and has been for many years the free fare program, getting a day pass for the bus was not guaranteed. There was and is a limited number of passes available from the various sources on any given day. In addition, you needed a good reason before you could get a daily pass such as a verifiable medical appointment, job interview or some other real need.
While I was still homeless, my access to free bus passes was either non-existent or more hassle than it was worth because I did not have ready access to a case manager or other source. In almost every case I walked everywhere I needed to be. Luckily, even at 60+ years old I was and still am in pretty good shape so walking wasn’t anything more than an annoyance or just plain time consuming. For example, I would walk to the hospital, when I needed those services, a distance of about 4 miles one way then walk back which took 2 to 3 hours round trip not counting time at the hospital. When I was still on probation I had to walk 11 miles one way which, more often that not, meant that I left my camp at 4am just to arrive in time for my appointment which was usually around 8am.
For a large number of homeless people walking is not an option. They just can’t. Mostly it’s because they have physical issues that prevent them from walking any kind of distance. For others it may mean leaving the shelter early in the morning, missing any meals they would normally have gotten at the shelter and if the distance from the shelter was far enough they may not return in time to check in for a bed that night or miss curfew.
With all the other barriers that make it difficult to recover from being homeless, taking away a vital service such as free bus transportation will only prevent, not aid in, the elimination of the homeless problem. In fact, if you think about it and carry the thought of no free bus transportation through to the end, only more harm will result in their lives. The idea here is to help those in need, not keep them down or make their lives even more difficult.