Friday, February 24, 2017

We all can help

Just this past week a homeless encampment was told they have to leave the area in East Ft Worth or be arrested for trespassing. The unfortunate part of this particular scenario is that some of those in the encampment are just trying to get along. Instead they wound up being caught up near other homeless people who are just there for the drugs or to drink their alcohol. Personally I never went into that particular encampment because of safety issues.

Even though they are offered information about homeless services nearby, getting those services is another headache in and of itself. Why is that? Well for starters the three main shelters here are operating at capacity which is one of the reasons those folks are camping in the first place. Even then the shelters themselves have their own issues. They are much better today than they were during my homeless period but a shelter is not a real happy place. Secondly, while it is possible to find out about the other services available there is so much competition to receive those services that many people simply give up trying.

Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the available homeless services themselves. They try hard. There is just not enough to go around. Here is an example; the wait for a housing voucher can be as long as a year and then that person has to find an apartment that will take him. It's not the voucher that the landlord does not want to accept it is the fact that a homeless person probably has no credit history, bad credit, maybe a criminal background or has no work history. All those and other barriers prevent a homeless person from ever getting an apartment. There are few if any available housing units for those who need them most.

I too personally went though much of this when I was homeless. I literally spend 10 years camping and then hit all the barriers that prevent a homeless person from ever rising up out of that pit. Sure it can be done but look how it took me 10 years and much patience before I could get out of my camp. In fact, while I was getting some homeless services from the various service providers, not once did I rise to the top of any housing list, assistance list or got into a position where I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. What it took was a lady who works for a large institution who wanted to hire me. She literally paved the way with her superiors and I became employed again.

Those sorts of things are rare.

Now let's get back to the homeless service providers. They mean well and work extremely hard, but there are not only not enough funding or services available to go around, then there are all the other barriers ahead of the homeless person. On top of that, the service providers themselves have a real problem with following up on their clients to make sure they can make the transition from homelessness. It's not their fault because they only have enough resources to get the process started and the follow through can sometimes be non-existent. There is a reason why the homeless person became homeless in the first place.

This is another problem I ran into after I left my camp and went back to work. Just getting a job was not enough for me to get my problems resolved. In the end I ultimately got old enough to retire and did so. Then I started therapy to work through the underlying reasons I became homeless in the first place and were causing me some real problems with working and adjusting to life in the world again. In fact I might still be working and not retired right now if I had gotten the therapy at the very beginning. I didn't think I needed it nor was it really available. There aren't many therapists who have experience with the homeless community.

There is another side to all of this. Homelessness has been on the rise since the mid to late 1980's. There are plenty of reason's for this and those very reason's need to be addressed. Homeless prevention can be a lot cheaper for everyone involved than paying for the homeless services themselves after the damage is done. It's not just the homeless services costs either, there is a health-care component, a law enforcement component, a legal system and confinement component, not to mention long term mental health-care cost that results just from being homeless.

Today we are paying the price for ignoring the rise in the homeless population that began over 25 years ago. We could have prevented it or at least kept the ultimate costs and damage down. Because of ignoring the problems then letting them get out of control we now will have a huge cost just to get the current homeless people back into the community then there will be the longer term cost to resolve the damage done to the individual both mentally and physically from being homeless in the first place. Then on top of that, to actually prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place there must be a safety net to identify when a person is on his way to becoming homeless.

In the end we have a two part problem ahead of us if we are to make a dent in the homeless problem. The first part of the problem we need to find a reasonable way to get the people off the streets and reintegrated back into society. Then deal with the after-care involved while the homeless person goes through the reintegration process. That means affordable housing, living expenses, long-term health-care and mental health-care as well as a long-term plan of after-care to prevent a relapse back into homelessness. The second part of the problem to eliminate or at least drastically reduce the homeless population permanently is to identify the reasons that force people into becoming homeless in the first place. Prevention is the name of that game and prevention has to happen at the same time as getting people off the streets or the cycle will continue.
It's up to all of us to work on this.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Step Up

Well now that the elections are over and there is a new group of people in the White House and Congress the question is; how this will affect the homeless crisis we have been facing and attempting to deal with for so long. To be honest I don't expect much coming from Washington.

We shall see I guess.

In all honesty, while I am not a very political person, I didn't have much faith in either of the presidential candidates. Personally I don't expect any major changes in the funding to assist the homeless services community to change. In fact it wouldn't surprise me to see cuts in funding, grants and other sources that originate within our governmental system at all levels and no increases.

What it really takes is for the community as a whole to step up and assist those neighbors of ours who could use a hand. No I'm not just talking about money, even though money plays a part. It also takes the willingness to step up and personally take on some part of the problem. Are you in the position to employ a homeless person? Would you be willing to take that chance? Most homeless people would be beside themselves if they had a good job. Or how about befriending a homeless person? I've spoken about this many times on this blog. Maybe identifying your local unsheltered homeless person and providing them a “care package” from time. Things that they could use in their camps or maybe food items.

There are a lot of things that you could do. If it's money then donate to the various shelters. Don't forget the outreach groups such as Catholic Charities SOS team or another favorite of mine The Hands of Hope of Tarrant County. Both outreach groups live on donations. Another couple of groups who in one way or another assist homeless people and rely on donations is the 1st Street Mission on 1st and Henderson in Ft Worth and another is The Beautiful Feet Ministries on Hatie St in SE Ft Worth just off of Riverside. I'm sure there are several others but the ones I mention here have in one way or another helped me during my homeless years and hold a special place in my heart.

Truly I feel that it is up to us to step up and get it done. Far too much money, time and effort is being lost when we have to rely on the “government” to take care of the problem. Let's directly support the people who actually do the work with the sheltered and unsheltered homeless communities. If not, why not get a group of people from church or neighbors and volunteer. As you get to know the homeless people out there you may discover that they are, for the most part, good people who have just hit a bump in the road. Maybe even, once you know some of your homeless neighbors, get yourself directly involved with them on an individual basis. 

We can solve this or at least reduce the problem if we all try.  

Friday, January 27, 2017


We've just had the Homeless Point in Time count for Ft Worth last night.

Just a heads up guys, since I retired I have been technically homeless this past year. Just for fun I camped out last night in a relatively open spot that was extremely easy to get to ( less than 200 feet off of Riverside) and nobody showed up. I even stayed up to see if a team even showed up nearby. But either I didn't see them or they missed me. In fact during the 10+ years that I was homeless I was counted only twice.

I do have to give the teams credit and a congratulations for finding the people that they did find though. I know that it is extremely uncomfortable for some people to go into an unknown patch of woods looking for a camp. Even during the daylight hours some camps are difficult to locate.

In the past I have commented about the ultimate numbers of unsheltered homeless that are published for the Ft Worth area. About 5 or 6 years ago the published number of unsheltered homeless was listed as 348. Keep in mind that these are all the campers, the people who are living under bridges and in abandoned buildings within Tarrant County. I knew for a fact that there were over 150 unsheltered people living withing a short walking distance of the camp I lived in at the time. If I was to guess, the true number of unsheltered homeless at that time was probably closer to 600 people county wide.

Today with the increases in the numbers of homeless who are living in or cycling through the homeless shelter system what do you think is happening to the numbers of unsheltered homeless? Guesses anyone? They certainly aren't getting smaller.

The numbers developed by the Point in Time count will be used to determine such things as the funding provided to the shelters, funding to provide housing for those who have risen to the top of the waiting lists and other purposes. The unfortunate part in all of this is that the unsheltered homeless people just fall through the cracks. First because many of them are not noticed like the people living in the shelters. Then they don't get counted. Finally the outreach teams such as Tarrant County Hands of Hope, who in many ways are the only people even trying to help those homeless people, are extremely limited in the resources they have available to assist those homeless people they serve. Not to mention that the outreach teams are constantly finding new people to help and haven't found them all.

Today I would estimate that there are over 700 unsheltered homeless people in the Ft Worth and Tarrant County area. Most of whom do not get counted. On top of that, the bulk of any funding available is awarded to the homeless shelters with little or nothing made available to the outreach teams to assist those they serve.

I realize that total funding from all sources both public and private is limited. Just keep in mind that the unsheltered homeless are out there too and the outreach teams need financial assistance to help them.

Monday, January 9, 2017

We are part of the problem

It’s very common for homeless service providers to say “They don’t want our help. They’d rather sleep outdoors and be homeless. They don’t want people telling them what to do. It’s not my fault that they would rather live that way”.
Now ask yourself this. Would you like to have someone tell you what to do? We are supposed to live in a country that gives us freedom of choice but here we are making decisions for those we are supposed to be helping to get back on their feet. They are told when to eat, where to sleep, when to take a shower and then there are the faith based organizations who will require them to attend church services or church activities.
It’s a pretty serious problem when a person would prefer to sleep outdoors, as did I by sleeping in a tent for over 10 years, instead of receiving support from the homeless service providers at the shelters. More often than not, it is all about our dignity and our freedom of choice.
One solution that I see is to take the support services to the unsheltered homeless people by funding and supporting the outreach teams who go into the bushes to visit with and assist those who live unsheltered in tents, abandoned buildings and under bridges. Maybe establish new outreach teams or help existing outreach teams to expand their numbers and programs. As it stands now here in Ft Worth most, if not all, city, state and federal funding goes to the shelters with the outreach teams having to find alternate funding just to do the few things they can. What that means is that as many as 30% of all homeless people don’t have access to the support they need because they decided to use their freedom of choice to live where they do instead of where they are told to live.
Freedom of Choice and Dignity belongs to all of us 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Homeless In Ft Worth: Winter...

Homeless In Ft Worth: Winter...: For the last few days the temperature hasn’t been above 35 degrees and has been as low as 10 degrees at night. Now that’s what I say is p...


For the last few days the temperature hasn’t been above 35 degrees and has been as low as 10 degrees at night. Now that’s what I say is pretty cold. Especially when you are homeless and living unsheltered or in a tent, abandoned building or under a bridge. I realize that many of you really feel sorry for them and wish to help. Keep in mind that the homeless people who live in the shelters along Lancaster already have many of the resources available to remain warm, fed and comfortable. There are many of those same homeless people who live in the shelters who will take what you have to give whether they really need it or not. Sometimes they will sell their excess for cash, drugs or whatever. The homeless people who really need the assistance are the unsheltered people. These are the folks who have fallen through the cracks and for their own reasons refuse to go into the shelters.

In my own case, I spent a couple of months in the shelters when I first became homeless and discovered that it wasn’t for me. In those days (around late 2002 to early 2003) Lancaster was not a very safe place at times. I personally had been robbed of things I had with any value, saw drug transactions in the open and blatant prostitution. I just was not comfortable. These days things are much safer and while the theft, drugs and prostitution is still there it is no longer as obvious nor does it make me feel unsafe as I did all those years ago. I still would not go to a shelter. The main reason is that I know how to camp. I can be far more relaxed and comfortable without having several hundred other people around all the time. Nuff said.

The real reason for this particular post is that all those unsheltered homeless, who number around 500 here in Ft Worth, tend not to receive any sort of assistance from donations like the folks in the shelters. In many cases the only times an unsheltered homeless person can find a warm coat, for example, he or she would have to either walk to the homeless district on Lancaster, which could be a matter of miles or he may get lucky and one of the few homeless outreach workers may find something for him or her. All that is assuming they have any luck in finding someone or someplace where coats are being provided.

Now that’s not to say that the unsheltered or camping homeless people just need clothes. Many of them have all sorts of needs. But first you have to locate them which may or may not be simple. Keep your eyes open when you are travelling through the city and its outskirts. Ask your friends or neighbors if they have seen any homeless people in your area. Is there a secluded patch of woods nearby? Take a walk and see what you find there but if you do run up on a camp please announce yourself when you approach.

Now once you have located an unsheltered homeless person or persons, ask them what they can use. In my case I always had a need for propane fuel for my camp stove. Sometimes shoes or boots that were in good repair were nice to have. Even food items either already prepared, easily cooked or just eaten as is are always acceptable. Other items that are nice to have are hygiene items, maybe some sweets, socks, gloves and scarves are good too. The important thing here is to ask them what they can use. Many times they may say they don’t need anything but his or her clothes, coat and shoes are in poor repair that’s a clue. Use good judgement.

Now with all that being said. Don’t just give to an unsheltered homeless person just the one time and feel good about yourself. Keep in touch with them. Make sure that they are OK in extremely bad weather. I have spoken in past postings about the family who adopted me the last couple of years before I finally left my camp. They made sure that I was OK and basically checked on me to make sure I had fuel, food and other supplies on a regular basis.

Who knows, you may develop a friendship and in the end help someone rise up out of what has brought him or her to homelessness.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Beginning another New Year

Beginning another New Year

I hope all of you had a great holiday season.
For the past several months I have been getting emails from people who want to know how they can help, where to go, assistance with locating a missing loved one and what to do about a loved one who is an addict and on the street. I have heard back from a couple of those people and in every case they told me that the information I gave them was a big help. Last month I even helped several battered women into safe homes where they could get away from their abuser, drugs or just get their heads straightened out.
That’s only a drop in the bucket and as fast as one is gotten off the street then another takes his or her place. There are many areas where you and I can continue to help the homeless. There are many ideas we can promote to assist our homeless neighbors. I’m going to run through a few that I’ve spoken about in the past and may spark something in you.
Many of the things I will talk about cover the unsheltered homeless. The people who live in camps, abandoned building and under the bridges. They are all over the city and while sometimes not easy to find, if you keep an eye out you will start noticing them. They tend to hide in plain sight.
Adopt a homeless person. Now this one takes some thinking about and a certain amount of caution on your part. In my case a family adopted me after getting to know each other. In the end they made sure I had fuel for my stove (I was camping). Brought me food. Invited me to their home for meals, clean up and laundry. Plus a lot of love.
Organize some people in your church to help out some of your local homeless neighbors. I know of a couple of churches who put together care packages that they then deliver to their homeless friends. The care packages can be just a box of things or placed in a backpack. Popular items are hygiene products like soap, razors, tooth paste, tooth brush, gloves, socks, small food items like Vienna sausages, crackers, even candy. Be creative, ask you homeless friends what they would like to be included in a care package.
Here’s a project that is long term and could easily be expanded upon here in Ft Worth. Take a look at the Mobile Loaves and Fishes web site. They have developed a housing community for the homeless in Austin, TX. Their web site is . Might this be something you or your church could promote here in Ft Worth?
A similar project. How about building “Tiny Homes” for the homeless and then locate safe places to put them. Just do a search for “tiny houses” and you will find all sorts of ideas, articles and information about them. In some cities there are people who build them just for homeless to give them a secure roof over their heads. Check it out.
One other way to help is to donate to those to go out into the bushes. One organization I am proud to know is The Hands of Hope, Take a look at their web site. See the sort of work they are doing. I met the founder John Ramsey and his wife during their very first days of starting this very special outreach team. There are other groups and organizations other than the shelters who work with the homeless. Especially the unsheltered homeless. I intend to talk about them as things progress.
These are only some ideas. The most important part of helping the homeless is to remember that each one of these people is an individual so no one solution will be right for everyone. Love is another part of helping. I probably would still be in the woods if it hadn’t been for the love I received from several people. Just reach out to them and see what happens. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the response you are looking for. Be patient and get to know them. They will surprise you.