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...

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 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 http://mlf.org/ . 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, hohtx.com. 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.





Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Short Christmas Post


   
Well here we are, it’s almost Christmas and there is giving in the air. I know of several groups of people who are putting together packages for their local homeless neighbors. I too am in the process of putting together 5 care packages to deliver to some campers in my area. For some reason this has become a regular project for me although l would truly like to and try to do this all year round. Nuff said.

I’ve not written much these past couple of years but I felt that I needed to post at least something before the end of this year. There is much good and not so good that has happened in the homeless community this year. There has been the passing of several people I have known for many years or how about the new resource facility be completed soon over near PNS. There are many things happening and many things in the works for the future to assist the local homeless people in becoming not homeless. Yet I still hear from others, such as some of the unsheltered homeless people, that things are not going quite so well. Unfortunately they are still slipping through the cracks in the “system”.

Personally I had to back away from being a homeless advocate or working with my sheltered and unsheltered homeless friends. Mostly it was personal problem I was having adjusting from being unsheltered myself for so long to becoming a productive citizen again. I’ve been receiving counselling because I wasn’t doing the adjustment very well which is one reason that I retired as early as I did.

After a year of retirement and counselling I am now ready to jump back into the fire (I hope J). I intend to get myself reconnected with some other homeless advocates and case managers in the upcoming year. I still have many of my contacts and I still see many of the unsheltered homeless folks I used to work with before I retired.

I’m also putting together some notes and hope to write a book or at least publish something regarding the 10+ years I spent homeless. In the mean time I am getting ready to settle down. I have been moving around at lot lately and haven’t found a place to live permanently yet. Anyone know of someone who may have a room to rent or maybe a converted garage here in Fort Worth near a bus line they wish to rent to an older gentleman who is quiet and lives on a semi-fixed income? Contact me at my email address homelessinftw@live.com. My leaving the old apartment is also part of my upcoming auto-biography / story.
With all that being said I hope all of you, your family and loved ones have a.......
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!!!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Homeless In Ft Worth: I am OK but...

Homeless In Ft Worth: I am OK but...: If you noticed the title of this post there was a "but" there. Well the fact is that I was employed to be a Community Health Wor...

I am OK but...

If you noticed the title of this post there was a "but" there. Well the fact is that I was employed to be a Community Health Worker by a local hospital specifically to do homeless outreach. That was in 2013. Today I am retired....

Now with all that said, I was doing work I had never done  before (I am an electronics technician), coming off a 10+ year stint of homelessness and camping in the woods. I had 10 years of habits that were not necessarily appropriate for returning to "normal" life as well as addictions to alcohol and drugs that I was battling before leaving the woods.

So here I was going back to school to learn a new trade, working hard to stay drug and alcohol free (I had been 5 years clean by that time) adjusting to apartment living and best of all, trying to adjust to living again with money in my pocket.

When you have been in survival mode, as are all homeless people, for over 10 years and that was my whole focus with small side trips along the way that sort of creates habits that not only are hard to break but are in fact automatic reactions you later don't even think about, I had a real challenge ahead of me.

The first year of working I was doing fairly well making the adjustment but I still saw myself reacting as if I were in the woods more often than I cared to see. At that time my focus was more on my job than it was on myself. After 2 years of working it was still an adventure just going to the store for groceries! But I was not spending enough personal thought and time breaking those habits I had developed being homeless. There are many reasons why I was not spending more time working through my homeless issues but I did discover one really important thing that is absolutely necessary when attempting to return a chronically homeless person back to society. Counselling, a good person to talk to who knows the ropes or problems adjusting. Unfortunately, I did not have that. Oh sure, I had friends who let me rant and rave about the problems and barriers I was running into but friends do not have the answers. In fact good friends, true friends can't help because of their love for you.

What happened to me was I threw myself into the deep end of the pool to sink or swim and IT WAS ALL MY FAULT! I should have looked for a mentor who could guide me though the mental pitfalls that were ahead of me. I should not have immersed myself in the new job as I did. I was working hard to do my job and spent no time on myself.

Then to add insult to injury, I moved into an apartment complex that was in the beginning quite nice but towards the end after 2 years had started taking in people whom I had once know from the street, people who were my old drug dealers, people I had used drugs with and they started to knock on my door.  It was most temping and most disturbing. So I spent more time at work and less time working on me just to avoid those temptations. I was becoming a mess and didn't know what to do about it. I tried, belatedly, to get counseling but they did not have a clue about the homeless mindset. A mindset that I still had not eliminated.

My personal solution was to retire from the work a day world. I was old enough to retire and start receiving Social Security. Soon a pension I had established way back in the 70's and contributed to for almost 20 years will start up too. I'm not without money nor am I back on the streets. I'm doing a little travelling and looking for a place to settle down. Probably a room somewhere here in town. What I will not do is return to the streets!!!!

It's been 8 months since I retired. I now have a better idea of all the areas where I went wrong. The one extremely important thing I discovered was that most homeless people are never homeless for more than a single year and usually less, nor do they have the adjustment issues that chronically homeless people have. For us long term or chronically homeless people another path has to be taken. There are less than 10% of the homeless population who are chronically homeless and I was one of them. For us the transition is much more difficult. Other means to assist us back into "normal" life have to be taken.

I've used these past 8 months to work on myself. I found a mentor who was willing to talk to me and in fact he really has. I've also used these 8 months to look within myself to determine where I want to go. I had deliberately divorced myself from the homeless world even though I thought I could help there. I don't go near the shelters and although I have run into a few homeless campers along the way I tend to refer them to an outreach team. I have some of the tools to be a homeless camper mentor now and I may start doing that. I've thought of working with some of the local homeless outreach teams but I'm still not sure if that is where I wish to go in the future. One friend once told me I should start writing a book about my 10+ years as a homeless person. Another friend said that I should start doing homeless outreach again. One friend even said that I should just travel around and continue to work on become sane and "normal" again.

Which ever way I go in the future, my homeless experience will forever be with me. I don't intend to quit on this blog even though I haven't posted much these last few years. My only excuse is that I have been too busy :-).

I can be contacted through my blogging email address. homelessinftw@live.com