Saturday, May 28, 2016

Under Their Wing


A few years ago I spoke of and promoted this particular idea. The idea was to “adopt” or mentor a homeless person. In my case I was very lucky. During the 10 years of my own personal homelessness there were 3 or 4 people who did just that along with several others who touched my life in many ways. In my early years of homelessness I ran into a Christian Men’s group who met every week. The 2 leaders of the group not only helped me to recover my faith, helped me through my addictions, made sure that I had what I needed and most important, listened to me. In this case they helped me with basic equipment for my camp such as a tent, a cot and other assorted items. After some time of getting to know each other they even helped me with cash and supplies. They encouraged me to find something to do with myself. If I couldn’t find a good job I at least could do some day work or failing that I could go to some of the places where the homeless people in my area went during the day. This is how I discovered the BeautifulFeet Ministries. For a time I talked to my peers there at the Beautiful Feet and towards the end of my homelessness I was actively working and advising other homeless people.

Now back to the people who helped me. With the men’s group I would be picked up on the night of the meeting and while in the beginning we trod very carefully developing the trust needed to be successful in good communications. They did more than help me with my lack of knowledge regarding my faith but let me talk about myself. In other words, they listened to me. Over time as our mutual level of trust grew I became more honest and forthcoming with them as they did with me.

The other two people I have to mention arrived in my life about the time I started this blog almost 5 years ago. They are a simple family with the usual family issues. They started simply by emailing me and we started a conversation. This went on for a couple of months. Because I had developed a cautious but honest method of talking to people and the fact that they were very easy to talk to we went to the next stage. They came to my camp one Christmas day. From that point on we developed a relationship that just grew. They saw to it I had food, stove fuel and other items to make life easier if I needed them. I was even invited to their home on a regular basis for a meal and companionship. I met the rest of their family and became an unofficial member of their household, welcome at any time. I still, to this day, get together with these people and their family.

So far I have discussed how these 4 people and assorted others provided material goods, food, tents, fuel, and other things to make my camping lifestyle more comfortable. Many people think this is all that is needed to help homeless people to recover from homelessness. But the truth is it wasn’t the material goods but the honest and open conversations I had with all of them over the years. In every case I talked to them about the barriers that homeless people run into. They helped me become a real person again with real appreciation of me as an individual. This is not something that happens overnight. As I’ve said in past posts, homelessness is a lifestyle. As with all lifestyles there are specific thoughts and ways of functioning that are part of the lifestyle. Homelessness in some of its forms are not appropriate in other settings. Even myself after 10 years of living in a camp I had a difficult time readjusting to something more “normal”.

On a daily basis a homeless person is in a mad scramble of survival. As many as 60% of homeless people have a mental health issue, some more severe than others. As many as 50% of homeless people have a substance abuse problem usually because they are self-medicating themselves to survive or ignore their problems. A fairly large number of homeless people have a criminal record or are hiding from the legal system. Some have been rejected by family and have no place to go. There are all kinds of reasons that people become homeless.

The topic here is to “adopt” or mentor a homeless person. To do this is not going to be easy and depending on the homeless individual and the mentor, can be easy or difficult. One thing to remember is never disparage or talk down to a homeless person. But most importantly, in order to learn what a homeless person really needs is to get to know him or her. That is not going to be easy either and may take several visits before they even begin opening up to you. Trust is a big issue here.

There is an organization I discovered that is based in Dallas. They are called Sponsor the Lost. Their purpose is to mentor homeless people and assist them as needed. Take a look. They have some good ideas. There are other organizations around as well who do similar things.

With that being said there is no reason a church group or a small group of concerned people can’t do this sort of work here in Ft. Worth. Of course sponsoring a homeless person is more than just providing them with material goods or counselling them. In almost every case you will run into a homeless individual who needs something that you can’t help with. This is where you develop a list of local resources who can do some of the things you or your group can’t. This is something I developed while I was working as a homeless outreach worker. Even my resource book is not complete but knowing others in the homeless service or mentoring field can be a great help in solving those issues every homeless person faces. Just relying on the homeless services community, most of whom are located in the homeless shelters or nearby the shelters, to help homeless people is unrealistic as they are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of homeless people and a lack of resources. Small local groups can help. Especially with the homeless person who does not wish to have anything to do with the homeless district along East Lancaster.

Got some homeless people in your neighborhood or nearby?  Stop by, say hello and maybe you can really help. It just takes patience and the desire to help.


Lastly, I’m going to sort of stick my neck out. If you have any questions or need information on some of the resources I spoke about, send me an email. My address is Homelessinftw@live.com

Monday, April 11, 2016

Homeless In Ft Worth: Rack em, Stack em and Pack em...

Homeless In Ft Worth: Rack em, Stack em and Pack em...: Rack em, stack em and pack em is pretty much where our local emergency homeless shelters are these days. Notice how I call them Emergency ...

Rack em, Stack em and Pack em...

Rack em, stack em and pack em is pretty much where our local emergency homeless shelters are these days. Notice how I call them Emergency Shelters? Mainly that because that is what they were designed to be. A temporary place to go while you got your life back in order. The last recession we experienced changed all the rules.

Unfortunately the need for permanent shelter had crept into the mix and up until recently I used to see folks who had been living in the emergency shelters for several years. In a few cases I know of there were people who had lived in the shelters for as long as 10 years.

With all that being said, all the shelters here in Ft Worth are running at capacity as are, according to my latest reports, the emergency shelters in Dallas. Some of the shelters are now imposing a limit on how long a person can reside there and all of the shelters are doing their best to assist everyone who does live in them to find housing.

The Housing First program is gaining traction here which is a big help until funding runs out. But the real problem is the number of homeless people who arrive on our streets here. I suspect until adequate funding, social services and case management are made available the overcrowding problem at the shelters will continue.

Then there are the numbers of people living in encampments scattered around the city. Who wants to live in a crowded shelter when you can keep a low profile and camp out somewhere. That's what I did for over 10 years.

Shelter overcrowding is a real problem and has been for several years. Yes there are some people who are taking advantage of the system and they are being identified. Especially when they have an income of some sort but prefer to spend their money on things other than housing. But the real people that the shelters were designed for, the people or families who need a shelter for a short time, are being crowded out or not able to get into the shelter at all.

I've got no real fix here because the problem is so complex and funding is stretched to the limit. More funding would certainly help and identifying affordable housing would be a good start to. A couple of  tiny house / RV communities such as they have in Austin would be great too.

These problems will not be solved by the government alone. This is a problem where our society itself, you and me, should get directly involved and not wait for someone else to take care of the problems.

More to come....

Monday, April 4, 2016

Loaves and Fishes in Austin

I just bumped into a tweet about the Mobile Loaves and Fishes project in Austin, Texas.

Just last Saturday April 2 they opened up over 100 tiny houses for the homeless to add more housing space along with their already existing RVs and other housing structures in their homeless community located just outside of Austin.

Take a look at their website and videos at mlf.org/

Here's the link to a video and article posted by a local TV station in Austin. http://www.kvue.com/news/local/austin-opens-first-homeless-community/116024284

This is huge for the local homeless community there. Although the homeless must pay some rent and there are existing rules regarding life there, this sort of thing is a good first step for many people suffering from homelessness.

Take a look.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Feds Are Stepping Up

I've been doing a lot of reading recently and as time permits I will read articles posted from all over the country using the keyword "homeless" in my news reader program.

An interesting development that makes a lot of sense has cropped up. Several federal departments and agencies are stepping up and pushing back against cities and local governments that outlaw homelessness. We have all probably heard about or seen our own cities ban things like loitering, sleeping outdoors, feeding homeless people in public and several others that directly affect homeless individuals.

For example, in one certain city they were confiscating micro homes specifically built for homeless people that had wheels to allow the micro house to be moved out of the way during the day. Or the family that was penalized, fined and threatened with jail time for regularly feeding homeless people. In several cities homeless encampments were torn down even though there was no reasonable or safe place for the residents to move to.

One of the federal agencies specifically involved is HUD or The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They provide much of the funding to assist local homeless service agencies, such as the shelters and the local homeless coalitions, to provide housing and other assistance for homeless individuals. One of the ways HUD decides how to divide up the federal funding designated for homeless assistance is a rather lengthy questionnaire that all recipients of HUD funding for the homeless must complete. What has or is going to happen is the questionnaire will have some additional questions regarding whether there are ordinances or laws in the local area that make some form of or homelessness in general illegal. By asking these questions they will then adjust the local HUD allocation.

Even the Department of Justice has stepped in. One instance had the DOJ stating that it was unconstitutional to prohibit outdoor sleeping thereby forcing a certain city to reconsider it's ordinance against homeless people sleeping outdoors. In this case, I'm not sure where they are in the legal process or if the city in question will be willing to repeal the ordinance without a fight.

Some other federal agencies or departments who are stepping up in pushing back against local governments making homelessness illegal are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S, Interagency Council on Homelessness.

It is good to see that our country's leadership is beginning to make a definitive move towards combating homeless even if it means they have to tell local communities how to administer to the local homelessness problem. On the other hand having the federal government involved can assist in the implementation of actual working programs such as "Housing First" on a far larger scale and the creation of more affordable housing.

Monday, March 21, 2016

As many of you now know, in January I decided to retire so that I can pursue other things. One of the most important was to work on myself and my lifestyle. Between work related stresses and several other related factors I was gradually thinking about using drugs again. This was the major reason I decided to retire. I needed to get back involved in things that are not quite as stressful and away from some of the people who I did outreach with in the homeless community. Some other factors were that where i had been living several people who I knew to use or sell drugs had also moved into the apartment complex. Some of whom even started knocking on my door to see if I wanted anything. It was not a good situation all around.

Now with that being said, I still plan to do what I can with the homeless community and the people who I may be able to assist while at the same time going home to my safe place where I don't have the temptations around all the time. In past posts I had talked about the fine line I had been walking, while working and doing homeless outreach, between relapsing and using again or not. Luckily I have not had a relapse. I have in the last couple of months been able to talk to people I know who have been where I was. Gradually I am now becoming more relaxed and enjoying my new adventures.

Lately I've been exploring the city and discovered several enclaves of homeless people in places that I did not expect. I have so far reached out to a couple of them and have started the process of developing their trust, discussing what they may need to do or accomplish to improve their situation and who to see that can help them.

It's not just a matter of throwing a bunch of information at them. None of their problems are simple or straightforward. But once I got a fair handle on their problems I can then give them good advice or assistance. In most cases they had tried and failed to get away from their homeless situation. They kept hitting a brick wall and not having any success at all. The problem in each case was that if their problems were not dealt with in a certain order or sequence they were bound to fail.
One person who I will call Jim has some legal problems ( mostly tickets ), no identification, little money, lives in a tent and wants to work. Now we all know that trying to get a job without ID is extremely difficult and getting IDs replaced costs money. His legal problems will cost money too or so he thought. He also wants to get in touch with his family again. All the money he is able to obtain goes to pay for his food and supplies. Once all these issues were discovered  it was a simple matter of making a list with priorities and specific goals then working out exactly what he needed to do in a specific order. In this case he needed to work out the legal issues which were just some outstanding tickets. We talked about the homeless court and got him started on that path. Turns out it looks like he will do some community service and the tickets will be taken care of. Next he will need to contact one of several organizations who can assist him with getting his identification and social security cards replaced but first he had to be recognized within the homeless system and obtain a homeless ID card from the Tarrant Area Homeless Coalition. See where all this is going? He had in the past tried several of these things but if they are done out of order he will keep hitting road blocks.

Once he got it all worked out and established his priorities then things started falling into place. Today Jim has recently gotten his Id cards replaced and is going to start the process of getting his Social Security card. He now knows exactly what he needs to do, where to go and who to see. All he really needed was someone who was familiar with the process and had the information he needed to deal with the issues he was facing instead of becoming completely overwhelmed with the complexity of the tasks ahead of him.

Much of what I went through when I was homeless was similar to what Jim is going through. I too thought that my problems were insurmountable and complex. Until I broke them down into smaller problems was I able to see what I had to do. Finding out how to solve my personal issues was a matter of locating the correct people that could assist.

Monday, February 29, 2016

I'm back...

Many of you know what I have been doing for the last couple of years. Many of you also know of the stresses and temptations I have encountered for the last couple of years as well.
Here is a brief synopsis. 
In 2013 I was employed to do homeless outreach. Mostly because I was homeless and could be a asset to the team. Unfortunately the team leader and I had some differences in how to approach our homeless clients. I felt that in the interest of not causing problems with their plans, to leave the team. 
I thought I was doing quite well. I was involved in the successful integration of several homeless people into society and / or into a path that got them organized again.
For that I feel good. My success rate, over a one year period, mostly working without support of any kind, was something like 40 individuals. I do not toot my own horn here just a statement. I feel good about what I did. I kept the others on the outreach team from getting physically hurt when they messed up. Mostly because they made some serious mistakes.
Now I am out from under that umbrella and can do what I feel is best for the homeless people I know and have met. I have since moved to the west side of town and out of the areas that were causing me stress issues. (another posting).
I am back. I plan to be involved in homeless issues. I plan to write again.

Thanks for being here for me and I will keep this blog going as best I can.

Garth