Opting out of the shelter system

Ahhh ….. the shelter system, first thing that comes to mind for people to go to who are about to become or already are homeless…..right? Wrong! There are many reasons why a lot of people choose not to go to shelters, the first one being that shelters may not be an option if there’s a lack of shelters to go to in addition to the fact that shelters have to turn people away because they can only take so many people.

I posted an article on We Are Visible today to get feedback from the homeless community to find out how many opted out of going to shelters and hopefully they will mention why they chose not to go to a shelter. For my kids and I, we couldn’t get into one when I tried, several times! Hence the reasons for living out of a 1981 Minnie Winnebago (and now a mini-van).

I’m not saying that there aren’t good shelters out there because I know for a fact there are. Take Path Achieve Glendale for instance. The folks here are deeply committed to doing everything they can to move folks from homelessness into permanent housing and they are one of the shelters that deal with families. Did you know that in many cities, families are split up because there are men only or women and children only shelters?

Have you ever heard of Wellspring House in Massachusetts? They were featured on CBS and treat homeless residents as guests. It be nice if all shelters could have the same positive attitudes as those who set the standards on what a shelter should strive for when helping the homeless. Unfortunately, the reality is that many shelters miss that and some are downright dangerous places to be. When’s the last time anybody checked how much was being spent on security at shelters?

How about hearing from the homeless themselves regarding their experiences with shelters? What they have to say is very enlightening. Often times it’s more dangerous for single women to be homeless let alone a single mother with kids. Essays by Carey Roberts about what goes on at some shelters is a real eye opener!

Before suggesting “help” for the homeless, know what you’re talking about first. Assuming that there’s resources to go to is a careless assumption but then that pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? You actually have to care enough to find out. Kudos to the shelters and the dedicated staff that go above and beyond the call of duty to get folks out of homelessness. You aren’t thanked enough in my opinion!

Happy Monday everybody!

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Myths and assumptions……

I talk a lot about homelessness because it is a subject I can say I can talk about from experience. After reading an article written by Meredith Bolster, PCHC, I am reminded once again that people still need to be “educated” about the myths of homelessness especially when it comes to automatic assumptions. What do I mean by that? Well, think about it, what’s the first image that pops into your head when the words “homeless” or “homelessness” are mentioned? Ahah! Exactly! So…why are those stereotypical images in your head and where did they come from?

Maybe you saw a “dirty bum” on the streets of a city or similar portrayals of a “bum” in movies or television and that’s what your brain uses as a point of reference. It’s no surprise then that folks look surprised when they see me or others like me that don’t fit what they assume a homeless person “should” look like. Meredith points out in her article six common myths which are misconceptions but I’d like to add a few from my own experiences.

First, don’t assume that we haven’t looked at all available options to us. In case you haven’t read my previous blogs, I’ve applied for several jobs, but most of the time, never hear back so I’m thinking that I’m not the only person this is happening to.

Second, don’t assume that the state has resources available to homeless people…like housing vouchers. Check HUD’s website on section 8 and you might be surprised to learn that the “opportunity” to even apply for housing, has not been open in your state for several years and if and when your state does open the application process, you are applying to be put on a waiting list for several years.

Third, casually telling people to go to shelters when you don’t even know how the shelter system works is careless and thoughtless. Granted, there are good ones out there but ask them how often they have to turn folks away because they cannot handle the faces of “new homelessness” they now have to deal with. Many shelters are not safe or are loaded with bedbugs so I cannot blame folks who’d rather live out of their vehicles.

Fourthly, and in my opinion the biggest myth of them all is to assume that family members  will volunteer to help relatives who are homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless. Blood ain’t always thicker than water you know….

Oh and if one of us should suddenly find themselves getting media attention or unexpected publicity, do not assume it means that a job or a better life is on the way. Those of us who may become “famous”still need housing and a way to make a living that will keep us from returning to homelessness.

Having said that, I realize that there are those who suffer from severe mental illness or disabilities that make it virtually impossible to hire so why is it the best we as a society seem to be able to do is let them live on sidewalks or shove them under bridges? I know for a fact that this country can end homelessness if it really, really wanted to. You may have seen the article I posted on We Are Visible about a federal law that mandates funds from the sale of a military base must be used to help the homeless. If you read that article, do a Google search to see how many newspapers printed the story about UGA paying $7.9 million for homeless services and read the comments posted by “compassionate” readers and you’ll see one of the reasons why homelessness is going to be a problem for what I suspect to be a long while.

So….what kind of myths do you believe in?

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Hiding the the truth

I asked a question on We Are Visible about whether or not folks hide the fact that they are homeless or have ever been homeless. As expected, everyone’s answer varied according to their situation but I have to ask, why? Why hide something that is becoming a growing epidemic? Why hide the fact that there wasn’t a safety net in place when so many are slipping through the cracks of a social services program or programs that policy makers are unraveling quickly?

Yes, there is the attitude among many that homeless folks must be lazy, have addiction problems or mental health issues but you know what? If you let those kinds of attitudes influence you against standing up for yourself or speaking up for compassion, then you are feeding into a system of negativity. I see this as no different from those who say that you shouldn’t tell anyone that you were abused as a child or that you should keep it a secret that you were raped.

That being said, I still think that folks should work at making their lives worth living. Taking handouts to perpetuate complacency contributes nothing to getting out of homelessness. This is not the same as accepting help when you’ve done everything you can to help yourself but still can’t get out of homelessness due to revolving door policies that don’t work or make things worse.

I also understand that there may be times that you might want to use discretion about revealing your circumstances. A lot of employers have issues with hiring homeless people even though a job would certainly help towards ending homelessness. To my way of thinking, it’s a person’s skills and experience that determine whether or not I hire them; not their living situation.

I am a homeless single mother and this is what I write about. I am not ashamed of my situation, I’m ashamed of others who did nothing to stop it. It is my goal to educate others about the growing reality of homelessness in this country. I encourage those of us “in the closet” to come forward and let people know what’s going on in your world.

The more people know, the less they have to fear….right?

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I tried not to look

Today is one of those days my mind wanders back to when I had more than I have now. But then I wonder if that was ever really true. Yes, there were times I wanted to give up when everything seemed to be insurmountable. Funny how that molehill in front of you becomes a mountain when things pile up faster than you can knock them down. If there’s one thing living out of an RV taught me, it’s that you are more resilient than you give yourself credit for.

Too many times I see and hear people beating themselves up over things they may not have control over. Getting caught up on past events won’t help you move forward. I think back to what my great-grandfather used to tell me. 97 years old and the man had seen more hells than I could imagine but he always listened to what the young had to say. He said to me when I was 14 “You may not have riches that be counted in money but your life can be rich with experiences. Those experiences are teachers even if the lesson is ugly. Some come to teach hate and others dwell in fear but don’t forget that love will beat them all. If you didn’t have these experiences, you won’t learn anything.”

Back then I had no idea what he was really saying but I do now. I used to be in the habit of not wanting to see the ugly I knew was all around me. Then I remembered a saying I once read that said that all sunshine and no rain makes a desert….Guess that’s what inspired this poem:

I tried not to look

I tried not to look

Into the eyes

Of pain and suffering

 

But something about

The color of lost souls

Wouldn’t let me go

 

Maybe it’s because I see

So much of myself

In them

 

And it doesn’t matter what others say

When you don’t really have

A place to stay

 

Home is a four letter word

Often misunderstood

Be careful how it’s used

 

It’s not a person, place or noun

It’s a way of thinking

Until you’ve found

 

That special place deep inside

The one that can’t be taken

Away

 

If you’re lucky, really, really, lucky

You might find

A partner for the journey

 

To calm the silent louds

That won’t go astray

Even when tomorrow is today

 

Hang on to the parts of you

Slipping through your grasp

There’s still so much to do

 

Once upon a time

I was one who took

Too much for granted and

 

I tried not to look

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Freeloading on the minds of Americans

In case you didn’t see it, John Stossel appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show, the O’Reilly Factor stating that he “pretended” to be a homeless person and claims he would’ve made $23,000.00 a year at the rate he was “making it”. Since I am in the habit of not watching trash tv, I read an article on Mr. Stossel’s appearance on the O’Reilly Factor which brought many questions to mind.

First of all, exactly how did Mr. Stossel “pretend” to be homeless? Did he choose to act out a preconceived notion of what HE thought homeless people are like? Why didn’t he “pretend” to be the homeless who dress, talk, work and act like everybody else who isn’t homeless? Calling the homeless “freeloaders” is strange talk from a man who once said “The biggest recipients of handouts are not poor people.”

I got news for you, Mr. Stossel, instead of pretending to be homeless, go talk to the homeless families that lost their jobs, then their homes but are working non-living wages because in case you haven’t noticed, too many are still unemployed or unemployable. Talk to those of us who know that begging will not get you $23,000.00 a year as you claim. The kind of rhetoric spewed by statements like yours does nothing to help people out of homelessness, rather it inspires more ignorance and apathy than ever.

How about putting your “investigative reporting” skills to good use and actually report on the facts of homelessness as they really are? Might be a good idea to do so before getting “body-slammed” by REAL homeless people who do not freeload on the minds of people who don’t know what homelessness is like.

Just sayin’…..

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15,000 and counting…..

So, according to an article posted in The Wall Street Journal, New York’s Disadvantage Program that helped homeless folks find homes sent letters to 15,000 people telling them that they couldn’t count on a subsidy that would move them out of shelters and into stable housing. This comes not long after the city played a cruel experiment of getting people to sign waivers to bar them from getting help for two years for the sake of tracking who goes into shelters and who doesn’t.

Now the city is pointing their fingers at budget cuts that will remove millions from its programs. The city is cited as saying that the homeless population will increase by 51% without this program. 51%!! The Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Linda Gibbs quoted that there are no replacement programs in sight, let me repeat that, NO REPLACEMENT PROGRAMS PLANNED…….

So now what? For those already in New York, there aren’t enough shelters as it is so where are all the people who are currently housed going to go once their subsidy runs out? Regardless of who points the finger of blame, what action is being taken to protect these families with kids from sleeping on the street? While advocates duke it out in court with the city, it’s the children who will suffer the most when their safety nets get yanked from beneath them.

I can only imagine what’s going through the minds of families now wondering what they’re going to do next. For a city official to blame the state for developing a crisis is not an excuse to abandon responsibility towards the people they serve. I question if it’s cheaper to build additional shelters rather than improve an existing program so that it keeps people from living on the streets.

Either way, I’ll be watching….

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You know it’s funny….

You know it’s funny to see the expressions on other people’s faces when you tell them you’re homeless, especially when you run across old classmates or friends of family that didn’t know as much as they thought they did. Relax, I tell them. You were expecting to see someone who didn’t look like I do or maybe you thought I had relatives supporting me until I get back on my feet. Sorry to disappoint those preconceived notions.

I am no different from you it’s just that, I lost my job and there aren’t the social services you assumed were in place to catch us when we fall. Maybe you voted to defund programs because you thought the only people who benefited from them were drug addicts too far gone or lazy people who simply didn’t want to work. Maybe you thought that the puny amount of funds our government spends on social services is more than what the government spends outside this country.

Then there are those of you who look at me and wonder why I don’t just go out and live off some man as though that were the only option a woman has in getting a better life. Hasn’t the women’s movement gone beyond that kind of thinking by now? Having a man in your life does not guarantee your life will be any better….

I also think it’s funny when folks ask me how I’m doing even though I post status updates on this blog or on my Facebook page. If you really want to know, try reading. As far as donations go towards fixing the transmission on the mini-van, we are now up to $770.00 which is about 30% of the targeted goal of $2,500.00.

On my little book of poetry, 77 books were sold (Yay!) so I thank each and every one of you who bought and read them! The book I wrote for my oldest daughter, New Descendant, has only sold 5 copies so far but, that’s 5 people reading it and I’m grateful. I know how the book industry goes so it will be a while in getting my stories out to as many as I can, I just have to be patient!

In the meantime, I’m just like everyone else who is looking for full-time work that will enable me NOT to pay for childcare as it is too expensive. When I had two jobs, one of them was solely to pay for childcare.

If you’re reading this, do me a favor. Please don’t feel sorry for me, I’m not asking for pity. I’ve been through a lot worse and maybe sometime in the near future, my experiences with homelessness won’t be in vain. If you realize I’m homeless, don’t suddenly act as though I have a contagious disease, I don’t. I’m the same person you once knew, just in a difficult situation. If you want to help because you believe in the cause that homelessness can be ended, great! I salute you in your efforts to help out!

For the rest of the homeless nation, keep on fighting and don’t give up!

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