Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Homeless In A Shelter Versus Outside

Overall, more homeless people live in shelters than outside.   Roughly two thirds of all homeless people live in shelters.   One third of homeless people live outside.   There are many factors that come into play that lead a homeless person in one direction or another.   Where a homeless person stays is determined more by situations and conditions than just choice.

Every situation and condition can be found in the homeless environment, regardless of the place.  Still, no two places are the same.  The situations and conditions of the homeless environment very mostly by degree.  For example, in some cities there exists two or more types of homeless shelter, in other cities, there is only one.   In the cities were there is only one type of homeless shelter, it will most likely be run by a religious organization.   In the greater Boston area, there are 21 homeless shelters, most of which are run by the city.   In the Nashville area there are four shelters, one is run by fundamentalist christians, one is run by many denominations, though it leans catholic, and the other is the salvation army.  One is a family only shelter.  The shelter run by the fundamentalist christians is by far the largest.   In Las Vegas there are a half dozen shelters, most are religious some are not.  But the largest shelter there is run by Catholics.    And Catholics and Fundamentalist Christians run shelters very differently.   The Catholic shelters tend to be more compassionate by meeting the needs of the homeless, whereas fundamentalist christian shelters focus more on condemnation of sin, and on conversion to their denomination.   As one director of the Nashville Rescue mission has been quoted as saying "I'm not here to end homelessness, I'm here to make christians."   There may be a correlation between this approach to homeless sheltering and the fact that fundamentalist christian shelters have a reputation of being where most violence occurs.

So, let us now compare some of the differences between living in a shelter with living outside.

1. Autonomy - Perhaps "independence" would be a better word.   Living outside allows a person to be themselves, and as much as possible, in control of one's self.  When staying in a shelter, a person must relinquish control over what he does and where he goes, while in the shelter.   To many homeless people, this giving up of control is equivalent to relinquishing their sense of dignity and self respect.  When a homeless person lives outside he is beholding only to himself and what he deems best for himself and his situation.  When living in a shelter, a person must give up his own ideas of right and wrong behavior, and must submit to the rules of the shelter.   Certainly rules alone are not a bad thing, especially when operating a large facility.  But most shelters create an excess of rules that even none homeless people would have a difficult time conforming to them all.  Shelter workers usually work with very little oversight or training and often distort the rules or making up rules to suit their personal ideas of right and wrong.  These shelter employees, because of the lack of supervision, will mistreat the homeless, to which the homeless have no recourse.

2. Safety - Often, shelters promote themselves as a safe alternative to living on the streets. But from all I've experienced that is not always the case.   It all depends on how the internal operations of the shelter are managed.   In a shelter I stayed at in Las Vegas, there were always two guards awake the entire night within each dormitory.   In Nashville, there were no guards in the dorms.  The only person "on duty" during the night was in an office a good distance away from the dorms.  And it was not unusual to find this person asleep.   Actually, the environment within shelters can be conducive to violence and theft and drug abuse.  Shelters are always crowded, and the homeless become frustrated for having to wait long periods for services, usually having to stand in lines, on their feet, for hours.  Then when services are rendered they are less than adequate for the homeless person's needs.   Fights only happen occasionally in shelters, but the stress of being in a shelter creates an environment where the homeless are constantly being aggravated and anger is constantly being expressed by one person or another.  Theft happens more often.  And although drugs are not allowed in shelters, the addicts will just partake of drugs immediately before entering a shelter, and will be able to sneak drugs in when shelter employees become lax in their duties.   Still, within a shelter, when a fight breaks out, usually there is someone around to break up the fight, and the offenders are removed from the shelter.  But that depends on the situation.  It is not uncommon for the instigator of a fight to con the shelter workers into believing that he was actually the victim, and his victim is escorted off the property.

Although street predators do exist, homeless people can keep themselves safe by keeping their guard up and paying attention to their environment.   This involves such things as deciding where and how to sleep at night, staying sober, and having a sense of their changing environment, to know who you can trust, and to know when a peaceful situation is about to become ugly.   As with all people, homeless people don't usually pick on random people to fight.  Fights, for the most part, only happen when one homeless person feels they have been wronged by another homeless person.  Keeping to one's self is the best protection from such fighting or retaliation.   I can't tell you how many arguments and fights I've seen, just because one homeless person asked another homeless person to watch his possessions while he's away, and that other homeless person not fulfilling that promise as expected.    It starts out something like this:

     "you said you'd watch my stuff for me while I went to the food stamp office.  when I came back you weren't here"
     "well, you were gone for 4 hours, I wasn't going to stick around all day waiting for your ass to get back, I had something I had to do too"
     "I just stopped on the way back at the store to get some beer"
     "Well, let me have a beer then"
     "No, we drank it all already."

Then the yelling starts, then perhaps then shoving, and the fists fly.   Usually it's only one or two punches and it's over.   Revenge violence is more of a concern.   If you've upset a homeless person, and they know where you are sleeping, they  might attack you while you sleep.   Still such occurrences are rare and most homeless people will never experience it.   Just as often, it happens that two homeless people are drunk, one gets mad over something the other did.  He shoves the other guy, the other guy falls and hits his head on a rock.   Death wasn't intended, accidents happen a lot to drunks.

...to be continued.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Please Send A Donation Today

Advocacy Difficulty

Actually, it's the most difficult thing for people to do, not just homeless advocates.  When considering what's best for the homeless, people cannot help but attach their own world view to the process.   If it is a religious person, their answer to the question "what's best for homeless people?" will always reflect a religious answer. Or if a person is a big proponent of Capitalism, their answer to the question will reflect capitalistic ideals.   And, of course, there are as many different world views as their are people.

But none of these responses to the question offer a "what is best for homeless people" answer.

First and foremost, when considering what is best for the homeless, people MUST strip themselves of all preconceived notions, not just about homeless people, but about life in general.   Only after doing so will they be able to accurately see what will best answer that question.

The first step is to rid one's self of all sorts of prejudices and emotions they have attached to the subject of homelessness.  Then they have to step outside of themselves and acknowledge that what may work well for themselves may not work well for others.   Only then can a person see through to the actual needs of others, and to what would be best for them.

If only temporarily, let go of your religion, let go of your politics, let go of your own personal up bringing, let go of your personal world view and philosophy of life.   Then look upon the homeless for who they truly are, and what would actually work best at ending their homelessness.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Evictions And A Conviction

There are some apartment buildings, mostly SROs, that offer cheaper rent than normal.  To qualify to live in such a place, you have to prove that you don't make very much money.   For this service, the government subsidizes the apartment building owner, to make up the difference of what the building would have earned otherwise.

Our government, having no other function but to create and enforce laws, is constantly making more laws - even when additional laws are not necessary.   Politicians like to show off, like to prove that they are doing their jobs, by creating more and more laws.   It has gotten to the point that when a person commits a single criminal act, that person can be found guilty of violating several laws.  It is overkill to be sure.  But I digress.

Besides laws concerning crimes, government also creates regulatory laws.   And one of it's favorite subjects to regulate is the help it provides to the poor and disabled.   Always fearful that someone might get away with abusing the system, this system has been overly burdened with regulations - to the point that often the regulations prevent any help from getting to those it was intended for.

Say, for example, you become poor because you lost your job.   Well, what happens after losing your job?  You can't pay your rent.  And what happens when you can't pay your rent?  You are evicted from your home/apartment.    Now, guess what one of the requirements is for getting a low rent apartment?  That's right, you are not allowed to have even a single eviction on your record.  In addition, you aren't allowed to have a criminal record either.    A person commits a felony.  When he gets out of prison, he has a difficult time finding a well paying job.  He lives in poverty.  He can only afford one of these low rent SROs.  But, because of his previous conviction, his application for the apartment is denied.

As for myself, I have 2 evictions, and one conviction of a misdemeanor offense. Additionally, the amount I receive from SSI doesn't allow me to live in but the cheapest of apartments - that's if I'm ever able to find one that will accept me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cement Surfing

Ok, so I think I just invented a new word/phrase here.   When a homeless person goes to a friends house and sleeps on his couch, then goes to another friends house and sleeps on that couch, and this goes on for a while, it is called "couch surfing" (not to be confused with "sidewalk surfers" people on skateboards).    So it only seems right that sleeping outside on the sidewalk, or on some similar material, like asphalt, concrete, etc, it should  be referred to as "cement surfing".

There are many ways in which to do so effectively, but in very case it is imperative to have something between the cement and yourself.   The most commonly used material is cardboard.  It's free from dumpsters, it is light weight/portable, and easily disposable.   And it does the job satisfactorily.

It is interesting how sleeping on bare cement can be harmful and more uncomfortable than sleeping on any other type of material... the cold of it will creep into your bones and sap your strength.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Do Not Be A Pack Rat

It is so very tempting.  You go to some soup kitchen to eat.  While there some people drop off some items for the homeless.   You peruse the variety of things, mostly clothing items.   You see a nearly new pair of shoes.  They are your size.   You don't know when you'll find another pair in this good of condition that will fit.

The problem is, you already have two pairs of shoes - the one's you are wearing, and the other pair that is dangling off your back pack by its shoe strings.   In survival mode it's hard to make that decision.   The shoes have value, and they are free. As a person with little or no money, being able to accumulate material goods is a way of compensating.

For many homeless people the temptation is too great and in a short amount of time they amass more stuff than they know what to do with, their collection becomes a huge burden.  Having to keep up with shopping carts full of possessions is no way to be homeless.

It is best if you can limit your things to fit in just one medium sized backpack.  You will be able to get around town easier, you don't have to worry about things you've stashed around town.  And you won't be so obviously homeless to the people you meet.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Perfection Stifles

Perfection takes time... no ... wait.  Perfection isn't real, it only exists as a concept, something to strive for, as a means of improving oneself.   Those people who are never satisfied, always looking to improve things, we call them perfectionists.   But I think that's a misnomer.   A real perfectionist is a person so hung up on doing things perfectly each and every time, that he ends up not doing anything at all - because all his mind can see is imperfection.  He hesitates in doing most everything until he believes he can do it perfectly.  (Of course you know, I"m actually talking about myself here).    Another way that my family, my parents - even my brother, older by 3 years, instilled such negative thinking into my brain, is that, no matter what I did, regardless of how I did, they would not comment until the found some imperfection in it and would harp on it.  My mother was the worst at it, or should I say "best" at it.  But my father followed suit, and eventually, the rest of the extended family fell in line, thinking that this was just the way I needed to be treated.  (This is the main reason why I love the Cincinnati side of my family so much, they never saw this, never became a part of it, and, whenever I was able to visit with them, they treated me like a human being, like an equal.)

It started about the time I began school.  They immediately started comparing me to my brother.  And although I don't recall them ever saying, "why can't you be more like your brother," it was an underlying theme for them.

This treatment, this harping on the parts of things I didn't do well, and in the same vein, ignoring any real accomplishments I made, they instilled a fear in me.   A fear that, if I did not achieve perfection, then I would suffer all their negativity again.   And I was smart enough to know that perfection wasn't in me, so I eventually got to a point where I just stopped trying to do things.  It was a means of survival for me, a method of avoiding the pain of their inevitable condemnation, of the things i did, of me.

Instead of building me up, they constantly tore me down.  They treated me as worthless, and for this I believed myself worthless.  To a large extent, I still do.

What You Say Matters

It really does. Regardless of who you are talking to, the words you use, the manner in which you use them, and the intent behind them, all have an effect on the people receiving those words.   Any denial of this fact is a denial of one's own humanity.

For the first part of my life, nearly every word spoken to me was negative, even if what was said wasn't about me, although most of it was.   Those mean, hateful, negative words, most of which came out of the mouths of my immediate family, still echo in my head today.   Any time I consider making any decision, I have to fight through the cloud of negativity that lingers in my head, before I can make it a reality.  Even as an adult, I always hesitate before moving forward, and often times I talk myself out of doing things, using those negative words, negative ideas, that were instilled in me so long ago.

It's funny, even when my parents were motivated to say something positive to me, they couldn't help but tag something negative to the end of it - backhanded compliments, if you will.

    "Oh, nice job getting an A on that school assignment.  Why can't you do that more often"?  or "... sure, but that's an easy class."  etc.

These words are still with me today, and have become an obstacle to living a fuller life.

Remember this, and don't make the same mistake with the people in your life.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quoting Iain De Jong

This guy really tells it like it is, and he can prove what he says.  He really is a genius; no wonder we agree on so many things.  Still, he says it much better than I can.   Although I have blogged on this subject before, I want you to read Iain's own words.   Then you need to start visiting his blog on a regular basis, you'll become smarter for it, I'm sure. You will find Iain's blog at www.orgcode.com

Ultracrepidarianism and Fauxpinions 
The first is a real word. The second one is made up. They are both related.

The first is to have opinions outside of one’s area of expertise or knowledge.

The second is to present opinions as facts when the opinion is not based upon fact.

In the world of social change, both hamper and thwart efforts to be effective.

Consider that most public policy is crafted and approved by legislators that do not have subject matter expertise regarding the matter that they are enshrining into law, funding, rights, etc. But they do have opinions. Regardless of what the public service may have put before them by way of data, research, experience of other jurisdictions, framing of pros and cons, financial impacts, etc., it is always the prerogative in a democracy for elected officials to deviate from the advice they are given and craft an approach based upon opinions alone.

This is the wretched, recurring uhtceare moment for the skeptical empiricist that would rather see evidence drive us to discussion and deliberation rather than opinion. Examples: mandatory minimums do not deter crime, but we seem to have an opinion that they do so and legislators create more reasons and longer sentences; sobriety is not a precondition for success in housing, but we seem to still fund and support a litany of recovery services that masquerade as homeless services and reinforce a false notion that people can only remain housed if they are sober; countries that have a long history of same-sex marriages and unions have not seen a deterioration of their moral fabric or destruction of opposite-sex marriages and unions, yet there remain some circles that fear-monger and suggest that such a thing will occur.

While we can see the snollygoster making such opinions possible in the realm of policy – and the populace is mumbudget – perhaps it is worse when fauxpinion takes fervent root. Another way of looking at the fauxpinion – the repeat of a lie enough times that people come to accept it as truth.

The master of the fauxpinion exists in just about every community. I find they are often long-term disciples within the service they work. They are held with reverence or placated rather than challenged. They hold power because they have woven their fauxpinions into some semblance of truth that has actually formed the foundation of the approach to addressing the social issue. Examples: the provision of survival supports like sleeping bags and food as a necessary ingredient to get people off the streets; addressing economic poverty is the only true way to combat housing instability; chronically homeless people (or a large subset thereof) prefers to be homeless than housed.

We need to shine a light on data in meaningful ways to get it into the discussion of public policy and social change. We need to present it with certainty and in terms that lay people can understand and use immediately. And we need to be assured because we can prove it that decisions based upon sound data and research is better than approaches founded solely on opinions that are beyond the subject matter expertise of the decision-maker, or based solely upon false facts that have tried to translate opinions into sounding like facts.