Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
I have an idea I'd like to run past you. Do you have any dvds or cds that you no longer watch or listen too? Want to see them put to good use? Want to help make the homeless guy's Christmas a little better? Message me and I'll send you my address. What I don't use, I'll distribute to the other recently unhomeless people now living in my building.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Part 1 can be found at Room In The Inn; Shelter For Homeless People
Room In The Inn is a winter shelter program for homeless people that was started by Father Charles (Charlie) Strobel, in Nashville Tennessee. His model for sheltering homeless people has since been adopted in the following cities:
Calgary, Canada; Charlotte, NC; Chattanooga, TN; Clarksville, TN; Ft. Worth, TX; Hyannis Point, MA; Jackson, TN; Lexington, KY; Long Island, NY; Murfreesboro, TN
The premise is simple. Churches, Synagogues, and other non-profit organizations have facilities that are often under utilized, at least at certain times during the week. And these same organizations hold as part of their core values and beliefs the idea of providing for the less fortunate. Well, Room In The Inn is a program which helps these organizations exercise these values and beliefs, while making good use of their facilities. On any given night during the coldest months of the year, there will be a dozen or so churches, and other organizations, hosting about a dozen homeless people each, within their facilities. There are over 150 churches in the Nashville area within this program. Most of them participate in the program once a week.
Last year, from November 1st until March 31st, Room In The Inn in Nashville provided:
- 139,031 hours of service
- 1,286 individual guests a place for the night
- 29,149 beds
- 88,029 meals
From this bit of information we can gather some interesting statistics. On average, homeless guests participated in Room In The Inn program only 23 nights during the 5 month period of its operation, (total number of beds divided by number of individual guests). This could be due to several factors.
Because so many homeless people want to participate in Room In The Inn, there is not enough room for all of them. Every night about a dozen or more people are turned away.
Also, the average homeless experience lasts only 3 to 4 months. Though some people can be homeless for years, the law of averages would tell us that many people are homeless for only a few days. Some homeless people do travel the country, about 35 percent of them, but most of that traveling occurs during the fall and spring, when the weather is milder.
We can also deduce that it takes approximately 4.76 hours of volunteer service to provide for each homeless guest for the night, (hours of service divided by the number of beds). This would include the person who spends just a few minutes dropping of supplies, to the person who spends 10 hours or more as an overnight host. There are many volunteer opportunities within the Room In The Inn program. It takes a lot of work to make it a success.
Food needs to be prepared and served. Beds need to be made, and laundry of all the linens for those beds need to be done. Drivers pick up and drop off the guests. Dishes need to be washed and put away after the dinner, as well as the clean up of the kitchen and dinning area. If showers and laundry facilities are made available to the homeless guests, someone will need to monitor and clean up after use. And if showers are available, that's more laundry that needs to be done. Someone would have to look after and disperse other supplies. If a clothing room is made available, someone will have to look after that. Beds, in whatever form, will need to be set up and taken down, and properly cleaned after each use. And clean up of the general areas used, and returning them to their regular configuration after the even is over. There are other things that person could do to volunteer, depending on what the organization provides. As you can see, there's a lot of work to be done. But it is a great activity, and you can certainly make short work of these tasks if you have many people involved. The Room In The Inn hand book is available online at RITIHandbook.pdf and it has a lot of great ideas.
Alas, all of the above is information from the administrators of the program. It is all good information, but what is missing is what the homeless have to say about the program. Well, there are a lot of different homeless people with a lot of different opinions. I am one such homeless person who, I imagine, has participated as a guest of Room In The Inn for longer than most, due to my chronically homeless condition. So I take this opportunity to tell some things about Room In The Inn from a homeless person's point of view. Actually, this is the second of three articles about Room In The Inn. Hopefully, it won't be just more of the same in each.
Every time I discuss Room In The Inn, I try to remember to give thanks to all the wonderful people who make the program a success. It is no exaggeration to say that Room In The Inn is the best winter shelter program for homeless people. Although the work of Room In The Inn is geared toward providing for the homeless, the volunteers doing all the work often describe a feeling of receiving more than they give. For all involved there are benefits to be had.
So, without further ado, more advice about Room Inn The Inn from the homeless guy.
- Respect is the key.
It does seem to be Father Strobel's favorite word. He talks about it often, especially in the orientation given to every homeless person before participating in Room In The Inn. For respect to take place it has to be working in all directions. Homeless people need to be respectful of their hosts. And their hosts need to be respectful of the homeless in their care. Some times this doesn't work out as well as hoped. We are all human, and perfects always seems just beyond reach. And that is all the more reason to be respectful of each other as we struggle to get through life.
Although it is usually obvious when a homeless person is being disrespectful towards their hosts and the administrators of Room In The Inn, the disrespect that homeless people sometimes face from their hosts is often less than obvious. And there is a tendency of those providing for others to feel indignant if the work they are doing for others is criticized. Please know that I only say these things with the hopes of making the program better for everyone.
- This is a homeless shelter, not the county lockup.
There are some churches that operate their Room In The Inn programs with the expectation that the homeless will misbehave. They treat the homeless more like prisoners in jail than like guests in church. Every unexpected move by a homeless person is questioned. Someone is always standing guard, watching every single thing that the homeless do. Yet equally disrespectful are those churches that pay no attention at all to their homeless guests. At one church in particular, the hosts leave the church after dinner is served, leaving the homeless alone to fend for themselves until the hosts return in the morning.
It is possible for a homeless person to misbehave but just the presence of someone from the church will discourage most every problem. The homeless know that to be disrespectful to anyone in the program is risking being banned from the program permanently.
When your guests first arrive at your church, please give them brief and accurate instructions on what is expected of them, including the basics of their sleeping arrangements. Some people have been hosting Room In The Inn events for so long that they get sloppy about this, forgetting to give out certain information, or worse, that they just assume that the homeless people in their care already know. Although you may feel you are only repeating yourself, and perhaps preaching to the choir, know from the statistics mentioned previously that there's a good chance that at least one person in your care has never been to your church for Room In The Inn before, and so they have no idea what's going on. And, again, your guests will only be with you for the night. There is no need to go into a long dissertation. Too many rules can ruin a good evening just as much as no rules. And, the homeless already know that you are doing this because of your devotion to, and love for, God. There is no need to belabor that point.
- The more organized the church, the better the Room In The Inn program.
That seems pretty obvious but it couldn't hurt being talked about. There are some churches that have a completely different crew each week and they seem completely lost on what to do, and often they have to rely on the homeless to help them through it. And there are other churches where there are very few volunteers from the church, and they are stuck with having to do all the work every single week. And these people often get burned out long before the season is over. What seems to work best is to have two or three main organizers who are there every week who know where everything is and how everything is supposed to be done, and they supervise the work being done by a new and different crew of volunteers each week. That allows for consistency and dependability and for involving as many people as possible from the church, or organization, in the work to be done. The Cathedral of The Incarnation on West End Avenue and First Baptist Downtown Nashville are excellent examples of this. Each takes in 30 to 40 homeless people at a time. Such volume requires good organization.
- Talk Talk Talk
- Sleeping in.
Even God takes a day off once a week to rest up. But there is no such thing for homeless people. At the Nashville Rescue Mission the men are awaken at 5am 6 days a week. On Sunday, they are allowed to sleep in until 5:30am. Week after week, this can become a pain, if not a health hazard. And although churches are allowed to set their own hours, they all seem to follow this same time table. If I could make one request of the program, I would ask that at least one day a week the homeless be allowed to sleep in to a more sane hour, perhaps 7 or 8am. You have no idea what a luxury that would be for the homeless. The added rest would be a tremendous benefit.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Sure, I did write about this recently, but the subject is important, and more needs to be said about it, and often.
Homeless people have many needs, but most importantly, they need a true friend. By true friend I mean someone who will stick by them no matter what. The stress of becoming homeless, and the stress of being homeless can cause a person to do some odd or extreme things, which will cause most people to recoil. But a true friend would not abandon a person when they become homeless.
Being a homeless person's friend is not always an easy thing to be. You have to be smart about it. A homeless person may ask you to do things that you are not comfortable with. If that is the case, then don't do them. But you don't have to entirely reject your homeless friend because you refuse do to certain things for him/her. A homeless person who is also an alcoholic may ask you to buy him/her a bottle of wine. You might not think that a good idea, and you'd probably be right about that. So don't do it. And that may also hold true for other things a homeless friend may ask of you, like cash, or other things that may end up enabling their addiction, or other problems.
Still, a friend who is supportive and encouraging is the best thing a homeless person can have, and will be the most effective in helping the homeless person get out of their homeless situation.
Other than a friend there are some things homeless people need or could certainly use while in their homeless situation.
- Clean clothes that are in good condition. Not only is it good for the homeless person's self esteem, it helps the homeless person to socialize in the realm of the non-homeless, if they at least don't look like a homeless person. Dirty, ratty clothes are one of the biggest giveaways that a person is homeless. And so many people reject those who even look homeless.
- A place to store their valuables and other things. The homeless environment is such that it is very easy for a homeless person to lose his valuables, or for his valuables to be stolen from him. Having a safe place to store his things helps him to keep his valuables, and keep all his possessions in good order. Lockers at homeless shelters are often available but are relatively expensive for a homeless person to rent. Perhaps you could make arrangements with a shelter to pay for the monthly locker rental of a homeless person.
- Or I have known that some people allow a homeless friend to keep things at their house, or in a storage shed in their back yard. Of course I would only recommend this if you know the homeless person really well. Perhaps you know their family, or you knew them before they became homeless.
- Toiletries for keeping clean and presentable. This would include everything from soap and shampoo to razors and shaving cream - combs, brushes, nail clippers or files, make up, deodorant, etc., etc.
- A Sturdy Back Pack. Of the less expensive brands, Jansport, has proven itself over and over to handle the riggers or homeless life better than the others. I know this from personal experience as well as hearing from other homeless people. When looking for a backpack we always look for a Jansport first. (And I feel I must tell you that this is my unsolicited endorsement. I have not been approached by any backpack manufacturer, or other business interest for my review of items.)
- Seasonally appropriate attire and accessories. Coats in winter, shorts in summer. And certainly, clothing items and accessories such as mittens and flip flops will be different in Fargo than in San Diego.
- Blankets and sleeping pads. The reason that you see homeless people carrying around cardboard is that the cardboard provides a layer of protection between them and the cold concrete they often sleep on. But cardboard is unwieldy and unattractive. A roll up sleeping pad, such as used for Yoga, would help considerably. Blankets are important too, even in warm weather a person should stay covered when they sleep. It is necessary for homeless people to remain unseen when they sleep, so although those shiny aluminum emergency blankets are effective at keeping a person warm and are relatively inexpensive, homeless people I know will not use them. Still, it may be different for homeless people in your area. Ask around to be certain.
- Food and a warm place. Cards, or gift certificates to fast food restaurants and cafes allow a homeless person to get decent food and drink, and allow them to get inside somewhere out of the elements. Subway food is healthier than McDonalds, but Subway doesn't sell coffee, at least not around here.
- Toilets and restroom facilities. Not many businesses allow the homeless to use their restroom facilities, and few cities offer public restrooms anymore. Still, homeless people need to go somewhere, especially late at night or after business hours. If they go where they are not supposed to, they may get a ticket, or get sent to jail. Talk to your local homeless shelter about allowing their facilities to be open 24 hours a day, or have your city install public restrooms or portajohns in public areas that homeless people frequent.
- Opportunities to make money and reconnect with society. Employment is the key to reentering society. But employment can be extremely difficult to obtain for homeless people. Few people will openly hire homeless people, so homeless people have to lie to get jobs. Also, homeless people may be feeling depressed or unworthy of employment and so will be reluctant to go looking for permanent full time employment. The thing is, temporary work pays very little, and does not offer dependable employment that a person can use to get out of homelessness. Selling homeless newspapers is often the best solution to getting a homeless person working and making their own money. Being homeless actually qualifies a person to sell homeless newspapers, so the homeless person does not have to lie to get the job. The homeless person is allowed to set their own hours, and can work in an area of town that is most convenient for them, since they are in essence working for themselves. They are paid in cash for the papers they sell, so they don't need a bank account for cashing a paycheck. And they have immediate access to the money they have earned too. They immediately see the reward for their labor, and that helps them to build their feeling of self worth. If you would like information on how to start a homeless newspaper in your city, contact the North American Street Newspaper Association.
Friday, December 4, 2009
It has been an activity of homeless advocates for years, especially of the political activist type, to cajole people into listening to the homeless and their stories of life on the streets. They do so with the belief that in giving homeless people the opportunity to voice their experiences, that the public will become better educated about street life, and that policy makers will make better decisions on how to deal with homelessness issues.
I have learned, though, from my many years experience living with homeless people, that most homeless are just as ignorant about homelessness as non-homeless people are. And they are unwilling to face some hard facts about their own homelessness, mostly because these facts potentially put them in an unfavorable light.
As much as non-homeless people believe certain myths about homelessness, so to do homeless people believe myths about their own homelessness. And often it is the homeless themselves who perpetuate those myths.
This is not to say that everything that homeless people say about their experiences is incorrect, inaccurate, or biased. But what most homeless people say about homelessness should not be taken at face value either. when talking to homeless people about homelessness it would be wise to vet homeless people to determine if they have given serious consideration to their homeless situation, and also determine the extent to which they are willing to be honest, and whether they have the ability to discern the truth of their situation.
Homeless people can tell some exciting, harrowing, depressing, pitiful or otherwise entertaining stories about street life, but when it comes to telling the truth about the causes and effects of their own homelessness they are often less than forthcoming.
Look for homeless people who understand this concept, and who have worked their way past their own fears and prejudices, and who have come to accept their own culpability, as well as the other issues that have lead to their homelessness . And, listen to those homeless people the most.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
To End Homelessness, first we have to stop thinking of "homeless" as a category of people, or category of an ailment that afflicts people. Homelessness is only a symptom of several different ailments, many of which have nothing in common, except for the state of homelessness of the one inflicted.
This is a list of material possessions homeless people need to survive. Sure, there are many things that homeless people need that have nothing to do with material possessions, but I'll write about that another time.
I will mention this, though. Sure, giving away your hand-me-downs is easy. These things you were not using or were going to throw away anyways can be used by homeless people. But know that looking like a homeless person wearing someones discarded items has a negative psychological effect on homeless people that can worsen and extend their homeless experience. Critical to a homeless person's recovery from homelessness is a feeling of worth, and dignity. Being able to wear decent clothing, being able to not look like a homeless person, provides many benefits for homeless people.
- Coats - with hoods is a bonus. Hoods help keep the wind and rain off, and the warmth in.
- Socks - Homeless people go through socks fast. Homelessness is tough on feet, and keeping feet healthy is difficult in the homeless environment.
- Blankets - especially for the homeless who won't or can't get into a shelter. Still, some shelters have little in the way of blankets and so the homeless are allowed to use their own as well.
- Backpacks - they wear out fast with daily use. Now, I'm not much for making endorsements of products, but time after time I've learned that JanSport backpacks are by far the best of the lesser expensive backpacks. They hold up very well.
- Toiletries - toothpaste and toothbrush, deodorant, comb or brush, fingernail clippers, soap, shampoo, razors, shaving cream, tissues, aspirin, lotion, chapstick, etc
- Knit Caps - in natural colors please. Sure, a florescent pink cap with fuzzy knobs may look cute on a coed, but not on your average homeless guy.
- Tents - more and more homeless people are sleeping outside, and good inexpensive tents can be found, if you don't already have one you don't use. Walmart usually has a good selection at a good price.
- Rain Ponchos - They work better than umbrellas because they can cover a backpack and other carried things. It may be tempting to buy and pass out cheap ponchos, but know that the will be worn often in rainy snowy climates and the cheaper stuff will wear out and tear after only a few uses.
- Bus Passes - or bus tokens are easy to get from your local transit authority.
Ending homelessness is easier than you might think. And it is a simple thing to do. So, you may ask, why don't we do it, why don't we end homelessness? Well, the answer is just as simple. The reason we don't end homelessness in the U.S.A. is due to a lack of political will.
People judge the homeless as not being worthy of help, plain and simple.
In Nashville Tennessee, they have a program where they can provide housing and all needed services to the homeless at a cost of 17,000 dollars a year per person. Given that the homeless population in the U.S.A. at any given time averages one million people, the cost of housing every single homeless person in this country for an entire year would cost only 17 Billion dollars. That's less than what our government spends in Iraq in two months.
The beauty if this is, the average homeless experience lasts only 3 to 4 months. So, although one million people may be housed at any one time in this scenario, about 4 million people would be rescued from homelessness every year. 4 million homeless people put back into real jobs, paying real taxes, (plus the other jobs that would be created for it) would pay for most of such a program.
So, why don't we do it?
(Sure, many of my posts are really exercises in fleshing out ideas I've been kicking around for some time. And so they may seem a bit unfocused, or rambling. Please remember that I am mostly self taught. I imagine that if I were to receive a real education that my work here would seem more coherent.)
When dealing with a subject like homelessness, people attempt to make their observations about homelessness conform to other preconceived notions they have about life, instead of seeing homelessness for what it really is.
Nearly everyone has an agenda of one kind or another, and it seems more prevalent in the United States. The word 'Agenda' is defined as "a list of things to do." And in our society, which is dominated by Capitalism, we have deemed "purpose" as an essential life goal.
Purpose is defined as "something set up as an object or end to be attained" and of course to attain an object or end, one must follow a list of things to do. No longer is it acceptable in our society to just be. Not only do we insist on a purpose for ourselves, we expect it of others too. We certainly are not content to let others just be, regardless of what our poets sing. Every single person is expected to assign his/her self to some purpose.
To achieve a purpose in life we must create an agenda. But even more than that we need to justify our actions. Not only can we not just let people "be" we are constantly questioning what other people are doing and why they are doing it, as if it were some how people's responsibility to dissect each others purposes and judge them accordingly. And we judge people in an attempt to assign them, not only their place within society, but to assign their worth as well.
So, with much practice and effort we have developed very intricate and evolved philosophies that justify our actions. Some of these philosophies are now so pervasive as to have become national creeds. And many people have been holding to these philosophies, justifications for their actions really, for so long that they no longer see them as man made ideas, but as laws of nature, and often divinely inspired. As such, these philosophies are considered beyond questioning.
Homelessness doesn't fit into any of the prescribed agendas currently in place in our society, and so people really don't know what to make of it, except to say that there is something wrong with it, and as much as possible to exclude homeless people from the rest of society.
Moreover, homelessness challenges most people's preconceived notions about life. At which point people are forced to do one of two things, either change their ideas about life, or attempt to reconcile their beliefs with homelessness. And as much as their particular philosophies about life are incorrect, their ideas and beliefs about homelessness will also be incorrect. And thus whatever attempts they make at ending homelessness will fail.
Neither Capitalism nor Fundamentalist Christianity adequately answer for, or justify homelessness within the context of the bigger philosophies they purport. And sadly, these are the two most dominant philosophies of life within the United States. Fundamentalist Christians don't see their religion as a means of relating to God, but as an entire life philosophy that dictates what actions they take in every aspect of life. And Capitalism for most people isn't just a means of exchanging cash for goods and services, but is very much like a religion with its own philosophy that dictates their actions like their religion does. And especially in the U.S. people often mix the two, Fundamentalist Christianity and Capitalism into a strange Nationalistic Philosophy they insist is divinely inspired. When approached with an idea like homelessness, these people's usual reaction is to reject the homeless person for not conforming to the ideas they hold dear.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I guess that depends on what you consider to be "a lot." According to most estimates Nashville's homeless population size is average for the country.
I determined this on very circumstantial information considering that it is very difficult to count the homeless population, and all counting of homeless people has been inaccurate to a degree.
There are many homeless people who do not want to be counted as homeless. Many homeless people hide, others are constantly on the move, the population changes constantly for many factors, including seaonally. And the methods used to count the homeless are not very accurate or scientific.
Then there are the people with a political agenda who want the population of homeless to appear smaller than it really is, and there are others with a political agenda who want it to appear larger than it really is.
Because of this, estimates of the homeless population can be off by as much as 50%, that is, in my estimation. Some surveys will include or exclude people who are in housing but by circumstances may be considered homeless, such as people temporarily staying with friends or relatives, or living in camp grounds, or in cheap motels.
According to numbers collected by different organizations, including the National Coalition for the Homeless, the homeless population ran approximately 1 homeless person for every 400 people. That would mean that in Nashville, with a population of about 600,000 people, there are 1500 homeless. Of course, I came up with this information about 5 years ago, before the big economic collapse. And in the past 5 years there has been a noticable and steady increase in the homeless population in Nashville. And I base that mostly on the fact that it has been increasingly more difficult to get a bed at homeless shelters. There are more homeless people attempting to get into shelters - the lines are longer than ever. And about 5 years ago the Downtown Presbyterian Church began serving breakfast to the homeless on Sunday mornings. At first only 50 to 80 people showed up for this breakfast. Now, that number has tripled. I think it is possible that Nashville's homeless population could be as many as 3000.