Thursday, March 28, 2013

Life Is A Struggle

It is often said that nothing worth while is easy.  A weight lifter does not become stronger by lifting weights that he knows he can.   To improve your life a struggle will be  required.   But, it is best to know the nature of your struggle. If you push and push and push but don't seem to get any where, perhaps you need to pull.  And don't struggle just for the sake of struggling. A caterpillar struggles to become a butterfly, but if it struggles to become a turtle, it's just wasting its time.  We will all do much better to accept people for who and what they are, and stop trying to turn people into reflections of ourselves.  It really is ok to be different.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Christmas at Easter

Well, it's not Easter yet, it's Tuesday, and Tuesday is when Candy Christmas (a real person's name), brings her ministry to the poor and homeless under the Jefferson St bridge in  Nashville.   Check out

Today was the  first time I'd ever gone to the bridge, (actually it's under the bridge), when Candy Christmas was there.   It was cold, near freezing, but that didn't stop anyone.   Hundreds of homeless, and hundreds of volunteers, showed up.   Being that it's Spring Break there were perhaps more volunteers than homeless people.

It was everything you'd expect from a church ministry.   It was along the style of television evangelism, but toned down for the streets. Gospel singing along with pretaped backing musical instruments.   There was a sermon.  And there was food.   Thank goodness they let us eat while the sermon was going on.   It's really frustrating to have  to wait until the sermon is over - many homeless will get cranky while waiting to eat, and that's usually when some kind of violent outburst takes place.   Well, there was no violence, but a car in the parking lot did catch fire just as the sermon was about to start.   Dinner was barbeque chicken and beans.   After the service was over, they had an enormous amount of boxed food for people to take home.

Candy, though an evangelical preacher, has been doing this service long enough that she's developed some street smarts, and she uses that in her sermon.  Of course there were still parts of the service that I have a particular distaste for, like the use of fear to force conformity, but she didn't harp on it.   The length of the service was well within tolerable limits for me.

The most important thing is that I was running low on food at home, and  I have no more money until next month.    So the food, especially the food box, was a true blessing for me, and I'm very grateful for it.   People always say that we should thank god for blessings, but I know that this blessing came from the  people involved in this ministry, and so I thank them.   They helped me out in the nick of time.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Personal Assessment

I do this every once in a while.   Now seems a good time to do it again.    I'm about to go through a big change in my living situation, it's only fair that people know why.

To begin with I should admit, (well it's pretty obvious), that I'm not the same person I was 5 years ago when I moved into my current residence.   Five years ago, I was tired.  I was tired in the way a person feels like they've lived all the life they could and there was no point in going any further.  My physical exhaustion was second only to my spiritual/emotion exhaustion.

Then, I got into housing, with the help of case management.   This case management also offered to help with other aspects of my life.  The first major accomplishment by case management was arranging for me to see my children, whom I had not seen in years.  Things were certainly looking up.   I had been blogging for several years already, and one of the main motivators for doing so, besides the obvious need to tell the story of homelessness, was that, if my children ever decided they wanted to find me, I wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to do so.   This blog has always been popular, so I knew a simple google search of my name would send my kids directly here.   And if they so chose, they could contact via my email address.

Sadly, things did not progress well with my kids.   There had been too many years between us, and with them living 90 miles away, there was little opportunity for us to develop a relationship.  After a few visits and some facebook messaging, my kids and I drifted apart.

With the idea of reestablishing a relationship with my kids all but gone, the next productive thing to do was to get into therapy.   If I was to move on and create a better life for myself, I would have to deal with my depression and anxiety issues.  I had more success with this than with my kids, for a while, anyway.  In the past several years I've come to understand my psychological issues, most of which are associated with Asperger's Syndrome and my parent's misunderstanding of me and my condition.  Much of what my parents did to me as a child, which in their eyes was supposed to make me a better person, were actually the worst possible things anyone can do to someone with Asperger's.

On another front in the effort to improve my life situation, I searched out alternative ways to make a living, since my Asperger's prevents me from doing the normal 9 to 5 type of employment.   Most of my efforts in this regard were internet based.   And with varying degrees of success, each attempt eventually failed. 

 Much of my failings was due to my lack of actual skill.  And not understanding my lack of skill was due mostly to my living a life in denial.   It was a philosophy I learned from my parents.  I understand how it can work for some people - overcoming an obstacle by denying that the obstacle exists.   The problem for me is, Asperger's is a problem that no amount of denial is going to help.   Asperger's cannot be cured.  The best anyone with the condition can hope for is to develop good coping skills.  No one with Asperger's can hope to live a decent life without those good coping skills.    And people wonder why I've spent so much of my life homeless.   Now you know.  And now I know.

Much of my time in therapy was teaching me those skills, but although I have the knowledge, I've been unable to apply them successfully to life.  Most of life is about connecting with other people, and other than meeting with people on the most cursory level,  I still can't bring myself to engage people on a meaningful level.  My social phobia is strong.  I hit a wall of sorts and could go no further in therapy.   I began withdrawing, even more than my usual withdrawn life style.  I stopped making progress.  I was stalled out.

Then, out of the blue my case manager came to me with a job offer - a job with the state.   It seemed as though this was going to be the answer to all my issues.  It would harness what skills I did have, and my past job experience.  And it would pay enough for me to have a normal life.    The job was handed to me without having to jump through the usual hoops.  Everyone was so supportive.  Training for the job was hard but I was handling it.  I was getting along well with my co-workers.   Things were looking good.    But when it came time to do the actual job, something went askew.   Just at the point when the job started in earnest, the demand for the particular task we were assigned with dropped dramatically.  Because of this, we were given another similar but different job to do.  And this change, this new job for which I was not prepared for, became my undoing.   The stress was more than I could deal with, I started having serious anxiety issues, I couldn't sleep, and I couldn't do the job.   After a month and a half, I was unemployed.

This defeat took a heavy toll.  Though on the outside I kept up a good appearance, I was crumbling away on the inside.   A few short months later my case manager informed me that the case management company was dropping me as a client.   Although they used other wording to make it seem less offensive, the reality was I was no longer going to have the kind of case management that I needed.     My new case manager wasn't really providing me with case management.  Instead, he began the process of securing my disability - which he did, successfully.   My psychological history, along with case management files and mental health examinations, I was deemed disabled for my mental health condition.   Along with Asperger's, I have some serious bouts with depression and my social phobia is no joke.

So, what am I to do with this new reality?   Well, it's not really new accept to me.  I've dropped enough of the denial to accept more of what I truly am.   What I should do, what I am expected to do, is to just accept charity for my living, including living quietly in government housing, and just wind down the last of my years.   But the thought of that bothers me to no end.   I've known too many people who just decided, at a relatively early age,, to resign themselves to sitting in an easy chair and watching Wheel of Fortune for the rest of their lives.   Despite the many and often severe obstacles in my life, I have to do something with myself.    And there's nothing that I can do just sitting in this dumpy little apartment.   So, when my lease is up at the end of this month, I'm moving out.   Yes, initially this means going back to living on the streets, but it also means freeing myself up enough to do something with what few years of my life I have left.   I'll be lucky if I have 10 good years left in me.  I might as well make the most of them.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Two Sides To Everything

I have been reminded recently, in discussions I’ve had with people about the appointment of the newest Pope, that there truly are two sides to everything. It was fascinating to watch how some people were quick to cast dispersions on the new Pope, as well as the whole of the Catholic Church. Sadly, their criticisms were not without merit. Still, I have seen the good side of the Catholic Church and its members. Some say that the harm the Catholic Church has caused, including most recently the abuse of children and the subsequent denial and cover up. Still,  all across this country, the poor and the homeless are receiving food and shelter and clothing, and opportunities for a better life, from the very same church.

Every day I read about yet another city that has decided to go with the “harass the homeless to get them to leave” approach. After a short period of time the streets of the city have fewer homeless people on them. Citizens praise the city leaders for the “improvement”. On the other side, all that has happened is that the homeless have adapted and made themselves less visible, they have gone into deeper hiding, none of have actually left the city. In the minds of many, it is believed that such harassment of the homeless would motivate them to get jobs and end their homelessness, what has actually happened is that the city has now made it even more difficult for homeless people to improve their situation. An often used tactic against the homeless is the use certain laws and city policies to shut down or at least curtail the feeding of homeless people. Again, the belief is that by making life difficult for homeless people, the homeless people will be motivated to end their homelessness. The results of this tactic is a population of homeless people who are starving. If the hope is for homeless people to “get a job”, how can a person do his/her job adequately if they haven’t eaten recently.

Here in Nashville, the building of a new, and very large, convention center is almost complete. It is located just one block away from the Nashville Rescue Mission, which happens to be the largest mission in the state. Already, developers and city officials are talking about the difficulties of developing the area with so many homeless people nearby. The reality is that this mission and its guests have, for the most part, proven themselves to being good neighbors. The mission moved into its current location over 10 years ago, and the many businesses in the area are thriving. Still some people are suggesting that the mission be moved. Advocates for the homeless say that such a move would be problematic for the homeless. On the other hand, the mission building is poorly designed, and if the mission were to move, they could incorporate a great many improvements to its design that would benefit the homeless, (that is if the mission administration decided to design a new mission without the look and feel of a prison.) On the other side, if the mission stayed near the convention center, the homeless could make good use of the employment opportunities that the convention center would bring.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Flip The Script

The state of Tennessee is known for it's Red State hate. It could be that Tennessee is actually the reddest, and meanest, state in the land of the free. (I'm sure many people from Texas would like to dispute this.) Not only is there a super majority of Republicans in the Tennessee state legislature, the legislature is working feverishly at gerrymandering so they may remain the dominating political party for years to come.

  The citizens of Tennessee already pay very little for public education and social safety nets, and they want to pay even less. They pay some of the lowest rates in taxes and public utilities and yet they still complain that their bills are too high. They tell the poor and homeless to just "get a job" and to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Although Tennessee claims to be the buckle of the bible belt, what they offer to their fellow citizens is something less than grace. They are more likely to offer punishment, than forgiveness, as a motivator to the wayward. It is also a right-to-work (for less) state. Equal rights for minority groups? yeah, right.

As red as Tennessee is, the city of Nashville (and Davidson County) is as blue as can be. It's liberal nature is due, I believe, to two things: Nashville is home to several universities and colleges, and home to a large concentration of musicians and music industry people. Both groups focus their energies on being open minded, and discovering and communicating the realities of life.

As if a reaction to the liberal nature of Nashville, all the counties surrounding Nashville have some of the highest concentrations of Republicans in the state. So, it came as quite a surprise when I read this article which published a couple days ago in the Tennessean.

Nashville is home to the country's largest street newspaper, The Contributor, employing homeless and formerly homeless people to sell the paper, and to give them an opportunity to work their way out of homelessness. Given the liberal nature of Nashville, The Contributor was fairly well received. But, as the newspaper grew, hiring several hundred homeless vendors, the vendors were forced to look farther out from Nashville for fertile sales territories. This led them to eventually attempting to sell the paper in the surrounding counties - counties that were less hospitable, counties with different jurisdictions, with different laws and politics. What was openly accepted in Nashville/Davidson County was not, anywhere else.

Vendors of The Contributor were being regularly ticketed by police for selling the paper, or just being force to leave, when selling the paper in other counties. the Contributor was relying on their 2nd Amendment right to freely publish and distribute a newspaper, and many people living in these outlying counties were reacting unfavorably to the sudden appearance of admitted homeless people in their neighborhoods. Court battles ensued, communities became vocal, city councils debated and created new laws, and it wasn't looking good for the future of The Contributor vendors outside of Nashville.

Then, something unexpected happened. The city of Franklin, in Williamson County, just south of Nashville, decided recently to officially allow vendors to sell there, (within certain limitations). It is a welcomed change of heart by the people of Williamson County. And I'm sure that many people there will disagree with this decision. There will be people watching every move the vendors make, and will be looking for every opportunity to destroy the reputation of the paper and its vendors. All the more reason for the vendors to be on their toes, and to tow the line.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Work For The Contributor

The Contributor is currently accepting applications for two part-time positions. Find out more below:
Part-time Development Director:
  • Reporting to the Executive Director (ED), the Development Director will serve as a key leadership team member and an active participant in making strategic decisions affecting the organization.
  • In partnership with the ED, this position will be responsible for all fundraising and development activities.
  • The successful candidate will help forge new relationships to build the organization's visibility, impact, and financial resources.
  • The Development Director will have primary responsibility for establishing and implementing the infrastructure needed to grow the organization's budget through the solicitation of major gifts, grants, special events, individual donations, and corporate and foundation support.
  • S/he will work closely with the ED to expand and diversify the organization's board of directors and will work closely with the board in helping members to become active in the organization's fundraising efforts.
  • The expectation is that the Development Director will systematically and effectively strengthen the organization's overall fundraising capacity.
For more information and how to apply, check out our website here.
Vendor Field Monitor:
  • The Vendor Field Monitor (VFM) is responsible for providing documentation of vendor conduct so that The Contributor can better monitor and regulate vendors.
  • The VFM will drive to known areas where approved vendors of The Contributor are located during typical vending hours (morning drive time, lunch hours, afternoon drive time). The times will vary in relation to the location. The Director of Vending will assign specific locations and routes. 
  • The VFM will document Code of Conduct violations by approved vendors of The Contributor while vending or wearing Contributor gear, identifying by badge number and/or photographs. 
  • Observations will be recorded and reported back to the Director of Vending.
  • This position will allow The Contributor to strengthen and preserve good relationships and communication with communities in and around Nashville.
For more information and how to apply, check out our website here.

Helping The Homeless Is Affordable

The thing you'll hear most from people reluctant to start a Housing First program in their city is that they just can't afford it. It seems the excuse for everything these days. But just how much would it cost? Here is my own break down. There are about 900,000 homeless people in the US at any one time. To modestly house feed, clothe, and provide case management would cost about 15,000 dollars per homeless person - the majority of participants would need little or no case management help. At 15k per, the total cost of housing every single homeless person in the country would be 13.5 Billion dollars a year. That may seem like a lot until you compare it to other things that Americans willingly pay for. The US gambling, or gaming, industry consists of about 500 casinos, about 400 Indian casinos and bingo halls, and lotteries in about 40 states with combined annual revenue of about $80 billion.

Put another way - it would cost 28 cents per day per employed person to house every homeless person in the U.S.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

What Now?

Without trying to explain every little thing that's happened in the past 5 years, I should tell you that a change is coming, and though it's not really a planned change, it may be a good one.

Five years ago I was nearing the end of my rope.  Physically and emotionally fatigued, I was losing hope.  I saw the end approaching and didn't care.   It took the efforts of people who knew my situation dragging me into the social services offices of Metro government, to get me to apply for a housing program.  And I say "dragged" because I really was reluctant.   Even then, it took another year before I was given the housing.  It shouldn't have taken that long, my case had hit a snag.  It took a lawyer friend to call on a Senator to inquire as to the hold up. That seemed to get the wheels in motion.   In the last days of March 2007, I moved into an efficiency apartment in a 16 unit building dedicated to housing chronically homeless people.

These past 5 years have been something of a respite - a chance to cool my heels, relax, and recuperate.  It also became a time of searching and of discovery about myself.  It wasn't always fun living around other chronically homeless people in this building. Drug using and drug selling were common on the property One neighbor had a penitent for setting the place on fire. Schizophrenics would have screaming matches with invisible foes in the middle of the night.  Still, it was much better than being on the streets or staying in a homeless shelter.  It was 200 square feet all to my self.  I could cook my own food when I had food,  I could shower whenever I wanted, I could sleep as much as I wanted.

One of my favorite quotes is "The truth will set you free," because, as I've always contended, once people know the true reason "why and how" they became homeless,they can take the right steps to overcoming their problems and leave homelessness.   Up to this point, though, I could not figure out my own path out of homelessness.  Every attempt I made, however temporarily successful, resulted in me becoming homeless again.    The "just get a job" approach didn't work, neither did the "accept Jesus as your personal savior," concept.

There were things from my past, things that took place before I ever became homeless, (running away from home, suicide attempts) that had me thinking the root of my problems was psychological.  And so that's what I've been focusing on.  For the past 5 years I've been working with case managers, social workers, therapists, and psychologists, trying to figure out the cause, and solution, to my perpetual homelessness.

It began with acknowledging my constant state of depression, (something I've suffered from since a child).    Though I worked on handling my depression, I was still having problems.  It seemed as though depression was not my only problem   Then I learned about the issue of anxiety.   Comparing my life events with symptoms of anxiety, I knew that anxiety was a big part of my life.  Yet as I was working on my depression and anxiety it became clear that there was a deeper issue, my mental health progress was still being hindered.   Eventually I discovered that the source of my depression and anxiety was Asperger's Syndrome - a form of high functioning Autism.   And it wasn't the Asperger's alone that was causing me problems.  There were also childhood issues due to my parent's misunderstanding my condition, labeling me a bad child, believing I was purposely behaving badly, and trying to correct my behavior with punishment.  Of course the punishments didn't turn me into a normal child so they ultimately rejected me as their child, turned their back on me, and that caused a great deal of psychological harm.  There was also the matter of my several years living in homeless shelters that caused a form of institutionalization to set in.

Though my mental health condition has now been correctly identified, another issue has arisen.   There is no "cure" for Asperger's.   There are coping skills I am developing and am incorporating into my daily life.   But the extent of my condition prevents me from moving on to a level of independence whereby I could life successfully without outside support. My behavior will always be insufficient for independent living.

And so, after due consideration of my condition, I have been put on social security disability.  I now receive a check from the government to cover the most basic of living costs.  Still the amount I receive is way below the poverty line.   My current case manager came to me about 6 months ago, saying that he believed I would be a good candidate for disability.    I never believed that about myself, never thought I'd actually qualify.   But then, I was living in a state of denial about the full extent of my condition.    Denial was my parents method of dealing with things, (though really, denial is the opposite of "dealing" with things, it was just their way of sweeping difficult things under the rug).   Denial is what I was taught.  It was how I lived my life.  It prevented me from coming to an understanding about my condition earlier.

Being declared "disabled" for a mental health issue is a mind blowing experience, and I've been reeling from it ever since.   It has me questioning my entire existence, self perception, who am I really?  what is my actual worth? what I am going to do with myself?  Especially now that I'm in my 50s.   Do I live out the rest of my life like some kind of "ward of the state"?   Is there anything I am really capable of doing effectively?

I don't have any answers.  And I wonder if it's even possible to have any answers.   Well, sure, I can always come up with answers, but are they real answers, or am I just be BSing myself, as people in denial are prone to do?

What now?   Well, perhaps it's time to try and figure out some answers to those questions.   Perhaps it's time to take the next step in my journey though life.  I really have no idea what's going to happen, except that things will have to change.   Change is good, right?