Showing posts with label shelter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shelter. Show all posts

Friday, May 23, 2014

Homeless Terms To Know - Permanent Housing

"Permanent Housing" is another of those phases used in the homelessness industry that isn't exactly what it sounds like.    Although permanency is the goal in getting a homeless person off the streets, the word "housing" betrays other intentions.   "Housing" never means "home".  Housing is always a facility or a program run by some organization.   And whenever a homeless person is living in such a facility or program, they are under additional obligations to the organization besides just paying rent.

For a truly non-homeless person, the only obligation they are under to maintain a home is to pay rent in a timely manner.  But in a "permanent housing" situation, the person not only must pay rent but also meet other requirements as placed on them by the organization.  Failure to meet these other obligations can lead to eviction.  Therefore the "permanent" part is an illusion - so is any sense of real independence.

The phrase "permanent housing" is language manipulated to make the situation sound better than it really is.  It is a way for the homeless industry to appear as though it has solved homelessness.   Actually it is glorified shelter living made permanent.

Sometimes, though, when someone says "permanent housing", they are really referring to permanent supportive housing.

The last time I had a place to live, it was part of Nashville's poorly designed "Housing First" program - although, come to think if it, I don't think the city actually called it that.   Many agencies were involved and to qualify I had to jump through all the hoops these many different agencies set up.  At one point even my Senator had to be called-in to get the deal finished.   Once I had the place, an SRO in a small building full of other homeless people, not only did I have to pay a monthly rent, I had to constantly be in conformity with standards set by two different agencies - HUD's Section 8 program, and with the company which owned  the building I lived in.   The landlord was receiving many different grants from different government and charitable agencies, so I had to allow my landlord to use my personal information in qualifying for these grants - even though I did not personally benefit from them.   My income, my living situation, everything about me was inspected, and if I was not within expected grant parameters I could have been evicted.    With my anxiety issues, this process was always difficult and stressful.  After 5 years of it, I'd had enough.  I stopped participating, and was evicted.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Homeless Terms To Know - Shelter Diversion

Shelter Diversion is a relatively new practice that attempts to keep people out of homeless shelters - and can work as a form of homelessness prevention.

When a person first arrives at a shelter and requests services, he/she meets with someone who investigates the cause of his/her need for shelter, and attempts to resolve the issue.

The events that transpire, which lead a person to seek shelter, are varied, so the responses will also vary.

  • If a person was living with their parents, but there was a fallout in their relationship, an attempt will be made to reconcile the relationship so that the person can move back in with them.
  • If a person failed to make his rent payment, or otherwise dissatisfied his/her landlord, mitigation would be attempted to satisfy the landlord and get the person back into their home.
  • If it is not possible to return a person to the housing situation they were in before seeking help from a shelter, then other options for housing are sought.  (See: Rapid Rehousing).
Shelter Diversion attempts to keep the homeless population down as well as lowers the overall demand for shelter beds.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Homeless Case Management Faux Pas

Consider this scenario:
    With an increasing homeless population, the good citizens take notice of all the alcoholics and mentally ill people wandering the streets, and so they call on the city to "do something about it."   In a charitable mood, city officials decide to allocate funds to help the homeless.  Those funds are given to a local shelter, since the shelter administrators are considered the experts on homelessness.   The shelter hires two case managers and gives them office space to work from.

Announcements are made in the shelter about the services available from these new case managers.   Some of the homeless who spend their days around the shelter avail themselves of these services.  For several months the city funds this case management program, but it fails to see any progress made on the streets - the drunks and mentally ill people are still wandering around the city.   Complaints from citizens continue.  City officials call on the shelter to ask what is going on with the program.   The case managers show their records to the city officials, proving that they are doing the job assigned them.    Everyone is perplexed.   Money is being spent, the case managers are doing as instructed, but the problem remains.    What is wrong with this picture?

Here is the deal - homeless people can be divided into two types - shelter homeless, and street homeless.   The homeless who spend their days around shelters do so for several reasons, safety and comfort usually.  Those homeless who do not make use of shelters have their own reasons, a lack of trust is usually at the top of that list. Also, the addicts and mentally ill who wander the streets usually lack the skills necessary for living in a shelter.   Because the shelter homeless spend their days in and around shelters, they are not usually noticed by the general public.  Those homeless who wander city streets have no other choice.

The problem of the above scenario is that the case managers are sitting behind desks.  They are shuffling paper work instead of getting out and scouting the streets for homeless people who could benefit from their help.  To reduce the number of homeless people living on the streets, it is imperative that case managers, and others who work with the homeless, do outreach work.   They should not be sitting behind desks and waiting for the homeless to approach them.   Often these shelter case managers will claim that they don't have time to do outreach too.   And this may be true as resources are often limited.   It is easy for a case manager to occupy him/her self with helping 100 shelter homeless people file for food stamps instead of helping 2 street homeless find permanent housing.    When setting priorities it is important to establish quality over site and not just assume that the case managers should fend for themselves.   In the homelessness industry, communication is still the biggest problem, a lack of proper over site is a close second.

It is also important to recognize that not every outreach effort is really benefiting the homeless.  Many outreach efforts only work to get the homeless into shelters.  This may temporarily clear the streets of some homeless people, but this does nothing to actually help people overcome homelessness.    Shelters do afford a certain level of service, providing food shelter clothing etc., but rarely do shelters end homelessness.  In many cases they do more to enable it.

The best situation would be for case management to be available to all the different types of homeless people, for those who live in shelters and for those who do not, for those who live in camps, for those who couch surf, for those who have recently become homeless, and for those who are chronically homeless.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Benefit Of A Sad Event

A tornado hit Atlanta a couple days ago, causing extensive damage. And so large crews are needed to help with the clean up. Even temporary labor companies in Nashville have been called upon to supply workers. And so we have about 150 - 200 of Nashville's homeless now down in Atlanta, working for the next couple weeks, helping to clean up that city. So, the first benefit is that this tornado has created work for many people who need it. The second benefit is that the load on the homeless shelters and service providers in Nashville has lessened. Wednesday night is the hardest night to get into the Room In The Inn (RITI) shelter program, but almost everyone got in. I myself had a ticket to RITI good only for Thursday, but I was able to get in on that ticket for the lower than usual demand. And chances are, I'll be able to get in tonight, Thursday, with my Friday ticket. I'm sorry for what happened in Atlanta, but I can't help but be grateful too.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Mundane Homeless Issues - Sleep

It's funny how the more common elements of life never get talked about, or blogged about. They are so "everyday" that they don't seem worth discussing.

With homelessness, one of those mundane things people hardly ever talk about, and I've only mentioned a few time, is how sleep evades us. Real rest is never achieved. To rest, one must be able to relax, and relaxing isn't something homeless people can do. In mission-like shelters many people are constantly crowded together, and being herded from one thing to the next. Even as homeless people sleep in shelters, there is no real relaxation. There is constant noise and disruption. It's hard to fall asleep, and people are always awaken before they are ready. Some people, in response to the harassment, are able to avoid the wake-up call by the program men at 5am, by setting their internal clocks. They awake before 5, on their own. Though they are able to avoid the rude awakening, they lose even more sleep for it. And, with technology being more accessible, many homeless people now carry cell phones with them into the dorms, and their "peeps" are likely to call them at all hours of the night. The phone rings and wakes every one up. Or they have watches with alarms, which they purposely set to an early time, or they don't know how to turn the alarm off, and the watches become a problem too. And all of this happens in addition to the general rowdiness of some of the homeless who want to talk all night , cause they are one drugs, or are mentally ill, etc.

And this, among other things, makes the Room In The Inn program so desirable. Sleeping in a room with 12 people is much more relaxing than in a dorm of 150 people. Still Room In The Inn has its issues too. There is one church that has their homeless guests sleep in a filthy storage room with a window broken out. And from with I've gathered, that window has been broken at least two months. So, not only does the church bearly heat the room, the cold is allowed in unabated. Why the church would not get that window fixed is beyond me. It's a safety hazard as well as a health risk, to the homeless having to sleep in that room. This makes for a cold night, and increases the difficulty of getting restful sleep. Sure, the majority of churches participating in Room In The Inn do at least an adequate job. But about 10 percent of them - about 15 churches, really need to take some drastic steps in improving their ministry to the homeless, or else drop out of the program. Cause really, they are doing more harm than good. Most depressing of all, is that the administration of the Campus for Human Development, the organization that operates Room In The Inn, is very much aware of these problems, but refuses to do anything about it. For them, having as high a bed count as possible is more important that providing for the actual needs of the homeless.

When a homeless person is actually better off sleeping outside, than in a shelter of any kind, then there is a problem with that shelter that needs to be addressed.

The lack of good sleep is one of the biggest problems for the homeless. And yet it is rarely discussed. That the problem is so common, that people hardly recognize it, and instead accept it as normal - that is until something happens that brings it to light.

The downtown library has a security staff. Usually 3 guards are wandering the library at any one time. And the thing they spend the most time doing is waking up homeless people. I experience this too, and fairly often. And I've known homeless people to get barred from the library for sleeping infractions. Some homeless guy sits down to read the paper, and before you know it, he's nodding off. Personally, I don't understand why the library administration makes such a big deal about it. Unless the sleeper is snoring loudly, he/she really isn't disturbing anyone. Even today, I caught myself falling asleep while in the middle of reading something on my laptop.

And homeless people will also fall asleep in the parks - and that too is against the law. The city parks are all closed at night, so it is also difficult to get sleep when outside - "sleeping rough" as they say in Europe. Even those who can find some hidden place to sleep, they are likely to get only 4 hours or so. Traffic noises, exposure to the elements also keep one from enjoying proper sleep.

The only way a person can get sleep is to have a room to one's self, with a door they can close and lock, and be undisturbed. For the homeless, that means spending about 50 bucks a night at some sleazy hotel. And since day labor usually pays less than that, living at a cheap motel is out of the question.

Four to six hours of sleep is all that homeless people can usually muster, and often times they go a whole day without sleep. Being well rested is so important to having a good life, and for overcoming homelessness, no wonder leaving homelessness is a difficult thing to do.

So, homeless people are tired. Of course, when you look at them at the park in the middle of the day you only see them as lethargic, and call them lazy.

But then, you really don't know anything about them, do you?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Who Should Work Where? An Email Exchange

Dear Kevin,
Good morning. I thought I would write and introduce myself. I have been a fan of your blog for many years. Here in Columbus Ohio, I used to work in two different shelters and a supportive housing program for chronically homeless, mentally ill women. I have loved all of those jobs. Currently, I am unemployed and looking for work while going to school at OSU. I have had a terrible time finding work in my field because I never finished my degree.

You did a blog post a while back that had a tremendous impact on me and how I viewed my work. It was "A Day In The Life" and in it, you wrote about the resue mission. When I was hired as Director of Resident Services and Faith Mission here in Columbus, It was much like what you had described. I was fortunate to have an executive director who wanted to change the way the shelter operated and hired me to do it. I have been grateful to you ever since. We got rid of the security staff, created new positions called advocates who were assigned a case load of residents and were charged with the task of being their partners. Each advocate sat down one on one with their residents and co-created a plan for services. The number of residents who left the shelter for permanent housing tripled after that.

Sadly, I was laid off from there and shortly after, my former executive director resigned. The new director has re-instated the security staff and some of my former staff tell me things have gone back to the old ways.

I still believe that I was moving in the right direction. I had a vision of beginning a job training program to hire residents to work in the shelter. I think they would be far more sensitive to others and understanding of the obstacles than anyone else. So what do you think of homeless men and women working in the shelters?


Dear Mary,
Thank you very much for writing,
Letters like yours help me stay focused, reminding me that there is a bigger picture, and I am only a part of it.

There are people who are born and raised in the South, and they develop a very strong southern accent to the way they talk. But for whatever reason, they move away from the South, and after some time they lose the accent. Then they return home for a visit, and it takes almost no time for them to regain that Southern accent. And, there is a cliche' - "you can take the man out of the projects, but you can't take the projects out of the man." This is all preference to me saying that I think it's not a very good idea to have past homeless people become "case managers" as it were, to the currently homeless. It does sound like a good idea - I know that AA works that way, and perhaps for alcoholism it is effective.

But most people who used to be homeless, are usually living a life still very close to homelessness. Although they now have a home of their own, they are still living in abject poverty, bearly making it, and have many of the traits that make people suseptible to becoming homeless. At the Campus for Human Development, they require that a formerly homeless person be in a non-homeless state for at least 2 years, before returning to work there. Having the formerly homeless person back in the street environment makes them susceptable to becoming homeless again. More importantly - homeless people have to learn a completely new and different way of life (a new paradigm for life and living), and the best way to do that is to expose them, as much as possible, to the new and better way. It's like teaching a new language - total immersion works best. A homeless person with a case manager who continues to talk street, and has street mannerisms only inhibits growth in the new direction. Life on the streets is hard core, it is dog eat dog, (more literal than figurative), and so it requires one to be excessively selfish just to survive. And yes, the non-homeless people are also selfishness, but it is compartmentalized, (and more figurative than literal). The non-homeless person knows that civility is required to a certain degree, so to maintain the social framework in which to live. Most homeless people do not get that, or at least don't exercise it to the point necessary to maintaining an acceptable and functional place for themselves within the society.

What is needed are good and positive examples for the homeless to adapt. They need to be exposed to as much non-homelessness as possible. Som they would benefit most from case managers, security guards, chaplains, etc, who have never experienced homelessness. Also, non-homeless workers, who have been working with the homeless for a few years, will be effected by the homeless environment, and will lose their ability to reflect the non-homeless life on to the homeless. That is why I am so much in favor of term limits for non-homeless people working for homeless service providers.

Well, this email has grown long - I think I'll use it as a post on the blog. May I also use your letter to preface it? I will leave your name out if you so wish.

Again, thanks for writing,

Dear Kevin
Of course you can use my letter. and my name. I wrote you about that to get your opinion. I needed to know what it would take. I agree that a person needs to be immersed in non-homelessness in order to make it. You raise some very good points that I hadn't considered. I knew you would have a different perspective. I have been trying to figure out what it would take to end homelessness. If we were to return full funding for HUD housing, provide housing opportunites enough that no one would be with out a place to live, what would it take to assist someone to be able to remain in that housing and become stable again?

What kind of services are needed?


Dear Mary,
Because waiting lists for services are so long, service providers are tempted to tighten the restrictions placed on those receiving services. In many street rehab facilities, if a person relapses just once while in the program, he will be dropped from the program, and might never be allowed to return. That policy denies the reality the the average addict/alchoholic/street person will relapse many times before staying clean, and clear of trouble, long enough to leave homelessness. The goals are too high, the stress is too great. All such programs should impliment a more gradual approach - baby steps must be really small baby steps, and for a longer period than most service providers would expect. I know, budgets being as limited as they are tempts social workers to press their clients to achieve goals faster than they are ready to deal with. The best recourse would be to take on fewer clients at a time. And yes, I understand that organizations must make a good show - produce numbers that the grant givers expect - the grant givers expecations being very eskew of reality. It really is better to take on fewer clients at a time, and have a higher success rate, than to try to take on many clients, hoping that some how all their needs will be met.

For some service providers, if they had one hundred dollars, and one hundred clients, they would give each client one dollar. But it seems better to determine which clients would actually make good use of it, and select 10 clients to receive 10 dollars each. This applies to all services offered. It's the process of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Taking on 10 clients and putting all your energy into them, and having a percentage of them achieve success, is better than taking on 20 clients, and being able to only give half as much energy to them. More than likely you'll end up with fewer successes, not just in percentages.

In the Hud Housing First program, promoted by the, the 10% worst case homeless clients are said to consume the lion's share of services and resources available to all homeless people. So, they are instructing cities to develop Housing First programs to house those people. This would free up more services, for service providers to provide, for the rest of the homeless.

Sure, if we could get cities to do this, it would be great. But there is an obvious objection to it within city governments and the general population, and cities have been slow, if not dead in the water, concerning this development.

Personally, I think they should be applying this program from the opposite direction. They should be providing housing first options to the easiest to solve homeless cases first - not the worst. Single, unattached men are about 85% of the homeless population. It would take the least amount of services to rehabilitate their lives. So, focusing attention on that population of the homeless would drastically reduce the total number of homeless, in the shortest amount of time, and would free up as many resources for service providers, if not more, to be focused on the more difficult cases. Of course this is the opposite of the current paradigms, where women and their children come first - and single men come last - this really means that single men rarely if ever get the services they need. I imagine that if you rehabbed all the homeless men, you'd find the homeless women w/children population dropping, even without services directed at them, as these formerly homeless men will begin taking back the responsiblities of family.

Ok, well that took 40 minutes to write, so I'll stop for now - I really appreciate your questions.