The Homeless Advocate

I was pretty angry when I realized how utterly stuck I was when I landed in this community, at the bottom with a neck too sore from looking up. My little spiritual radar was saying “you’re home now” but the view out of my window was still from the front seat of our van. I had more than a few arguments with God, let’s just say. “Why here?” I kept asking. The Law of Attraction is a bitch my friends, please be careful what you wish for, but let us not digress.

After getting kicked off “hippie island”, we spent weeks shuttling between rest stops and Walmart. Trying to stay lawful when there are so few places you can be in public for 8 hours at a time was very stressful. The space inside the van was getting smaller by the minute with 2 adults, a dog and a child. The weather was getting increasingly uncooperative, rain and homelessness do not play well together.

I had made it through the coordinated entry system and would have some financial help with a deposit if I could get anyone to agree to rent to us (so gathering funds to drive to a warmer climate to ride out the winter seemed foolish at best and most accurately a delay of the inevitable). Without jobs, however, it was proving to be nearly impossible, even with the financial backing of the rapid re-housing fund. We had one honest landlord say no and inform us it was because he was no longer willing to take chances on people using that fund, he said he had ended up having to evict too many. Housing First only works when the supportive tools are in place to prevent this from happening. This is something my community is working on addressing and I do believe it is why I landed here.

I made two attempts to get my son enrolled in school. Both attempts failed because I did not understand the McKinney-Vento Act and was too emotionally exhausted to figure out a way to prove I was homeless in their district as requested. So many loopholes and side steps and flaws in our systems, it is astonishing. The weight can become quickly unbearable. Just when you think they’ve played every card in the stacked deck, they pull out a few more.

This, coupled with the sometimes aggressive reactions we would get while “flying a sign” at the rest stop was breaking my heart and I was living with an overwhelming state of abject fear. The number one response to our request for assistance in this manner was “get a job”. These words still make my blood boil. I fail to see how ignorant of reality people can be. If strangers were meeting us with this much scorn due to our appearance, what business owner did they think was going to hire either of us? Did they also miss that part on all applications that asks for an address? How clueless about disabling mental health conditions is the general public? Those hateful remarks to someone experiencing the hopelessness of depression is absolutely equivalent to going up to a person with a broken leg and kicking it, accusing them of faking it when they scream in pain and telling them to pull themselves up by the bootstraps because they’re lazy and bleeding the hardworking tax payers dry if they ask for crutches.

Over the course of the month or so that we panhandled, I don’t suppose you’d be surprised to know that the people who did stop to help, offer a meal, a moment of conversation, gas for our vehicle never drove the nicest cars and more times than not they knew someone personally who had become homeless despite their best efforts or had come too close themselves. Christians would tend to offer a prayer and never more than a dollar, atheists would tend to offer the bigger bills but decline our “God bless you” reply. No one offered a job and only 2 of the well over 50 people we came in direct contact with offered information on the local resources for people experiencing homelessness. One baby boomer working the snack stand asked for advice about what to do to help homeless people. She bared her confusion about what had happened to her country when she met my eyes and I spared her my commentary on the cultural makeover we actually need and told her showers and an address. That is really the only way someone who is still able to work is going to be able to.

I am beginning to trust again and understand why it is here that I ended up but it is a slow process. The very best thing about this community is the number of people who still have heart intact. I could walk into a store while I was looking every bit as homeless as I was, and not be followed or stared at or harassed. I have met countless individuals who are connected enough to their own spirit to look for that in another rather than the state of their clothes or hygiene and my spirit appreciates this more than words convey. The community groups that have formed by citizens attempting to fill in the giant holes left by unwieldy and poorly funded policy, have gone a long way in healing the remnants of trauma that remain. I understand now, God, and I thank you. Let me help this community that is so willing, meet the demands of the task at hand and become a vibrant and efficient role model for other communities to follow.

Do not underestimate the power of advocacy or of providing people with hope and connection. When shown compassion and understanding, many people will dig deep to make your effort worth it. In my opinion, there really is very little excuse for citizens to remain uneducated about the facts surrounding homelessness. We need to get past the stereotyping and false narrative if we hope to shore up the holes in our safety nets. Safety nets designed for each and every one of us, might I add. I asked permission to share the following post from one of the concerned and informed citizens in my community who has been a huge blessing in my life just because she gets it.

 

Jen Helper: “Sure, but shelters should always be intended for temporary placement to get out of the elements. It seems like people aren’t understanding the immediate issue. Shelters should be a temporary place that has a purpose of feeding and housing individuals unable to secure shelter by our current economical system. These issues stem from a series of road blocks placed by our current societal standards.

I believe a huge contributor to our homeless population is “us.”

We set standards for living that are difficult to contend with. Especially if one was born into a drug family or a family who was never college educated, which is no fault of their own but these cycles are difficult to break.

In recent years, it is harder for a person without a college education to even obtain a job. The low barrier jobs available are often hiring those with the most education… since when does one need a basic college degree to be a janitor? The answer to that lies in a struggling economy where the more educated are getting the jobs rather than a high school drop out. There are just not enough jobs for everyone and persons whom are less educated don’t stand a chance.

Even if they were able to get ssi or even land a part time job, the amount they make would not cover the cost of their basic necessities.

Then we have the issue of rental history, background checks, credit reports. These things are a form of financial protection for landlords, but someone fresh out of rehab, jail or someone with bad credit will not stand a chance meeting those requirements. Then what happens? These people become homeless. The depression sets in and they have no hope.. so maybe they do start drinking or doing drugs.. why? Because our society is not effectively gathering together to help as a community.

We are so busy sitting in our warm houses at night pointing fingers at those “deplorable homeless folks.” We keep gabbing on our social media outlets about “what someone should do about the homeless issue,” but nobody steps up to do anything? That only perpetuates the problem.

Some of these people can’t get jobs, some of them don’t want to get jobs because they’ve tried and failed too many times so they use more drugs.

People are completely judged by their past even if they are genuinely working towards bettering their future, our society has zero grace. Then, when depression sets in, the cycle starts all over.

It’s our judgment that keeps them there. They aren’t welcomed anywhere.. apparently it’s even a huge offense for them to be audacious enough to sleep and try to get warm under our city bridges or along the river?? Really? We are really going to complain about them breathing the air outside?

Stop a minute and put yourself in their shoes… many of them never dreamed they’d be homeless. Some had high paying jobs at one time and bigger houses than you! Look how far down they’ve come by a roll of the dice! Due to massive layoffs and the inability to obtain employment has been a HUGE contributor to this problem.

Nobody wants to help? Only complain and offer frivolous advice on what “someone ” should do about the problem? The solution can start with YOU! I’m aware there are some deceptive or even violent members of the homeless community, which may detour some from helping out. However, need we be reminded that we have tons of people like that living in the homes next to us too!

The cycle of homelessness typically goes something like… we go from no jobs, to no help, to no hope, to needing an escape from the overwhelming demands of modern life, we may often turn to drugs or alcohol.

We are then, a huge nuisance to society because we are drunk or high and in public places. Why? because we couldn’t get a job, secure safe housing or qualify for other federal programs because our SSI checks were too high.. it’s happening to our veterans too! Their VA checks are too high, they’re disabled and can’t secure housing. Yes some them drink.. but maybe you would too if everyone in your platoon of best friends got blown up right in front of you. And THIS is how they’re treated when they come home? Those of us whom are safe in the US BECAUSE of the service of our military will seriously look at some of our hurting veterans with distain because they are hurting and homeless under our “public bridge?!?!” Really?
Sometimes it’s even doctors giving the drugs that got Some of our homeless where they are.. medications prescribed to help our veterans cope with re-entering society after dealing with trauma or opiates to handle physical pain incurred in the field. Then what happened?

The soldiers are sometimes denied those medications by the VA and the pain is too much to emotionally or physically handle.

So our soldiers have then, out of desperation sought small doses of heroin to simulate the opiates that they are now craving because of doctor prescription. The soldier starts with small doses intending only to treat his physical pain, and eventually ends up a homeless heroin addict. Why? Because our system has failed a beloved veteran!

We need to stop for a minute from thinking about our own discomfort and realize these are people! People like us that maybe got thrown into a bad situation that got worse through poor choices. I’ve made poor choices haven’t you? People do crazy things out of fear and hopelessness.

Just stop for a minute and think what if it were me?

Our homeless are not a vermin or pest problem. They are people who need their community to step up and help.”

 

There is a lot of work to be done. We each are creatures composed of mind, body and spirit. Where any of the three become broken, the risk of homelessness increases. In our efforts to address this, we must pay attention to where the individual is “broken” and utilize the appropriate advocacy and assistance that is needed. This seems to remain the one overwhelming misstep we keep taking and I will speak more thoroughly on this issue in my next post.

That there is homelessness at all is a huge red flag that our economic system needs a drastic overhaul. That the “official” figures put the numbers of those experiencing homelessness as a result of disability at around 50% without the majority of housed people batting an eye is unbelievable. Disabled workers sent to slaughter is what it is and this should motivate each and every one of us to do everything in our sphere of influence to address what this is really saying about our society.

Not everyone is going to be equipped to do the “boots on the ground” work and we don’t all need to be. Recognize your skills and go with what you know: writing letters or making phone calls to your representatives, attending local civics meetings on the issues, organizing fund raisers, gathering school supplies and development opportunities for children experiencing homelessness (who are at an increased risk of becoming homeless as adults), maybe it is simply being that keyboard warrior who speaks up for the disenfranchised and promotes the truth. Whatever your skill set is, being a citizen of integrity in our great country does require your thoughtful contribution to making it a better place by doing more than paying taxes. If you are unsure what to do, but want to get involved, just ask. Please.

As always, I thank you for being here and encourage you to leave your questions or comments below.

{For those of you who have been following my story, “The Lightworker’s Guide to Homelessness, A Memoir” is now available on Amazon. It is my sincerest hope that it helps to shed a little more light on the gross inaccuracies of our current narrative regarding homelessness from a very human perspective: my mind, my body, and my spirit and those of my fellow homeless comrades that kept me sane along the way.}

May we all know the meaning of the word “home” when we look into each other’s eyes.

 

 

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