When housing homeless people isn’t enough

Monica Yant Kinney, in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, shares the story of ‘Mary’ a Pathways to Housing client, and the difficulties she and her neighbors are facing.

Many of the chronically homeless have mental illnesses that, like many disabilities, require them to have special services available to be able to live their lives independently. Where someone with a wheelchair might require a special transportation to get about, a person facing these difficulties might require a technician to visit daily to insure they are taking their medication. Provided the right tools and structure, many do very well.

Kinney’s article, and ‘Mary”s story, raise hard questions for which there are no easy answers.

My Mom, our family, was thankful for the efforts of Carelink which provided similar services for her. Many deal with the effects of dementia in their loved ones as they age, and for her, the last few years of her life were probably her most lucid and clear with their help.

Everyone deserves a life of dignity.

It’s cold out – what you can do to help homeless in Philadelphia

Write on a piece of paper and put it in your wallet or purse.

If you see a homeless person living on the streets in the cold please call that number.

Its Project H.O.M.E.’s Outreach Hotline.

If you happen to be homeless, in need of services, and have access to a phone, call 1.877.222.1984.

It’s that simple.

If you have more time or resources, think about volunteering or donating to Project H.O.M.E..

This post inspired by Garret Vreeland‘s recent link to CNN story “How to help the homeless in the cold”.

Using the Internet and Media to Make a Difference

Being the Difference names Mark Horvath “Person of the Year”.

Read the link – be inspired – then find a way to act. No matter how small. A tweet here, a blog post there, actually can push the ball forward. Making a donation to organizations like Project HOME or donating your time, even better.

Lately, my mind has been thinking about Camden Hopeworks. They are a nonprofit teaching program that provides youth with experience building websites and GIS/Mapping solutions for clients across the area. Check out the Hopeworks GIS Gallery.

Bob Burtman, for Miller-McCune, recently wrote a related piece about GIS, “The Revolution Will Be Mapped”. You will want to check out the Metafilter thread it spawned.

Is it more difficult to achieve self-sufficiency and defeat personal homelessness in 2010 than 2000?

In Philadelphia we are doing better at helping the homeless move into permanent housing, but there are signs the past 10 years have decreased opportunity for economic mobility.

Economic mobility, according to Wikipedia, is “the ability of an individual or family to improve their economic status.” In short, the ease with which a person can climb from poverty to lower middle class. From lower middle class to middle class. From middle class to upper middle class. From upper middle class to wealthy.

A point I should have emphasized in my last post on homelessness is my journey to self-sufficiency took place in the 90s. We’re a long way from then.

The 90s were an interesting time. Good music, movies, TV in the early 90s devolved towards its end. I think art and entertainment get better during hard times. The end of the 90s there was a sense in America that we were on the upswing. Hence the bad art. We started with Nirvana and ended up with Limp Bizkit – that says it all.

American confidence was reflected in ways beyond art. Consider how unconcerned we were with the Presidential election. Many didn’t care about the election because the choice of Gore or Bush seemed too narrow. It seemed inconsequential who would be President. Generation-X lived up to our slacker stereotype in 2000. Things changed in 2004 and 2008. My generation woke up. But I’m talking about the 90s remember.

In many looks back the 90s gets defined by the dot-com bubble. The idea being that any growth during the 90s was due to and then eliminated in that bubble. I think you can make an argument that belief is incorrect. I believe the dot-com bubble was an artifact of the late 90s. Pushed on and encouraged by the irrational exuberance that had built up over that decade. Right along with bad music and unconcerned political participation. Fact of the matter was the 90s laid the technological foundation for what we have today at mass scale.

Income inequality continued to grow from the 80s to the 90s and at an accelerating rate. Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele published a book sourced from their Philadelphia Inquirer series that argued that the American Dream was already stolen. But the 90s featured such job and personal income growth that many were too distracted to notice. In fact, according to FactCheck.org, the last eight years of Clinton’s presidency stand as the longest economic boon in American history to that date.

It was in this generally optimistic environment that me and millions of others were part of a “dramatic decline” in the decrease of concentrated poverty. Some attribute this to record keeping, that Welfare rolls were trimmed due to President Clinton’s mislabeled ‘Welfare Reform’ effort. But I believe that I am proof that the the decade’s optimism was reflected in greater opportunities for me and others. People were more willing to take a chance.

The ‘Aughts’ eliminated many gains made during the 90s. According to the Washington Post the “Aughts were a lost decade for U.S. economy and workers”. Add to this the fact that the safety net was shredded by efforts such as Welfare Reform and now you have a growing population of America living on nothing more than food stamps. Take a dip in a Metafilter thread discussion for more.

Those without jobs have very hard roads to walk. Those that do, well many are working 2 or 3 jobs just to make sure they don’t fall.

Eventually it will lead to an environment where chances are less likely to be offered to potential risks like what I was in the 90s. Less opportunity. Less upward mobility.

Ironically, I hear from a surprising number that those not doing well are ‘lazy’. That they don’t have ‘vision’. They aren’t ‘motivated’. That they need ‘to hustle’. To ‘get a job’. That we are on our own – freelancing agents and personal brands. Social contracts, like those that existed between employers and employees, between government and its citizens, between seller and buyer, aren’t to be expected or trusted anyway – right? Aren’t these some of the lessons of the ‘Aughts’?

Well no. I heard these things in the 90s. And why couldn’t counter lessons become conventional wisdom? That more empathy towards one another will help us get through challenging times?

That yes – the world isn’t fair – but that we should work hard to be fair to one another other?

It does look more difficult to repeat my story now. It saddens and frightens me. A complete lack of progress since the 90s. You have a dysfunctional safety net simultaneous with less work opportunity.

We all want so many of the same things. Health. Friends. Understanding. Acceptance. Self-sufficiency. Dignity.

People will do amazing things when given the tools to succeed and given the opportunity to succeed (and fail a few times on the way). It is in such environments that you find real innovation. Real forward thinking. Because you are not simply fighting to survive.

Related reads:

NYTimes series from 2005: Class in America

Barbara Ehrenreich: “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America”

Thoughts On Becoming Self-Sufficient and Defeating Personal Homelessness

A friend had recently asked me what it took for me to become self-sufficient and no longer be homeless.

Lets define the word ‘homeless’ first. There were times in my life, in the early 90s, when I found myself sleeping on the Frankford El, in a train station, on a bus, or in an illegal squat. I had a choice to go to a shelter. I did not. Mostly out of fear and ignorance. Today, I wouldn’t hesitate. For me, the state of homelessness is defined by not having a reliable single place to hang your coat, to be with friends, family, to receive mail, and to sleep at night. If you are in this boat – you are homeless.

There were a few reasons for me ending up in this situation. Some of which are outlined in older posts on my blog, others I have not shared and am not comfortable sharing. Maybe someday I will write more. I find it difficult to talk about and do so in bursts.

Here is a quick outline of some steps took for me to earn self-sufficiency:

  • A friend: Someone who will be a good reference. You will need this to find a job. I was blessed with a few great ones. Teachers and counselors would vouch for me too. Being on the honor roll counted for something in high school.
  • A virtual-home: A place to sleep and shower, a place to register on work applications. I wasn’t about to go to a shelter, or have a shelter listed as my residence. I slept on trains and in squats. I “showered” in fast food restaurant bathrooms or in showers without hot water (the absolute worst – I hate cold water). You will need someone to say you live at an address for work applications and to get phone messages. Again it was friends to the rescue. By lieing and saying I was living at their address, even though I wasn’t, I appeared “normal” to employeers.
  • Skills: Almost anything helps. 7-11 in a bad neighborhood was my ticket. They required little in the way of skills, and were willing to train. That helped for my next job.
  • Something to eat: A job at 7-11 midnight shift. Guess where my primary source of food came from?
  • Saving for your place: A huge obstacle to overcome. At near minimum wage it can take months to save for an apartment. Again, for me, it was friends to the rescue. Someone vouched for me to a landlord, and I made a deal to spread out paying my security deposit amongst several rent payments.
  • Transportation: Without it you will never hold or find a job. One of my priorities each month was to buy a SEPTA transpass. This was very important. You needed transportation to look for a job and hold one. You needed transportation to maintain contact with your friends. Sometimes you needed a transpass just to find a place to sleep. This was a higher priority then food. You can always “find” food. You gotta *buy* transportation.
  • Clean Clothes: You may have few clothes – but keep them clean no matter what. Shoddy clothes make it harder for people to trust you as responsible.
  • Realizing the road is incremental: You need to take things one step at a time. If you can only get an apartment, and not afford utilities, that is better then not having an apartment. Having the apartment will help you find a job that will pay enough for utilities. This is really difficult. I know a lot of people who get overwhelmed by expecting their goal to be achieved in one step. My experience tells me that’s a fairy tale. Things happen incrementally. Sometimes with the smallest of steps.
  • Use the Internet: While the Internet didn’t help me end my homelessness, it did help me work my way to a middle class career and has been a tool in maintaining it. Friends I met online helped get my resume to where I needed it seen, and countless web site and forum helped me learn the basics of computer programming. These days it is your doorway to many resources, including connecting with others working through the same issues you are facing. This last matter is most important. Knowing you are not alone and connecting helps face the day to day. This is emphasized in my next point.
  • People matter: I don’t think I would have had any progress without mentors, friends, and faith. When I speak of faith, I don’t speak of faith in the stereotypical sense. When I say faith… I mean faith that things can get better and that I *do* have a role in my outcome. I have freewill. As it says in ‘Seven Habits’, between stimulus and response I have the freedom to choose. That counts for something. When I say friends and mentors – well I would not be here today if it wasn’t for them. From Richelle, who has always believed in me, to my mothers at Sears (Mary, Joan, Paula), to various bosses along the way who became mentors and friends, Debbie, Sarah, Joe, Pat, Rajiv, to my brother Steve and my brother Dante, to Richelle’s parents whom I eventually won over. To all those who took a chance on me I owe so much thanks.
  • Try and be a ‘good person’ – don’t be an asshole: I do not believe that life is fair. Instant karma is bullshit. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people every day. So trying to ‘be good’ for some kind of reward is fruitless (at least in this world). What I *do* believe is that if you try to always do the right thing, if you work at being a good person everyday (you will fail sometimes, just *try* every day) – well you might find yourself with friends and family where you didn’t think you had any. In “All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten” it says “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”. That says it all really.

There are times when I feel like I am about to lose it all and end up back where I started. Sometimes, I look at a bench and want to curl up into a ball and sleep. There are times when I look at those I associate with, work with, hang out with, and feel… alien. These feelings are irrational, and thank goodness I can recognize them as such. It’s been over 15 years now – a half a life a way.

Most time I feel like the most blessed man on Earth, with a job and family that I need to pinch myself to believe I have. I am very, very blessed and thankful.

2009 is coming to a close. It’s been a big decade. Lots of ups, lots of change, lots of terrible horror. My history informs me that there can be light in the darkness, and hope can triumph over over the cold. So contrary to what you may think, I would not trade my experience for anything. It gives me valuable perspective. When I let it – it fuels my optimism. But its hard for those with tragedies so great and for many ongoing. My thoughts are with those who are fighting on and for those unable to fight.

Update: I’ve posted a followup to this detailing why this road is getting harder.

Economic Crisis related links for October 31st, 2009

LA Independent: A one-man street team: Once one of Hollywood’s homeless, Mark Horvath turns his knack for storytelling into a personalized video chronicle of a national tragedy.: Through his experiences, he has come to realize that the only way to truly stop homelessness is by getting people off streets, and into homes and jobs.

NYTimes: Foreclosures Force Ex-Homeowners to Turn to Shelters: “So, as lean times endure and paychecks disappear, homeless shelters are absorbing those who have run out of alternatives.”

Homeless Resource Center: Fonfield-Ayinla, Gladys : My Experience Parenting While Homeless: It was never a goal of mine to be homeless, but it happened.

NYTimes: Recession Drives Surge in Youth Runaways : oreclosures, layoffs, rising food and fuel prices and inadequate supplies of low-cost housing have stretched families to the extreme, and those pressures have trickled down to teenagers and preteens.

NYTimes: For Runaways, Sex Buys Survival: Nearly a third of the children who flee or are kicked out of their homes each year engage in sex for food, drugs or a place to stay, according to a variety of studies published in academic and public health journals.

NPR: Poverty Rates Highest Since 1997 (and maybe higher than in the last 50 years?)

NPR: Poverty Rates Highest Since 1997:

David Johnson, a senior statistician with the Census Bureau, says the increase is clearly linked to jobs.

“Children in nonworking families, children in female-headed households, children in families that receive food stamps, their poverty rate didn’t change much,” Johnson says. “Whereas children in earner households, the poverty was affected a lot. So you see a lot of it tied to the earnings change in 2007, 2008.”

That makes a lot of people nervous. If things were so bad last year, what about now?

“These numbers are grim — grimmer than we expected,” says Robert Greenstein, head of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He notes that joblessness continues to rise.

“This creates a very serious concern, that if we already were at just under 40 million Americans in poverty in 2008 — before the biggest increases in unemployment — poverty is going to go much higher than that in 2009 and 2010,” Greenstein says.

In fact, he predicts that it could go higher than it’s been in 50 years.

Labor Day links

Salon.com: Who are the wealth creators?:

Material production is only one of many activities that enrich a society. Public goods like safety and utilities and infrastructure and parks are part of the wealth that we share in common. So are many private goods that sometimes are best provided by the public, like public education and inexpensive healthcare.

By all means, then, let us celebrate virtuous capital owners and visionary investors as “wealth creators” on Labor Day. And let us celebrate as well as the other creators of private wealth, on the assembly line and in the office cubicle and in the janitorial closet, and the creators of public wealth in the form of roads and subways and parks, and the police officers and soldiers without whom a high level of public and private wealth could neither be created nor preserved. There are criminals and parasites among all classes of society, but most of us are wealth creators, and we deserve to be recognized as such.

FT.com: US families turn to food stamps as wages drop

NYTimes: Surge in Homeless Pupils Strains Schools

Change.org: 5 Things You Absolutely Must Know About Homelessness

True Homeless Stories: HearMyStory.org

(via Susie Madrak)

Hope you had a good Labor Day!

“People don’t realize that homeless does not mean bum, addict. Homeless means without a home.”

That’s Aislyn Oliver, who , along with her husband, John Washington, recently talked with Daniel Rubin, and shared their inspirational story with and the Inquirer.

Tent cities grow and motels rake in cash, while those who already have, get a whole lot more

During one of my bouts not having a place to sleep, I ended up taking residence in a motel. It was a bad financial decision, borne in the circumstances I was in. When your credit gets shaky, its hard to find an apartment that will accept your application. This is doubly true when you haven’t saved enough for two months security. You end up being a rat in a maze, a maze whose exit gets harder and harder to find the longer you’re in it.

NYTimes: As Jobs Vanish, Motel Rooms Become Home :

Greg Hayworth, 44, graduated from Syracuse University and made a good living in his home state, California, from real estate and mortgage finance. Then that business crashed, and early last year the bank foreclosed on the house his family was renting, forcing their eviction.

Now the Hayworths and their three children represent a new face of homelessness in Orange County: formerly middle income, living week to week in a cramped motel room.

NPR: Sacramento Tent City Reflects Economy’s Troubles:

Job losses, home foreclosures and a deepening recession are sending scores of newly homeless people into a makeshift camp along the banks of the American River in Sacramento, Calif.

The tent city, spread over an area the size of several football fields, has local officials scrambling over how to handle the area’s homeless crisis.

The contrast to the news this weekend is beyond understanding.

NYTimes: A.I.G. Planning Huge Bonuses After $170 Billion Bailout

Metafilter: This is insanity