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Art for the Homeless

Pope Francis blessing

A parishioner left a bequest earmarked for art, and the other members decided on which art, and that’s how “Jesus the Homeless” came to repose on a park bench on the grounds of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, N.C. The congregation, partly composed of a nearby college’s faculty, students, and staff, is described as liberal, gay-friendly, and embracing of the arts and sciences.

The piece is interactive, in the sense that when a contemplative viewer occupies the space invitingly left empty on the bench, that is the best vantage point for noticing the scars of brutal wounds in the figure’s feet, clinching the identification.

The bronze sculpture is the work of Canadian artist Timothy P. Schmalz. As we see from the picture on this page, taken last November at the Vatican, Pope Francis very much liked a smaller version of it. The possibility exists that another iteration of the full-size sculpture will take up permanent residence outside St. Peter’s Basilica. Another copy of the statue can be seen on the grounds of the University of Toronto’s Jesuit School of Theology, and Catholic Charities of Chicago will soon have one, and maybe the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., as well.

At St. Alban’s, the pushback originated with a local woman who called the police, believing that the statue was an actual slumbering homeless person, and probably a threat to the neighborhood’s safety. Various other objections have been raised on both aesthetic and theological grounds. Some people feel that the sculpture is not only bad for the town’s image, but an insult to Jesus. Others find it odd that Christians prefer their deity hanging from a cross (the execution method for common criminals) rather than sleeping on a bench. But Rev. Anne Vouga, an Episcopal priest, wrote:

At first I was surprised to notice that the picture of the homeless Jesus huddled in the sunshine did more to bring out a Good Friday spirit of contrition in me than did all of the pain and horrors of the Cross…. But a homeless man huddled on a park bench — that is a sight that I recognize only too well in my world. It easily conjures up connotations overflowing with sin and suffering: oppression, injustice, addiction, loneliness and despair.

Scripture

“Jesus the Homeless” is supported by a Bible verse, Matthew 25:40, whose broadest interpretation is that when someone helps another person with a kind deed, it’s just the same as doing a good turn for Jesus himself. TheMuslimTimes.org published a commentary on the controversy, and backed it up with a passage about poverty and charity from Al Quran.

RightWingNews.com, on the other hand, chastized St. Alban’s for wasting $22,000. But the donor specified that the money should be spent on art, and it is the custom, in civilized societies, to honor such dictates — aside from being illegal not to. Also, it’s not really bizarre or outlandish for a church to have a piece of religious statuary on its premises.

The financial objection is a bit disingenuous, considering that plenty of churches in America contain millions of dollars worth of accoutrements. An ecclesiastical supply catalogue reveals that somebody out there is willing and able to pay $28,000 for a Romanesque Tabernacle (an ornate safe made of precious metal, for storing the components of Holy Communion) – and that’s only one item in the extensive furnishings of a church. Plus, unlike Homeless Jesus, it’s locked up inside the building, where hardly anyone can enjoy the sight of it.

Shalom Community Center in Bloomington, Ind., is a nondenominational yet religiously inspired day shelter and resource center for the poor, hungry, and homeless. Its director, Rev. Forrest Gilmore says:

The brilliant subtlety of it all lets us know the homeless man that we have seen so many times, ignored, stepped over, crossed the street to avoid or perhaps put a coin in his cup, bought him a cup of coffee, or sat down to have a conversation with, that that man could actually be Jesus.

The rector of St. Alban’s, Rev. Doctor David E. Buck, says, “You love it, you hate it, it makes you think.”

Home Coming

As House the Homeless has discussed before, Richard R. Troxell conceived and began work on Home Coming, a sculpture with multiple figures. The soldier represents the military vets who make up a third of the homeless population. Accompanying him is his daughter, who at age 9 represents the average age of a person experiencing homelessness today. Just arriving on the scene is an elderly African-American woman, who stands in for the people of color who make up 65% of the homeless population. She also represents the disintegration of American families of all ethnicities, but the welcome that the other two extend to her signals the impromptu creation of a different kind of family.

Through a marvelous combination of circumstances, Timothy P. Schmalz has agreed to complete the work including the final casting, and it will eventually stand in Austin, Texas. In a YouTube video, Schmalz describes his process.

In a letter confirming his participation, Schmalz wrote:

The homeless project that Richard is planning will tell a much needed story at a glance to all that pass by. So many times public sculpture is erected to glorify only the certain top part of society, whether it is a famous politician, wartime hero or successful business man. The homeless sculpture proposed will take the least in our society and honor them with a public sculpture. This sculpture will show that ALL are valued in our democratic society and that ALL should be respected.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless Jesus Statue Makes Some Uncomfortable, but Not Pope Francis,” ArtNet.com, 04/16/14
Source: “Good Friday Reflection on the ‘Homeless Jesus,’ ” Blogspot.com, 04/16/14
Source: “’Homeless Jesus’ Statue Gets New North Carolina Home, But Controversy Follows,” TheMuslimTimes.org, March 2014
Source: “Church Wastes $22K On Metal ‘Homeless Jesus’ Statue Instead of Homeless,” RightWingNews.com, 04/14/2014
Source: “Homeless Jesus,” ShalomCommunityCenter.org, April 2014
Source: “‘Homeless Jesus’ provokes debate on what it means to be Christian,” ReligionNews.com, 03/12/14
Image by Timothy P. Schmalz

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More on Austin’s 2013

Austin (mural)The capital of Texas is such a happening place, and exemplary in so many ways, and of course the home of House the Homeless. Though the organization’s concerns are national in scope, it’s only natural for this blog to concentrate on Austin now and then, and not everything would fit in last week’s edition. In fact it won’t all fit here either, but what a year it’s been! 2013 started out with the traditional HtH Thermal Underwear Drive, which reminds us that another one is underway!

The South by Southwest festival is huge in Austin, and in 2012 a marketing ploy involving homeless people stirred up a lot of controversy. An ad agency hired people from ARCH (Austin Resource Center for the Homeless) to walk around and sell access to mobile wifi hotspots. According to a spokesperson from Front Steps, the group which currently administers ARCH, 11 of the 13 participants are now housed.

What SXSW offered homeless workers in 2013 was the expansion of a small but ambitious program from one ice cream vending cart last year to four vending carts this year. Mark Horvath reported:

Today I was invited to a training and started to talk to a few of the homeless vendors. To my surprise, they are not living in a shelter. All of them are sleeping outside. To me, that makes this program even so much cooler. See, often opportunities like this go to sheltered homeless. Providing a social enterprise for street homeless people takes a lot of trust on everyone’s part. That trust alone may be better at restoring a life than the money these vending carts will generate.

The spring saw a return of Austin’s Public Order initiative, whose stated object is to curb violent crime in the downtown area using the services of undercover police officers. When interviewed by Fox News, House the Homeless founder Richard R. Troxell said:

It’s clearly a coincidence, but it’s a coincidence that keeps occurring every time we have another event, whether it’s South by Southwest or we have Formula 1 or whatever…. It’s ludicrous to even suggest that there’s even a connection between public solicitation and violent crime.

The Austin police have been breaking up an average of two temporary settlements per week in the Barton Creek Greenbelt, cheered on by headlines such as “Homeless Camps Lurking in Austin Parks” (from KEYETV) and promising, “One camp at a time, APD will continue to keep the parks safe making sure your hike is just that.”

In September, upwards of 400 homeless advocates gathered in Austin for the Texas Conference on Ending Homelessness. In conjunction with the event, Pat LaMarche wrote about an interesting organization called Art from the Streets, through which homeless artists have been selling artwork for 20 years. Here is an interesting side note on how obstacles are constantly erected on the path to getting everybody housed:

HUD regulations changed this year. They now require that agencies prove their clients don’t have anywhere to live. Luckily, Art on the Streets doesn’t receive HUD funding and the participating artists don’t have to jump the often out of reach administrative hoop of proving a negative in order to participate.

The group Mobile Loaves and Fishes is in the process of creating what one local business owner called “the very first ‘yes, in my backyard’ project!” although, being 10 miles outside Austin, it’s technically in Webberville’s backyard. At any rate, the backyard “sits on a 27-acre master-planned community and will provide affordable, sustainable housing for approximately 200 chronically homeless disabled people in Central Texas.”

The plan is for a gated community made up of tiny storybook houses and tents and mobile homes, each with a garden around it. There will also be a community garden, a medical facility, an interfaith chapel, an outdoor movie theater and a woodworking shop. The residents will pay low rent from their disability benefits, and House the Homeless is poised to help them through the red tape of the system. Meanwhile both agencies, and others, are concerned with helping homeless Austinites through yet another unexpectedly cold winter.

In March, Richard R. Troxell announced an ambitious project. Andrea Ball wrote:

Troxell, 62, is crafting a piece he calls “The Homecoming,” a life-sized statue depicting a scene between a homeless Vietnam veteran, his young daughter and a “bag lady,” as Troxell calls her. The idea, he said, is to present an emotional snapshot of life on the streets. Ultimately, he’d like to see the work displayed somewhere in Austin…. It will take a lot of money to make the project happen, probably $200,000, Troxell said. He hopes to raise the cash through donations and sales of 12-inch replicas of the sculpture.

If realized, the sculpture will take up a 17-by-8-foot space in the park near the Lady Bird Hike and Bike Trail, where the Homeless Memorial service is held each autumn. In the ensuing months, there was controversy. Ed Morrissey wrote:

Art, however, has a lasting impact and message, one that might well provoke enough attention and concern to prompt more public but hopefully private efforts to reduce homelessness and poverty for a much longer time. That is why art and culture matters, why it is … upstream of politics, and why engagement with it is crucial for public policy and development. If Austin has the cash to do this without soaking taxpayers or shorting services (which is a big if), it’s not an irrational option.

Sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz has taken an interest in the project and believes it can be completed for around half the original estimate, or about $100,000. In November, Schmalz visited Rome, where he presented to Pope Francis his sculpture depicting Jesus as a figure asleep on a park bench.

Two weeks ago, Pope Francis blessed another statue by Schmalz at about the same time Schmalz and Richard signed a contract to sculpt Troxell’s statue of homelessness. And one last thing: the Pope was named Time‘s Man of the Year in part for his efforts to shape thinking about the world’s poor.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless Who Participated in SXSW Wi-Fi Stunt Now Have Housing ,” ABCNews.go.com, 03/13/13
Source: “At SXSW Helping Homeless People Is Delicious With Street Treats,” HuffingtonPost,com, 03/10/13
Source: “Is APD’s initiative targeting crime or the homeless?,” MyFoxAustin.com, 03/04/13
Source: “Homeless Advocates Cooperating: It’s an Art Form,” HuffingtonPost,com, 09/27/13
Source: “Homeless To Be Housed In Tiny House Village In Austin,” Samuel-Warde.com, 11/20/13
Source: “Homelessness memorialized: Advocate making statue to depict life …,” Statesman.com, 03/02/13
Source: “Should Austin spend $175K on statue honoring homeless … or on the homeless?,” Hotair.com, 08/29/13
Source: “’Homeless Jesus’ sculpture presented to Pope Francis,” News.va, 11.20/13
Image by Woody Hibbard

 

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Solving Homelessness Faces Two Problems: Awareness and Cost

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Few people are aware that millions of people in this country are facing hard economic times that rival the Great Depression. We see a few people on our street corners with hand written signs like: “Will work for food” or “Anything helps…God Bless”. We quickly write them off as panhandlers. But did you know that US Veterans who have served our nation honorably and valiantly now make up a third of all people experiencing homelessness? Did you know that one of the fastest growing segments of people experiencing homelessness are women with children? This is the result of whole families falling into poverty. Did you also know that the fastest growing segment of the homeless population are female veterans with children? Or did you know that as a result, the age of the average person experiencing homelessness is just nine (9) years old?

Wages Are the Problem

The US Conference of Mayors have released numerous reports explaining that under the existing Federal Minimum Wage standard, a full-time, 40 hour a week worker can’t afford basic rental housing. That’s why there are thousands of full time minimum wage workers with a paycheck in their pocket while they live on the streets of America.

Who among us realizes that the federal government with the Federal Minimum Wage being so deficient ($7.25 per hour) is now the greatest creator of homelessness in this nation?  As a result, minimum wage workers are falling out of the workforce and into homelessness. These workers now comprise half the homeless population. The other half consists of people who cannot work. The Government stipend for the ones who can’t work (disabled workers) who get SSI, is only about half the amount that fails under the Federal Minimum Wage or about $4.22 per hour!

This is why our organization, House the Homeless, supports efforts to implement a National Living Wage and Discharge No One Into Homelessness, both detailed in Prevent Homelessness: The Universal Living Wage Whitepaper.

Costly Solutions

The costs to support people who are homeless are in the billions of dollars.  In Austin, Texas, our municipality (like so many others) spends millions of dollars every year just to deal with the problem on an ongoing basis, such as building emergency shelters. Austin’s Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) cost $8 million dollars to build and was designed to serve only 100 people. Note: Our homeless population is estimated to be around 4,000+ people. We have separate shelters for men, women and children. Last year people experiencing homelessness used one of our major hospitals and its emergency room to the tune of $3,000,000. We have increased our police force specifically to deal with “Quality of Life” ordinances directed at people experiencing homelessness such as; no sitting, no lying down, no loitering, no camping, no solicitation etc.  As a result, we have now created an entire separate court system to deal specifically with legal problems stemming from people being homeless in our city. These expenses and so much more are directly and indirectly being paid for by the taxpayers of our city.

The mission of House the Homeless Incorporated is Education and Advocacy. Most of the people in America have no idea about the facts listed above.   They see these people on our street corners while on their way to work and angrily ask, “Why don’t they get a job?”  They see them as “bums” and “dole” seekers. They don’t realize that the two financial standards set by the Federal Government has lead to their homelessness and is now destroying their lives and acting like a lead anchor around the neck of the taxpayer.

The Proposed Statues Commemorating Austin’s Homeless

House the Homeless has proposed a statute commemorating the men, women and children, who have lived and died on our streets. Last year, we read the names of 157 people. We want to raise awareness about this correctable situation. The statue depicts three road weary homeless individuals who have a chance encounter on a cold winter’s night. The characters involve a veteran, his daughter and an elderly Afro-American woman. It is entitled: The Homecoming.

The Concept

The Veteran approaches a barrel fire with his young daughter in hand. They stop to warm themselves. He places his backpack down on the ground where he can keep an eye on it. It contains all that’s left of their belongings. He securely tucks his daughter beneath his coat pressed against his outside thigh. He then rubs his cracked hands together feeling the warmth of the fire. He is lost in his own thoughts. Promises of “America the Beautiful” have been betrayed. He sacrificed his youth and in return, only gained the aching hollowness left behind by lost brothers.  He will go on because he has true grit. But he is shop-worn. He is angry but he swallows his anger for his daughter. His anger is suppressed and has been supplanted with the drive to bring his daughter into a better world if he can only find it. His gaze is lost staring into the fire as happens to people late at night at the end of a very, very long day…. or after years of searching for “the promised land.”

There is interaction between the old woman and the child. The old woman ever so slowly comes from out of the darkness lugging her satchels and bags. The child sees her first, because in spite of everything, her young spirit remains alive…vital. The old woman is defeated. She may well have partial cataracts following decades absent of medical care. She has lost everything. She has raised three children. One is now dead and two are blowing in the wind. Her husband just left one day and never returned. She is in the absolute darkness. She trudges. She is coming from nowhere and is going to nowhere. She is coming out of the woods toward the light of the fire. When she first sees the flicker of the fire’s light in her upper vision, she is not sure of the shadowy figures behind it.

The little girl sees her and sees the old woman as a possible companion…perhaps a kindred spirit who may know the secrets to the future and what it holds for her. Together, they are reflections of one another’s past and future.

The old woman now drawn closer to the camp, is still hard pressed to see and understand the intentions of the man and daughter now seen clearly warming themselves by the fire. Haltingly, she closes the gap between them and then she freezes. The man aroused from his reverie focuses on the woman. With his hand on his daughters shoulder, he senses her excitement. Astutely, the father assesses the scene and with his lowered right hand signals to the old woman that indeed she is welcome in their camp and in fact…encouraged. The moment’s essence envelops the old woman. She is being welcomed into their camp…their home. She is being beckoned…welcomed home…no questions…encouraged. She is emotionally and physically overwhelmed. Her satchels… her burdens, drop the last 1-½ feet to the ground. There is a look of awe, wonderment, relief, joy…even tears. The energy release can be seen in her shoulders…her entire being.  The statue is called The Homecoming.

Project Costs

The cost to make this life-size bronze statue was first determined to be $200,000. Since the newspaper articles first ran, two world-class sculptors have come forward asking to sculpt it. One has a foundry and has offered to produce the trio for $100,000, or half the original expected cost.

By not understanding the costs of dealing with homelessness, some people have questioned this expenditure. “Think how many homeless people this money could help?”  Well, as stated, homelessness is a grossly expensive endeavor. For further example, Texas Star Recovery will provide a 5-7 day Detox program for $6,600 coupled with the requisite 30 day Treatment Program for $19,000 for a total of $25,600. So it costs $102,400 just to get four (4) people ready to be housed.

As stated, programs designed to help people experiencing homelessness are grossly expensive. But that said, we will build this statue for about the same as it will take us to help four people to get ready to be housed.

In any event, it takes money to make money. We will build this statue without one dime of taxpayer money. We will generate new, untapped funds because we will place this statute where people live who do not even understand that homelessness exists across our land.

We will place it where people who are busily going on with their daily lives are unaware that 10% of the entire nation are suffering a silent Great Depression of a magnitude never before seen in this country.

They will see the statue and stop. They will ask, “What is that little girl doing in that homeless statue? And they will learn that she represents the age of an average person experiencing homelessness in this country.

They will see that old woman and ask, “Why is she in that homeless statue?” They will learn that it is because she represents the economic disintegration of the poor working family in this country.

They will stop and ask how can there be even one homeless United States Veteran in this nation, especially when we have a Cabinet level Department — The United States Department of Veterans Affairs — funded by billions of taxpayer dollars?

This statue will be a beacon of hope for millions of people experiencing homelessness. It will generate awareness, understanding, conversation, questions, and the compassion necessary to generate the REAL funds necessary to purge us of this attack upon our homeland.

Finally, Austin, Texas fancies itself, “The Live Music Capitol of the World.” This year alone, it generated close to a quarter of a billion dollars in music related revenue. At the same time, the Health Alliance of Austin Musicians (HAAM), the Austin group helping uninsured musicians (another population that lives hand to mouth), provided healthcare for only about 600 musicians who need help. No one has suggested that we melt down the bronze of either the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue or the Willie Nelson statue to cover more musicians with healthcare. Why? Because these statues are symbols, beacons of hope, that will continue in perpetuity to inspire people and make them want to support the music scene and their musical heroes.

Well, veterans, families, and children are my heroes.

 

 

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Hundreds of Austin Homeless Receive Clothing

House the Homeless’s annual thermal underwear drive was recently featured on Austin’s Fox News 7. Hundreds of men, women, and children picked up clothing that will help them survive the winter cold. The drive goes all winter so there is still time for you to contribute money or clothing.

Thermal Underwear Drive

Thermal Underwear Drive by HtH

 

The attitude toward the Austin street community started changing with the skyline. And as the growth downtown continues, so does the pressure.

Homeless advocate Richard Troxell, who organized the clothing give-away says he is bracing for a crisis.

“I think as long as people out live the resources that’s what is going to happen, in inevitable so we have to deal with this,” Troxell said.

According to a recent survey by Troxell 52 percent of those living on the streets cannot work because of health problems. Forty-eight percent are able to work. But according to Troxell the few jobs available don’t pay enough to get people off the streets.

Read more.

Richard R. Troxell, founder of House the Homeless, is advocating for a Universal Living Wage as one way to solve the homelessness problem.

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The Swap-A-Hat Program

Richard wearing his House the Homeless hat!

GOAL:
$4000 = 500 Hats

COLLECTED AS OF 7/25:
$600 = 75 Hats

Due to the extreme heat in Austin this spring and summer, House the Homeless is again conducting the Swap-A-Hat program.

People experiencing homelessness will be given the opportunity to either swap their existing hat of any kind for a new summer hat (with a tail) or donate a $1.00 and receive a hat. All proceeds will go to the newly homeless citizens in Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, etc. Similarly, we will be making UV-rated sunglasses available for a $1.00 donation.

Again, 100% of all proceeds will go to serve people who are newly experiencing homelessness.

We are asking supporters of House the Homeless to donate $8.00 to support the cost of providing these items. You can donate online here:

Or, please send a check payable to House the Homeless, Inc to:

House the Homeless
P.O. Box 2312
Austin, TX 78768

Thank you for your never ending support for the folks living on our streets.

Together we can end homelessness.

Richard Troxell

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In Search of Socks, Underwear, and Hats

GuitarsRemember how the musicians of New Orleans went all out, raising funds to help people recover from the aftermath of the deadly hurricane? Now a bunch in Texas are doing a thing called Warm Up Fort Worth. It can actually get pretty cold in that part of the country. Steve Watkins tells us about how the local musicians sent out a call for donations of coats, hats, gloves, socks, and especially underwear, to benefit the people experiencing homelessness.

This is a match made in heaven, because any band either owns or has access to some kind of vehicle big enough to carry stuff around in. Remember the friends of Gram Parsons, who had a hearse for moving their equipment from show to show? It really came in handy when they needed to transport his coffin.

Those trucks and vans are just as useful for collecting blankets, winter clothing, and other practical and necessary items from people fortunate enough to have jobs and homes. Then, the bounty is shared with people who are experiencing homelessness, though they may have jobs. Yes, that happens, more often than you might think. Economic homelessness is the term for when somebody has money coming in, but not enough to even rent a basic, no-frills apartment.

Warm Up Fort Worth started with Phil Wallace, a member of Snake Shaker Revival and a self-described hellraiser musician, from whom Watkins has captured a pithy sound bite:

It’s not easy to be homeless, but it’s easy to become homeless.

The musician himself is unclear about his own motivations. Wallace seems to have received what some would describe as a call, and has formed a conviction that this is what he should be doing at this time, and he doesn’t really have much of a choice. The reporter went along to Family Baptist Church, where the collected clothing is made available as burgers are served. Of that experience he says,

Keeping the distribution orderly is major ordeal… After last week’s drive nearly got out of hand, the volunteers took a firmer stance — telling the eager crowd they would move on if everyone didn’t back up. Order was quickly restored…

When I was a kid, there was a goofy rhyme:

Knock knock!
Who’s there?
Uncle Miltie’s underwear!

And I can’t help being reminded of it, every time I think about the Thermal Underwear Party that traditionally occurs on New Year’s Day in Austin (check out this page at House the Homeless about the last year’s drive). The article contains a typo, by the way. The upcoming Thermal Underwear Party on January 1, 2011, will actually be the 10th annual occurrence of the event. And what a fascinating event it is! Hey, even poverty and homelessness are not serious all the time. And if you can’t have fun with skivvies, what in the world can you have fun with? Maybe the drive will adopt this as its official chant:

Knock knock!
Who’s there?
Austin Thermal Underwear!

Okay, so there’s a reason why I’m not in public relations. Still, it is kind of catchy, no?

But we’re not just talking about warm underwear, important and life-saving as it is. The drive volunteers are also asking for hats, gloves, scarves, and all the same kinds of items that are needed when, for instance, a Veterans Stand Down is scheduled in an area.

Hats are important in cold weather. People who know about these things say that 80% of the body’s heat loss happens through the scalp, which is very vascularized. Your head has a lot of veins in it, so when your blood is up there, it over-chills, and then circulates around making the rest of you cold.

On the same scientific principle, a radiator cools a car engine, and a swamp cooler keeps the temperature reasonable in a trailer. In the summertime, this is a splendid arrangement that nature has made for our comfort and convenience. In the winter, however, a hat can make the difference between staying healthy and getting sick.

Reactions?

Source: “Local musicians help Warm Up Fort Worth,” dfw.com, 11/16/10
Source: “10th Annual House The Homeless Thermal Underwear Party,” House the Homeless, 01/02/10
Image by renschmensch, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Celebrities, Thanksgiving, and People Experiencing Homelessness

AkonMaybe you’re a fan of the most-watched soap opera on TV, The Bold & the Beautiful. Apparently, it has 26 million devoted viewers. Journalist Becky Blanton focused her attention on this television program because the creative team has written several homeless people into the script. If we’re understanding this right, one of the characters, a Stephanie Forrester, has been told that she would die of cancer very soon. This news inspires her to become interested in the plight of people experiencing homelessness.

The show’s producers hired 25 people right off Skid Row and recorded them telling their stories, and some of these documentary segments will be woven into the show’s plot line. And there is more. The head writer and executive producer of the show, Brad Bell, is said to have also hired an additional 30 homeless individuals as extras, or actors with non-speaking parts. He has told journalists that this interest is not just temporary, and that he intends to continue to incorporate people experiencing homelessness into the unfolding narrative.

Blanton is interested to discover whether this show will go along with the same old stereotypes, or have the integrity to do something better. She asks,

Will they provide a realistic view of the homeless and the challenges they truly face, or will they sanitize life on the LA streets for viewers?… I hope Bell takes time to address the real issues that affect the majority of the homeless — the lack of affordable housing and child care and living wage jobs.

Blanton sees this as a great opportunity on Bell’s part to influence the attitudes of Americans regarding people experiencing homelessness. Depending on how this widely-viewed serial depicts members of the homeless community, a powerful force for good could be exerted. It might also, she feels, give the housed American public some useful ideas for how to help, and, in some cases, might even put into their heads an idea that wasn’t there before, the idea that we should all help.

Although not a soap opera star herself, Becky Blanton is another kind of celebrity. You’ve heard of TED, which stands for Technology Entertainment and Design. Every year, this nonprofit organization sponsors a series of conferences where people with “ideas worth spreading” come to spread them. In 2009, Becky Blanton spoke at TEDGlobal in Oxford, England. This is a credential of almost unparalleled cachet. Her topic was “The year I was homeless,” and there is a seven-minute video clip on TED’s website. For an appetizer, here are a couple of soundbites:

Homelessness is an attitude, not a lifestyle.

Hope always finds a way.

The Universal Living Wage is the concept that Richard R. Troxell, president of House the Homeless, offers as a solution that will help all Americans. The foundations on which his argument rests are included in the Protected Homeless Class Resolution, whose full text is found in Looking Up at the Bottom Line. Here are just a few of the points he makes:

● There is a shortage of affordable housing stock nationwide.
● The national minimum wage is an insufficient amount of money to secure safe, decent, affordable housing even at the most basic financial level.
● More than the minimum wage is required in every state to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent, as set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Universal Living Wage could bring about the day when no American is unhoused or hungry. Meanwhile, highly publicized celebrities continue to adopt the cause of helping the homeless.

There is an interesting website called “Look to the Stars,” which keeps track of Hollywood personalities and show business folk, and what charities they are connected with. The search word “homelessness” matches up with 29 celebrity names. Among them are such luminaries as George Clooney, Whoopi Goldberg, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nicolas Cage, Scarlett Johansson, and Eddie Murphy.

The search word “Thanksgiving” brings up 28 matching news items published on the site, where we learn about the philanthropic activities of Kirk Douglas, Gisele Bundchen, Ludacris, Akon, Drew Barrymore, and many other actors, musicians, and fashion models. Celebrities donate their time, talents and money to turkey giveaways, or serve dinner at the Los Angeles Mission, and just generally give it back or pay it forward, to show their gratitude for their own good fortune.

Here, from another source, is a story about a typical celebrity response. It is a cooperative effort including promoters of hip-hop and martial arts to provide Thanksgiving dinners for families. All over the country, people who are famous, and a whole lot of people who are not so famous, do their best to make this holiday a happy occasion for others.

Reactions?

Source: “The Bold & the Beautiful to Feature Homelessness & Poverty,” Homelessness.change.org, 10/27/10
Source: “The year I was homeless: Becky Blanton on TED.com,” blog.ted.com, 07/09
Source: “Looking Up at the Bottom Line,” Amazon.com
Source: “Search results for homelessness,” Look to the Stars
Source: “Master P to Help Feed Homeless People on Thanksgiving,” AceShowBiz, 11/13/10
Image by petercruise, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Many Cities Observe Homelessness Awareness Week

In the soup kitchenToday, we’re looking around America to see what is being done in various cities about the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. The news is encouraging. Many groups, both secular and faith-based, are taking on the responsibility for doing something useful to alleviate the growing problem of people experiencing homelessness. Here is a small sampling of what folks throughout the land are up to this week.

In Vero Beach, Florida, housed citizens take turns living in a car for 24 hours in a public place, while a local radio show broadcasts their reactions and sends out requests for donations to help the involuntary homeless, whose number in the area is estimated at 2,000. Volunteers staff 10 collection sites around the city to take contributions, and many businesses put on special events where part of the profit is donated.

In Pensacola, Florida, the main organizers for the Week are the Waterfront Rescue Mission and EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless. Events there include food and clothing drives, a candlelight vigil, a prayer breakfast, a sale of art created by people experiencing homelessness, and the screening of a film called On the Edge.

On the opposite coast, in Portland, Oregon, a group called Human Solutions has opened its 60-bed Family Warming Center (it will be open for 12 hours every night), and also offers help with housing information and help with job hunting. Located at Eastminster Presbyterian Church, the Center is always looking for volunteers to help out in the recreation room with the evening activities leadership, and to mentor the children. Community members volunteer in the kitchen and, as always and everywhere, food donations are gratefully accepted.

In California, Project Homeless Connect holds an event in three towns (Hanford, Porterville, and Visalia), visited this year by close to 800 people in need of help. Actually, this is only a small portion of the activities of PHC. Machael Smith gives the background:

Created in 2004 in San Francisco, Project Homeless Connect is equal parts welcoming homeless neighbors into the life of the community, changing the way resources are accessed and achieving quantifiable results for people experiencing homelessness. The innovation has taken off like wildfire across the country as communities look for solutions to end homelessness. More than 330 events in 220 communities have taken place so far.

Thanks to the efforts of many volunteering agencies and individuals, clients receive an amazing array of services from haircuts and showers to vaccinations for their pets. The State Department of Motor Vehicles is on hand to issue ID cards for those who need them, and many other needs are also met, improving the lives of people of all ages.

In San Francisco, Craig Newmark himself (the founder of Craigslist) takes the time to publish an appeal for the sock drive sponsored by St. Anthony’s. This may sound like a small thing, but, as the article explains, people experiencing homelessness are rarely in a position to be able to do something as simple as take off their shoes, let alone wash any of their clothes. Clean, dry socks are rare, and a brand new pair of socks can seem like a luxury fit for a king.

This is a reminder to all of us that no matter how little we have, and regardless of how close to the edge we ourselves might be, there is still something we can do for a person who is even worse off. A pair of socks is not much to give, but it can be a bounteous gift to receive.

Meanwhile, down in Southern California, STANDUP FOR KIDS (SUFK) hosts a wine-tasting benefit to raise money toward the construction of a drop-in center and transitional housing facility for young people. Orange County, long regarded as a center of affluence, estimates that it contains an astonishing 26,000 homeless youth. And that’s only the kids. The SUFK organization concentrates on helping the young gain a foothold in society before they can slip too far into the hopeless situation of seeing homelessness as their only possible future.

From Evansville, Indiana, Richard Gootee reports that this is one of the many cities participating in the “Totes for Hope,” a program that provides tote bags and backpacks to homeless veterans.

Last but certainly not least, The Statesman carries a report from Andrea Ball on the doings in Austin, Texas, the center of operations of House the Homeless, and the site of the annual Homeless Sunrise Memorial Service.

Reactions?

Source: “HFC joins National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week,” TCPalm.com,10/04/10
Source: “Homeless Families Warming Center Opens…,” Chuck Currie, 11/04/10
Source: “Events urge awareness of hunger, homelessness,” pnj.com, 11/13/10
Source: “A day of hope offered to the homeless,” Visalia Times-Delta, 11/06/10
Source: “St. Anthony’s needs socks for homeless veterans,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11/09/10
Source: “‘STANDUP On The Vine’ To Benefit Local Orange County Homeless Youth,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11/03/10
Source: “‘Totes for Hope’ gives hand to local homeless veterans,” Evansville Courier & Press, 11/12/10
Source: “Who Are the Homeless?,” The Statesman, 11/15/10
Image by Elsie Esq. (Les Chatfield), used under its Creative Commons license.

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“Dutch” – Another Name for Austin’s Homeless Memorial

MemorialIt’s over for another year. On Sunday, November 14, at Austin’s Homeless Memorial, amid prayers and songs, the list was read out. On the shore of Lady Bird Lake, we noted the passing of this year’s street casualties, as well as the victims of previous years. The roster of those memorialized was a long one, and our dearest wish is that it would not be added to in the coming months.

The Tree of Remembrance grows where it was planted many years ago, and the plaque beneath it is still in place. The words on the memorial plaque have not changed either:

HOMELESSNESS:
It is the Essence of Depression.
It is Immoral.
It is Socially Corrupt.
It is an Act of Violence.

In Looking Up at the Bottom Line, Richard R. Troxell recalls the 1993 Memorial, when the needless death of Diane Breisch Malloy was on everyone’s minds:

I suppose sixty or more people came. We were too sad to advertise it like some kind of event. It just did not seem right. Therefore, we just spread the news by word of mouth. The ones that did come had been drinking and thinking. They were mad. They were mad about what had happened to Diane. They were mad about what had happened to their friends, and they were afraid. They were afraid that what we were really doing was reading their own eulogies.

Of this year’s Memorial, Richard says,

I was very sad to have read the list…but gathering it is always the worst. This involves too much reflection. These folks were not just my clients but also my friends. I hope it is as powerful to others as it is for me. The human cost is unacceptable. At least there were three City Council members and the City Manager (the first one in 18 years.) The saddest thing was that while there were about 125 people there, more origami birds with names of the deceased were present than there were people to place them in the tree.

Now, we are in the midst of the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. The issues are recognized as being urgent enough to merit the community’s focused attention for a whole week, not just a day. Austin certainly subscribes to that. Among others, the participating organizations are the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition and the Basic Needs Coalition of Central Texas. The website of the city’s Trinity United Methodist Church keeps people abreast of the various happenings, which included the Homeless Resource Fair on Saturday. It says,

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is the largest annual event that connects policy makers, local business leaders, service providers, faith-based organizations, and community members to engage in implementing active solutions and prevention methods for hunger and homelessness.

Ongoing, from now until the year’s end, is the annual Thermal Underwear Drive. Yes, it gets cold in Texas, and it would be a beautiful thing to make it through the year without any more illnesses exacerbated by winter weather. The drive officially started at the Memorial Service, and House the Homeless will continue to collect donations of warm underclothes, hats, gloves, scarves, and ponchos for the people experiencing homelessness in Austin, who include not only women and men, but children. At the New Year’s Day Party, all this life-saving clothing will be distributed.

The picture on this page, of a previous year’s Memorial, was taken by a House the Homeless member, and appears in Richard’s book. At Sunday’s Memorial, one of the newest names added was that of Edward Forrest Dutcher, who was stabbed to death during a fight on Halloween Night, October 31.

Witnesses pointed out to the police another homeless man, found to be in possession of a knife, who was immediately arrested. It is theorized that the murder was the result of a territorial dispute, with the issue being who has held the privilege of panhandling at the intersection. Dutcher was pronounced dead at the University Medical Center. The victim was 50 years old, his assailant 60.

By sad coincidence, the biography of Edward Forrest Dutcher, or “Dutch,” was briefly outlined in Looking Up at the Bottom Line, whose publication date was Veterans Day this year. Richard described Dutch as tall and boyish-looking, and his situation as typical of so many people whose life is a constant struggle.

When work was available, he put in as many as 60 hours a week, which was eaten up by the high motel rent. He was never able to get ahead enough to save up the amount needed to move into an apartment, which in most cases means paying the first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit. That’s a significant amount of money to scrape together, and the fact that anybody can work so many hours without being able to afford decent housing is a good argument for the Universal Living Wage. This is the condition known as economic homelessness.

What Dutch really wanted was to somehow buy a used van and start his own moving business. As Richard says, “He was just a regular person trying to survive.”

Reactions?

Source: “Austin’s 2010 Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week,” Trinity United Methodist Church Blog, 11/04/10
Source: “Police release more details on fatal stabbing Sunday,” The Statesman, 11/02/10
Image of Memorial Service from Looking Up at the Bottom Line, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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10th Annual House The Homeless Thermal Underwear Party

On January 1st, we had our 10th annual House The Homeless Thermal Underwear Party.

HTH Donate

If you prefer, you may send a check* to:
House the Homeless
P.O. Box 2312
Austin, TX 78758

*A check means that 100% of your dollars goes to those we serve.

Thermal Underwear Give Away

On New Year’s Day, House the Homeless, with 40 volunteers from the community and from the First Baptist Church, provided a city wide Thermal Underwear Party for homeless citizens from Austin. Rockin’ Gospel Project provided the music and entertainment while a ham lunch was serviced and participants received thermal tops and bottoms, socks, gloves, hats, and ponchos to help them survive this winter’s weather.

Thermal Underwear Party 2009 018

Thank you to Trianon Coffee House, Central Market, Sweetish Hill Bakery, Whole Foods, Texas honey Ham, and JoAnn Koepke and Family for providing many donations to make the holiday lunch a success.

Thank you and Happy New Year to all!

Richard