Many citizens and groups give enormous amounts of time and money, and even face the wrath of the law, to make sure that people experiencing homelessness have something to eat, and they deserve all the support they can get. Outside the realm of food, other goods and services are offered to street people by an array of organizations and maverick individuals.
In the Canadian city of Windsor, chiropractor Dean Tapak shows up once a week at the Windsor Essex Community Health Centre and treats low-income clients for free. He is affiliated with the Street Health, a program that provides showers, dental care, and other health-related services to about 4,000 people. Dr. Tapak personally helped more than 200 clients.
The California community of Los Gatos-Monte Sereno annually recognizes the police department’s Crisis Intervention Team, including an Officer of the Year. Last year, that honor went to Leo Coddington, a cop who takes the trouble to learn the names of the town’s homeless residents and figure out how to help them.
Coddington is particularly aware of the needs of homeless veterans, having graduated from West Point and spent 12 years in the army himself. After joining the police force, he took a 40-hour continuing education course in police interaction with vulnerable populations, and became part of the Santa Clara County Collaborative on Housing and Homeless Issues. Journalist Sheila Sanchez interestingly points out that Coddington is a “housing first” kind of guy, who believes the most effective way to help is to get people under a roof first, then address their mental disability, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, or alcoholism.
The same attitude of meeting people where they are, without expectations or judgment, is shared by another man who does similar work in Los Angeles and credits the philosophy of TV personality Oprah Winfrey as his inspiration. Unlike the police officer, Troy Eric Isaac is not bankrolled by taxpayers, but by a philanthropist who supplies the funds that Isaac uses to help the homeless.
Journalist Kevin Ferguson describes Isaac is “sort of freelance homeless advocate” who walks around the inner city looking for need and figuring out how to meet it. For one, the answer might be to sit with the person and sing a song. For another, it might be to make phone calls every day checking on the availability of a room with a long waiting list.
There are also philanthropists in the Canadian city of Vancouver where, in this case, the donors allocated $30 million of their fortune to the homeless, under conditions so particular that the local law had to be changed to accommodate them. Namely, if the city could figure out how to put an existing facility back into working order, the anonymous couple’s gift would be structured in such a way as to take care of the annual operating costs without the need for further government support.
The old Taylor Manor was originally built as a home for the elderly, but has not been used for that purpose for at least a decade. The renovation will take about two years and at least $14 million of public funds and corporate donations, and will eventually house 56 (no longer) street people with “complex mental issues.” Reporter Jeff Lee tells us that Vancouver’s homeless population almost doubled in a year, and quotes Prof. Kerry Jang of the University of British Columbia:
Many of our staff have been out there and we see the suffering every single day. And every day I feel hopeless because what can we do? We put [people] into hospital for a while and they are let back out on the street again with no hope. It is just a revolving door, a revolving door, a revolving door.
At St. Colette Church in Livonia, Michigan, a group has a dual-purpose ministry. Mainly, for people experiencing homelessness in Detroit, they crochet or knit sleeping mats to serve as insulation from the cold and damp of the ground. Secondarily, they make the mats from “plarn,” which is plastic yarn made from cut-up retail shopping bags. It takes as many as 700 bags to make each sleeping mat, so that’s a lot of recycling. About 40 parishioners have signed up, of whom about half turn up at any given weekly meeting. Reportedly, a Chicago church has actually published a DVD with full instructions on how to make these mats.
Throughout America, thousands of faith-based groups, from venerable giants like St. Vincent de Paul to the little mat-knitting club, work to help the homeless. Perhaps wanting some favorable press too, a number of Austinites founded their own group with the motto, “Toiletries and more, under the freeway — without the preaching,” and a homepage that misspells “sporadic.” Their website lists the specific items they distribute: toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, shampoo, TP, hand sanitizer, disposable shavers, socks, gloves, granola, and bottled water.
Water is also distributed by ThirstAid of Maricopa County, Arizona, through a program that has been very successful in the past years. The heat there is brutal, and the water saves lives. Before the end of September, they reckon they will find the money for, and give out, 500,000 bottles of water. Half a million — man, that’s a lot of plastic bottles headed for the landfill, and it raises a question. Could this be done in a greener way? Couldn’t people, instead, be given canteens or camping-style water bottles, and provided with sources of clean drinking water from which to refill them? Just asking.
But, getting back to Austin, the exigency of events made the Emergency Whistle Defense Program one of the most important stories in the Texas capital. The ability to produce a loud distress call empowers a person experiencing homelessness alone in the night, or any time. The program is giving away whistles and teaching the signal — three blasts, and pause before repeating if necessary. The distribution of “thunder whistles” has been covered extensively by local television, including stories by radio stations NPR and KLBJ, News 8-YNN, KEYE-TV, and KVUE-News 24.
They all interviewed House the Homeless President Richard R. Troxell on the value of such noise as a deterrent to violence. Omar Lewis of KXAN-News 36 also interviewed Vincent Godoy, father of Valerie Godoy, murdered in Austin in June. FOX 7 TV‘s Derrick Mitcham said:
According to the Austin Police Department, violent crimes against the homeless population make up 38 percent of all violent crimes downtown.
Nope, it is not too late to sign the new women’s shelter petition!
Source: “Homeless helped by chiropractor,” The Windsor Star, 02/25/12
Source: “Town Cop Recognized for Work With Homeless,” Los Gatos, CA Patch, 03/29/11
Source: “Helping the homeless any way he can,” SCPR.org, 01/13/12
Source: “Anonymous wealthy couple’s $30-million gift to help homeless in Vancouver,” The Vancouver Sun, 06/29/12
Source: “Parishioners make sleeping mats for homeless from plastic bags,” Hometownlife.com, 08/05/12
Source: “Atheists Helping the Homeless,” AtheistsHelpingtheHomeless.org
Source: “ThirstAid: Human Services Campus Water Drive,” Cassaz.org, 06/11/12
Source: “Sounding alarm on violence on homeless,” KXAN.com, 08/06/12
Source: “Advocacy group to help homeless blow whistle on crime,” MyFoxAustin.com, 08/06/12
Image by quinet (Thomas Quine), used under its Creative Commons license.
In January of this year, it was widely reported that in the 2006-2010 period, the number of female veterans experiencing homelessness had more than doubled. The jump was from 1,380 to 3,328. One thing to remember about this number is, it doesn’t count the female vets in shelters. But a shelter is for emergency and transition, not for permanent residence. Technically, those women are homeless too.
And, of course, the number only includes individuals who had actual contact with the VA. Nobody knows how many are constrained, by inner or outer circumstances, from asking the government for anything. It is a truism of the field of social work, that the people who most need help are often the last ones to seek it.
The numbers that express the need are difficult to gather accurately, and there is always a time lag between conditions when the count is made and the day when the results are collated and published. It is even said (by the General Accounting Office, or GAO) that the true picture is difficult to assess because of a lack of coordination between the VA and the department of Housing and Urban Development. A PDF file of the GAO’s December 2011 report, “Homeless Women Veterans,” is downloadable here.
A recent New York Times editorial said:
Lack of information is part of the problem. The report said that neither the V.A. nor the Department of Housing and Urban Development collects sufficiently detailed information about homeless female veterans, making it harder to plan effective programs, allocate money and track progress.
There are two sides to that particular problem, of course. Those named activities all come under the heading of “bureaucracy,” more layers of it, and more money going for offices, computers, software, clerks, and paper clips. Meaning, ultimately, less money for the actual troops on the ground — the military veterans who can’t find a place to sleep in their native land.
The administration/action ratio of any nonprofit corporation is what people want to know before they donate to it. If the organization is paying more than 50% of its income to keep itself running, a red flag goes up. Hopefully, some government bureaucracy is keeping an eye on other government bureaucracies, making sure they adhere to some kind of standard.
The same editorial describes the discouraging parts of the December document and another:
The report found that the V.A. sometimes failed to refer homeless women to short-term housing while they waited for housing vouchers. It noted that the agency lacked safety standards for shelter providers, even though many women said they feared sexual harassment and assault. And some shelters discriminated against homeless mothers by limiting the age or number of children they take.
A report in March by the V.A. inspector general echoed these concerns, saying some shelters lacked basic protections like working locks and separate floors for men and women. The V.A.’s inattention to safety and privacy is especially troubling because rates of sexual trauma and domestic violence tend to be high among homeless female veterans.
Experts see many reasons for the increase in female veteran homelessness: the general unraveling of the social safety net, the outsourcing of jobs overseas, the gentrification of central urban areas with the consequent loss of affordable housing. Add to that the increase of domestic violence. As Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless, a Vietnam veteran himself, phrases it:
Female veterans face all the same economic challenges as the men AND so much more… The level of sexual abuse for women in the military is appalling. So these women potentially have one cause for PTSD even before their life unravels and they end up on the streets.
That’s a big problem, and one that nobody much wants to face. There are women veterans who not only endured sexual abuse while in service, but also suffered from the indifference or hostility of the military establishment when they tried to get justice. If such a woman later becomes homeless, it’s easy to see why she would be reluctant to approach the government for help.
Women veterans face a different set of risks and needs than male vets, and it’s all part of a larger issue. Whether they are former military personnel or perpetual civilians, homeless women are even more vulnerable than homeless men. We were reminded again of this in June, when Valerie Godoy was murdered in Texas. The people of Austin have responded by proposing the creation of a new and much-needed women’s shelter. Please sign the petition!
So many people are experiencing homelessness, it has become expedient and necessary to divide them into subsets. The fastest-growing category of homeless people is now women, and that includes women with children.
For practical purposes, those are two populations with very different needs, so already a barrier against easy solutions is thrown up. When it’s mother plus children, a facility needs safety plugs in the wall sockets, and a secure outdoor play area, and other amenities that single adult women do not require.
Intuitively, it would seem that adult women on their own would be easier to house. But there are other considerations. The single grownup female might fall into one or more of the other subsets: chronically ill, chronically homeless, mentally disabled, or alcoholic, to name just a few. So much care is needed.
Los Angeles made a small (relative to the need) but meaningful step with the creation of the Downtown Women’s Center, whose beginnings are described by Daniel B. Wood:
Founding director Jill Halverson became friends with a mentally ill, destitute woman and realized that in 1978, L.A.’s skid row was a man’s world and women had no place to turn. She rented a storefront and opened the city’s first day center for women, later spending her life savings on a building to permanently house 47.
A day center offers basic services like showers, clothes washers and dryers, phones, a mailing address, job counseling, and help with health problems. This particular women’s center teaches computer literacy. The DWC even offers groups where women can express themselves through art, prose, and poetry, activities which often lead to emotional catharsis, self-awareness, and psychological empowerment.
With the help of a $13 million contribution from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, a former shoe company building was renovated into “71 brand-new fully furnished residences, artfully appointed, with high ceilings and windows, kitchenettes, and art-adorned bathrooms.” Their aim is to help 80 chronically homeless women at a time to make the transition into permanent supportive housing. The residents, who receive Social Security or disability payments, are charged one-third of their income.
Many people are surprised to find that such institutions are extremely cost-effective. Wood says:
Nationally, the average daily cost of permanent homeless housing is $30 a day per person, compared with $1,400 a day in a hospital, $65 in a mental institution, and $129 in a state prison.
Some homeless women are spooked by the very idea of seeking an institutional bed, especially in a mixed shelter. The idea of spending the night where so many men are gathered together is frightening. You hear stories you just don’t want to believe — a church shelter where the pastor in charge raped homeless women, and one in Georgia that made news last year by turning away women they believed were gay. But the streets are treacherous, and so are the camps. It’s easy for a homeless woman to find herself in yet another subset, namely, crime victim.
We can serve about 20 percent of the people who contact us.
That 20% means, in other words, that four out of five don’t get help. The Salvation Army has a waiting list, and other local facilities are always full. The shortage of beds, causing women to routinely be turned away, is confirmed by Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless, who adds that after several rejections, some homeless women give up on trying to apply for a safe place to sleep. He is quoted in Ball’s article:
We’re constantly hearing from women who are being beaten or raped. No woman should be subjected to this. We need to get them off the streets now. There should be immediate emergency shelter upon request.
More than 2,700 people have signed the petition, on paper and online, demanding an emergency shelter for women in Austin. Please visit the page and become one of them.
Why should a shelter be named after Valerie Godoy? Because she was a regular person who has probably made some ill-considered decisions and bad choices along the way — as 99% of women do, every now and then. She got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, by a very wrong person or persons. The same could be said of Princess Diana. Even though neither of them can be called typical, still by some alchemical process, both the royal celebrity and the street dweller represent Everywoman in this way.
To be female is to be vulnerable. To be a very young or a very old female is even more risky. Both fame and obscurity can expose a woman to the danger of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so can being a normal, average American.
Source: “Homelessness Besets More Women. How to Respond?,” CSMonitor.com, 12/20/10
Source: “More shelter space for homeless women needed, local advocates say,” Statesman.com, 07/13/12
Image by Quinet (Thomas Quine), used under its Creative Commons license.
The staff and volunteers at House the Homeless were saddened to learn that Judy Lynn W. Beall, (“Lynn”), 41, died this past Saturday from stomach cancer. Lynn was very sick and on the streets until two days before her death. She was picked up by local emergency services because of her deteriorating condition.
Lynn and her dog, Charlie, are featured on the February page of the HtH pets with people experiencing homelessness calendar. She was born November 5, 1970, and died June 23, 2012. She is survived by her boyfriend, who is also homeless, and dog Charlie.
Lynn’s devotion to her dog is a reminder that people and animals deserve love, no matter their circumstances. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation or volunteering with our organization to help more people and pets get off the street. We extend our condolences to Lynn’s friends and family on and off our city streets.
Fox News featured Richard R. Troxell, founder of House the Homeless, this morning to discuss the deadly battle awaiting returning veterans: homelessness. Richard discussed the situation and the solution — implementing a Universal Living Wage. If you agree, please “like” us on Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed.
—– TRANSCRIPT —–
FOX NEWS: How do so many veterans end up homeless?
Richard Troxell: There are 850,000 homeless veterans. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars have produced 240,000 homeless vets. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 28% of the homeless are vets. That means that more than one-fourth (1/4) of people experiencing homelessness are veterans.
Vets go from the battlefield to the neighborhood overnight. But they come with serious issues of depression and what we call PTSD and Shell Shock. They are traumatized, and they face serious employment challenges.
FOX NEWS: What are the employment challenges for returning vets?
Richard Troxell: Some have transferable skills — electronic techs, corpsmen, and supply men, but they are not readily transferable. These jobs require civilian training, job certification, and time.
However, the vast majority of these veterans were soldiers in the field. They were grunts — foot soldiers. They have no transferable skills.
Their only options are minimum-wage jobs. What they need are Living Wage Jobs.
FOX NEWS: What is the ULW?
Richard Troxell: Well, according to the last several U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Reports, a 40-hour-a-week minimum-wage worker cannot get into and keep basic housing anywhere in the country. The current Federal Minimum Wage is $7.25 per hour, or about $14,000 per year.
We have learned that we are a nation of 1,000 economies about the size of counties, and that it doesn’t cost the same to live in Washington, D.C., as it does to live in Hoboken, NJ, or Dallas, TX. So to simply raise the Federal Minimum Wage to, say, $10.00 an hour would not end homelessness for anyone in our big cities, and it would destroy small businesses throughout rural America.
So, taking all that into account, we’ve devised a single national formula based on existing government guidelines that ensures that a person working 40 hours a week will be able to minimally afford the basics: food, clothing, and shelter. (Whenever that work is done throughout the U.S.)
FOX NEWS: Why is the ULW good for Veterans?
Richard Troxell: I recently read where 6,460 soldiers have died in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. I’ve read that that number is matched by the combined suicides of those wars. Shocking!
The veterans are coming back to jobs that won’t even allow them to pay their bills. They feel disgusted and unappreciated. They fought for their country and now, even with a full-time job, they can’t afford to put a roof over their heads, let alone start a family.
And the situation is no different for 10.5 million other minimum-wage workers. Shouldn’t that elder-care worker or the cafeteria worker serving our child in the cafeteria deserve to make ends meet? The ULW will do that.
FOX NEWS: How is the ULW good for business?
Richard Troxell: According to the SBA website:
- 64% of all small businesses fail by the end of their fourth year
- 90% fail by the end of the fifth year
In looking at a number of the business plans, we find that while manufacturing, development, advertising, storage, and transportation are all given their due, the minimum-wage employee is not. At $7.25 per hour, they are destabilized and therefore destabilize the entire business process.
Also, Henry Ford (the car guy) learned this when he found that even with his creation of the Assembly Line, he was losing well-trained workers to other businesses that paid more. It was not until he decided to pay a Living Wage was he able to gain “market share.”
Retraining costs: Even McDonald’s is recognizing the significance of retraining costs. McDonald’s changed out its cash registers and made them “picture registers” instead of numerical registers when it realized how much that could save on retraining costs. Having stabilized workers will result in the same benefit.
FOX NEWS: How could the ULV boost the economy?
Richard Troxell: By putting the difference between the Federal Minimum Wage and the Universal Living Wage into the pockets of the veterans and the other 10.5 million minimum-wage workers, the housing market, and construction industry, both locally and nationally, will be dramatically benefited.
Also, historically, 98% of all income increases to the Federal Minimum Wage have been spent right back into the economy. Again, this will significantly bolster the economy as it is 90% consumer-based.
FOX NEWS: How does the ULW benefit taxpayers?
Richard Troxell: It is obvious that businesses benefit from the labor of the worker. However, until our businesses pay “Living Wages” — the minimum amount to afford basic food, clothing, and shelter — we, the taxpayers, will continue to suffer as long as we are required to pay for excess food stamps, TANF, welfare, and earned income credits.
Finally, paying Living Wages is the Christian and moral thing to do. Conservatively, this will end economic homelessness for over one million minimum-wage workers, including our veterans. And it will prevent economic homelessness for all 10.5 million minimum-wage workers.
Hug and kiss a returning veteran, then give them a Living Wage Job.