7

Sleep Loss a Pervasive and Underrated Problem

Effects of sleep deprivation

It’s easy enough to glance at the news headlines and find examples of savage treatment, although, fortunately, the number of individuals who have been beaten or set on fire is relatively small. There is another cruelty, less extreme than physical assault, but it is suffered by nearly all people experiencing homelessness. Whether they sleep rough or find room in a shelter, it’s very difficult to get uninterrupted, restful, and sufficient sleep.

This aspect of homelessness was investigated by Richard R. Troxell and Hugh Simonich by conducting a survey during the 10th Annual House the Homeless Thermal Underwear Drive hosted by House the Homeless, Inc. in Austin, Texas. The annual January event proves to be an excellent place to collect information because many of the local people experiencing homelessness are gathered together in one place.

This year, 204 people answered the survey questions, 88% of them male and 12% female. For the purposes of this survey, only those who had slept or were currently sleeping in shelters were interviewed. Locally, the two main places of refuge are ARCH (Austin Resource Center for the Homeless) and the Salvation Army.

The individual need for sleep varies greatly, from between five to 10 hours a night. Insufficient sleep is no joke. It has serious physical and psychological consequences that are often ignored. Interrogators in every country know that total sleep deprivation is a form of torture, which victims have described as even worse than hunger or thirst. Even when there are no pre-existing mental problems, chronic sleep insufficiency can make a person crazy all by itself.

The simulated driving test is a good way to measure mental impairment. Provided that a person knows how to drive in the first place, the before-and-after results for an individual can be evaluated by how they do on a test like this. Troxell and Simonich quote Professor Mack Mahowald on the grave result of even one night of missed sleep:

One complete night of sleep deprivation is as impairing in simulated driving tests as a legally intoxicating blood-alcohol level.

Some of the results of sleep deficit include aching muscles, confusion, depression, tremors, headache, irritability, and hallucinations. Sleep deprivation can have bad medical consequences. This information comes from Dr. Eve Van Cauter, of the University of Chicago’s School of Medicine:

Dr. Cauter’s research indicates that, ‘Chronic sleep loss may not only hasten the onset but also increase the severity of age-related ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and memory loss. Also, it is believed that people, especially men, who fail to get good quality sleep, often are more likely to experience depression.’

The shelter sleepers who have responded to the survey reported having only a little over five hours of sleep per night. More than 90% said they needed more sleep, and 70% said that, at times, the lack of sufficient sleep left them so tired they felt unable to function normally during the day. Housed citizens, take note: A street person who is scorned for acting weird might not even be drunk or drugged, or mentally impaired, only sleep-deprived.

Snoring seems to be a big problem, and since it’s connected with cigarette smoking, one of the recommendations is for people to quit smoking, which is a good idea in any case. Other noises that keep shelter residents from falling asleep, or wake them up in the night, include loud talking, slamming doors, ringing phones, and trash removal, all of which are under the control of the shelter personnel.

Twenty-seven percent of the respondents also said that fear of being hurt kept them from sleeping, a fear which unfortunately can be just as rational in some shelters as outdoors.

Last month, in St. Louis, Missouri, a lawsuit was filed against the New Life Evangelistic Center. The complainants are the parents of a young man who was fatally stabbed three years ago. Jeremy Dunlap’s killer was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and the homeless shelter is accused of not having good security regulations, and of being lax in observing the rules that were in place.

This excerpt from an article titled “Why Many Homeless People Choose Streets Over Shelters” by Josie Raymond looks at some of the reasons why shelters are shunned even if available. Aside from the risks of violence and theft, there is the contagion factor. Transmissible diseases like tuberculosis, that we thought were ancient history, are reemerging in a big way. Keeping a bunch of people together in a small space is a great way to spread illness. Raymond quotes an authority we have also quoted:

Becky Blanton, a writer who was homeless from March 2006 to August 2007, says she had a lot of reasons not to enter shelters when she lost her housing. ‘Disease, violence, mental illness and addiction,’ she said simply, before going on to explain that in her experience, staying in many emergency shelters lead to scabies, lice, bed bugs, the transmission of hepatitis and tuberculosis, athlete’s foot from the showers, the common cold and lots of other things that are no big deal if you can stay home in bed, but can kill you if you’re homeless.’

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, America needs national public health programs “specific to homeless populations.” Let’s hope that sufficient sleep is recognized as one of the conditions necessary for health.

Reactions?

Source: “2011 Health Sleep Study,” House The Homeless, 02/12/11
Source: “Parents sue over fatal stabbing at homeless center,” NECN, 02/15/11
Source: “Why Many Homeless People Choose Streets Over Shelters,” Tonic.com, 12/02/10
Image “Effects of Sleep Deprivation” by Mikael Häggström, via Wikimedia Commons.

1

Airwaves: The Universal Living Wage

Will work for food

The final month of 2010 was an action-packed one for Richard R. Troxell. Of course, every December, for the past decade or so, has been devoted to the Thermal Underwear Drive. In fact, that project moves to the front burner earlier in the year, in November, around the time of the annual memorial service, recalling those who have perished on the streets of Austin, and reminding us of one real, concrete way to help prevent the loss of more lives in the future. (It went great, by the way.)

In the midst of all this, Richard was a guest of Blog Talk Radio host Wayne Hurlbert, who was kind enough to make the recording of the Richard R. Troxell interview available to anyone at any time, through the magic of the World Wide Web.

One of the ideas Richard wants to get across is that people experiencing homelessness are not one big homogenous mass. They have different abilities and needs, just like anybody else. He has taken the trouble to conduct a number of very detailed surveys in Austin, Texas, and if activists in other cities followed this practice, it would probably be a big help in educating the housed public.

Among adults experiencing homelessness, there are three major groups. Many homeless substance abusers are currently in no shape to work, and maybe never could be returned to productivity. Others could be returned to the work force with intervention and treatment, over time.

About 40% of people experiencing homelessness have serious mental health concerns, and, of course, there is some overlap with the substance abuse group. They are disabled and can’t work, although this could change too. Many people who are seriously impaired in this way could become sufficiently rehabilitated to hold jobs. Warehousing them in institutions was not an acceptable answer, but turning them loose with the expectation that they could be depended on to take their medications was not a viable answer either. If psychotropic drugs work at all, it’s within a matrix of stability, good physical health, proper diet, and medical supervision to monitor and adjust the medications. There is hope in that area too.

But right now, we’re talking about the approximately 50% of adults experiencing homelessness who could perfectly well be working if there were jobs, or who are working, but still not making enough for the basic needs of shelter, food, and clothing. So about half of the current homeless adults are not able to work at the present time, and half are. The ones who could work, what they need is not support from tax dollars, but the opportunity to support themselves.

Another thing shown by surveys is that nationally, the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population are single mothers and their children. They fall into both categories, because for a mother who is physically and mentally able to work, taking a job means finding child care, which is another back-breaking expense. (Of course, child-care workers need to make a genuine living wage, too.)

Realizing the expense to the working poor who have children, various governments at various times have subsidized child care. Which leads to questions about the paradoxical weirdness of having people work to pay taxes, so part of their taxes can be used to pay somebody else to take care of their children. A lot of people ask, wouldn’t it be simpler to just pay them to take care of their own children? But that’s another topic.

The Universal Living Wage was designed to help the working poor who are doing their best, and still can’t make rent, and the unemployed but able people experiencing homelessness, who need an opportunity. Do yourself a favor and let Richard explain how the Universal Living Wage could get half the homeless people off the streets.

Wayne Hurlbert has obviously done this interview thing before. Unlike some media personalities, he takes the time to review the material beforehand. He asks relevant questions and then lets the guest talk — basic good manners and good journalism. All authors should be so lucky as to have such a platform to express our views, and to have such an enthusiastic supporter. Hurlbert also published a review of Looking Up at the Bottom Line, at Blog Business World, which concerns itself with business, marketing, public relations, and SEO for successful entrepreneurs.

Reactions?

Source: “Richard Troxell: Looking Up At The Bottom Line,” BlogTalkRadio.com, 12/07/10
Source: “HTH Health Survey Results 2010 for Austin, Texas,” HouseTheHomeless.org, 10/12/10
Image by twicepix, used under its Creative Commons license.

1

More Stuff About Stuff

Pulling CartDuring this materialistic holiday season, there is more to say about belongings. Coats, for instance. Viking Moving and Storage in New York has a long-standing tradition that helps people experiencing homelessness. It sponsors an annual Coat Drive, and this is one of the interesting facts the company shares with the public:

90% of homeless adults need a new, warm coat each winter because they have no place to keep one over the summer months.

Where do all the old coats go? Are they all so worn and soiled that they can’t be refurbished? Doesn’t anybody sort them out and dry-clean the salvageable ones and save them till next year? What a waste, if they are all just thrown away.

And what about the “Element S(urvival)” coat that converts into a sleeping bag? Whether this remains a handcrafted item made by the inhabitants of homeless shelters, or somehow goes into mass production, the intention is to distribute these coats as widely as possible to people experiencing homelessness. What happens at the end of winter? Will they all just be thrown away? Do we want all that Tyvek insulation in the landfill? Are these coats recyclable? Or will there be a place for each person to store the coat until next winter?

Slight digression on the subject of clothing: In Austin, Texas, the Thermal Underwear Drive is still in progress. Please consider donating to it, or an equivalent program in your area.

A solid citizen who needs four pieces of luggage for a weekend vacation will get all upset about a person experiencing homelessness, whose total possessions fit into a jumbo-sized trash bag. Whether stuff is worth having is not for somebody else to judge. People should be able to have the stuff they need, or think they need. (Within certain limits. No dead animals, for instance. But housed people are not supposed to have those either.)

What happens when you suddenly (or slowly and painfully) become a family experiencing homelessness? What happens to all your special things? The knickknacks that relatives gave you, the beautiful objects from friends and lovers, family photo albums, the kids’ school projects. With any luck, you can talk a friend or relative into keeping a few boxes in their garage, where your stuff may or may not be stolen or watersoaked, or eaten by rats.

If a family loses its housing in warm weather, the cold will eventually come again. You really need to keep the kids’ winter clothes. Surely some day you will have a kitchen again, and need your pots and pans. If you’re lucky enough to have a computer or a decent stereo system, trying to hang onto those should not be an unreasonable desire. Of course, many people facing homelessness sell everything. If they don’t, critical people think they should. Even if it means settling for 10 cents on the dollar, for things that will be an expensive hassle to replace.

To maintain any kind of hygiene, social acceptability, and personal pride, there is a certain irreducible amount of possessions a person needs. To maintain any kind of civilized existence, you just plain need stuff, and a place to keep it, either short-term, long-term, or both. Families need stuff, single people need stuff, and even if you can’t use it right now, someday you might once more have a living space to use it in. How can you let that stuff go? You can’t carry it around. Sometimes, if there is any money at all coming in, you can rent storage. Do you buy storage or food? There are a million Sophie’s Choices to make, a million stories out there. The homeless are not an amorphous mass.

There used to be lockers in bus stations and train stations, but no more. Another casualty of the drug war, no doubt. Horrified by the idea that somebody might keep a stash in a locker, the people in charge would naturally want to remove any opportunity for anyone to leave anything, no matter how innocent, in a locker. Between that and the 9/11 paranoia, lockers are disappearing from the public scene, if they haven’t already.

A few days ago we talked about former basketball star Ray Williams, who now has a job and an apartment after a long spell of homelessness. One of his misfortunes was that a storage facility auctioned off his furniture and other belongings — though it apparently gave him a nine-month grace period to pay back rent, which is unprecedented generosity.

Back in July, it was reported that, aside from the found wreck that Williams slept in, he actually owned a roadworthy Chevy Tahoe. Unfortunately, his working vehicle was being held by a repair shop that needed its $550 bill paid. In October, when Williams was about to leave Florida for Mt. Vernon, Tim Povtak published a followup story. By the time this story appeared, the repair shop bill had escalated to $2,900. That’s how it is to be destitute. Even when you don’t buy anything, stuff costs you money. Even when you don’t have access to your stuff, it costs money to hold onto it.

This comes (with permission to share) from Sam Crespi of Women Who Dare, a note about when she lived in Los Angeles:

There was a young man who’d worked for the Peace Corps. He rented an abandoned gas station downtown, across the street from the homeless theater… I can’t quite remember what he called it, but I think it was Planet Earth. He realized that there were homeless men who could pick up jobs unloading trucks in the neighborhood, and that what kept them from doing it was they’d likely lose their belongings, which they’d to try to hide somewhere, usually unsuccessfully.

So he found a bunch of school type lockers on the cheap and installed them around the station and that solved that problem. Someone gave him some furniture (chairs and some sofas, small tables), someone else game boards (chess, checkers, etc). We brought an old oil drum so they could have a fire at night. Sometimes we brought hot food. A small boy from Salvador with his mother, both of whom were living in a cardboard box, came by sometimes. By then there was a TV, and I started renting films for him.

What I remember is how much it meant for these people to be respected — talked with as they were more than someone without a face. They felt nourished by that theater, by the games, the conversation. It gave them a chance for a short time to leave behind all the rest.

Reactions?

Source: “About Us – Newsroom,” A1FirstClass.com, 01/10
Source: “The Nomadic Life of Former Knicks Captain Ray Williams,” Fanhouse.com, 10/11/10
Image by moriza (Mo Riza), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Best Holiday Wishes from House the Homeless!

Soup Kitchen Scrollwork

Merry Christmas, or holiday of your choice, and please don’t forget the ongoing Thermal Underwear Drive in Austin, Texas, or similar program in your area to help people experiencing homelessness. Cheers!

Image by gruntzooki (Cory Doctorow), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Minimum Wage and the Universal Living Wage

Black square sunFull Disclosure: Richard R. Troxell is President of House the Homeless, in whose online presence you are at this very moment. Richard is the guy in the picture, holding up Homey Too, the official thermal underwear model of the Thermal Underwear Drive in Austin, Texas, which is in progress even as we speak. In my capacity as newsblogger, I feel moved to read with interest, then capsulize and remark upon, his essay, “Reasons for raising the minimum wage,” the same as any other piece of journalism. So here goes.

The Universal Living Wage idea has three basic tenets. One of them is,

Spend no more than 30% of one’s income on housing.

See? I knew this would be interesting, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. Troxell explains that the 30% figure was established by the banks, as the cutoff beyond which a person presumably could not afford to make mortgage payments. The assumption is, a person needs 70% of his or her income for other things, such as food, transportation, medicine, etc. And if the mortgage bill is more than 30%, this person will continue to spend the 70% on those other things anyway, and the bank will get the short end of the stick.

Also, 30% is the standard guideline used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, aka HUD. If a family is paying more than 30% of its income for housing, it needs help. So, the business community and the government agree that, theoretically, shelter should not eat up more than 30%, or approximately one-third of what a person or family has coming in.

This is the part that blows me away. When I was growing up and taking classes like Home Economics in school, we learned that the magic number was 25%. The received wisdom was that a person or family oughtn’t pay more than one-fourth of its income for housing. See, someone has sneakily raised the bar. In the old days, it was, “If you pay more than one dollar out of four, you are a bad household manager and a fiscal profligate.” Then, somehow, our expectations were re-engineered. Now, it’s, “If you pay more than one dollar out of three, you are a careless and irresponsible.”

We were once taught that one-fourth of what we had was the reasonable amount to spend for housing. We’ve been re-programmed to accept the idea that instead, now a larger proportion, one-third of what we have, is the reasonable amount to spend for housing.

And, of course, the whole thing is a crazy dream anyway. People are willing to pay half of their income just to get under a roof and avoid being homeless. They are willing to scrimp and do without other things to make their budget viable. But even if tenants are willing to get along without much else in order to be housed, landlords have their rules, too. They go by the same standards that the banks do. When you fill out a rental application, those numbers had better look good to them.

Another of the Universal Living Wage’s three prongs is the proposition that the minimum wage would vary by region, being indexed to the cost of housing locally. This would mean changing the way the federal government determines poverty guidelines. Rather than being based on food costs, it would be based on the cost of housing, which is less volatile. Troxell explains how the HUD voucher rental program currently works and how it determines Fair Market Rent.

The formula that would be used to determine the ULW is explained in great detail on the Universal Living Wage website. (Choose “ULW formula” from the menu on the left.) Also available there is the opportunity to endorse the ULW:

In just the first three years of our five year campaign, we have the following international, national, business, celebrity, enlightened markets, regional, religious and union endorsements for the Universal Living Wage Campaign. Would your group like to stand up and be counted on the subject of a Universal Living Wage? Sign our Resolution and send it to us! We’ll add you to our roster.

We also recommend the “Facts and Myths” section of the site, which contains an exhaustive list of facts and information about why the myths are wrong. The ULW idea is based on the assumption that a person is putting in a 40-hour workweek, either at one job or perhaps a combination of two part-time jobs. The idea is simple: Anybody who works a 40-hour week ought to be able to afford basic rental housing. And if they can’t, something is wrong with the system.

Reactions?

Source: “Reasons for raising the minimum wage,” Helium.com
Source: “Endorsements,” UniversalLivingWage.org
Image by quapan, used under its Creative Commons license.

0

First-Person Homeless

18 MonthsPeople often ask Lars Eighner whether he became homeless in order to have something to write about. After all, he wouldn’t be the first aspiring wordsmith to have launched himself into the world in search of material. But no. The author of Travels with Lizbeth says,

I cannot imagine deliberately exchanging a gentleman’s attire for rags, sleeping on a bench when I had a good bed of my own, or doing any of the other things the other authors are said to have done merely to get a book. Whenever I had the opportunity of improving my situation, I took it, and if I had found the chance to get off the streets, my book would not now exist.

The thing about writers is, they are unable to not write, and they will continue to write any time, anywhere. So, naturally, Eighner wrote letters to a friend, knowing he would hold onto them. This stratagem is commonly employed by impoverished artists in shaky circumstances. The friend, historical novelist Steven Saylor, thought there was a book in it.

Eighner recounts the long, excruciatingly difficult process of squeezing out a publishable manuscript on a $10 manual typewriter, in a building without heat, water, or electricity. He sometimes had trouble endorsing the project himself, because being homeless was simply his everyday life. If he could have done so, he would have swapped it for a different one, preferably with a better class of accommodations.

Picaresque memoirs inhabit a long and honorable tradition. Sometimes, a wanderer sets out to roam the world and endure hardships for a greater purpose. Sometimes, a person who was perfectly all right where he or she was is plucked up by the hand of fate and set down on a road. Either way, might as well get some good copy out of it.

We live in a time when the minimum wage won’t house an individual, let alone a family. No longer can a living wage be lived on. An awful lot of people are in dire straits, and the more their individual voices can be heard the better it is for everybody.

The book we often mention, Richard R. Troxell’s Looking Up at the Bottom Line, is not just a history of his own activities in the cause of social justice, and it’s not merely a history of social phenomena in Austin, Texas. (Where, incidentally, Eighner also lives.) Nor is it only an activist how-to manual. It is also the repository of the individual stories of many, many of the people experiencing homelessness.

We have mentioned the Ace Backwords’ classic Surviving on the Streets in relation to the Thermal Underwear Drive that is currently underway in Austin. (Yes, there is a connection.) Backwords has played the role of a recording angel on behalf of many stories other than his own. His profiles of the street people of Berkeley, California, are valuable documents in the story of our millennia-straddling era.

The very vocal, eloquent and noticeable personality of Eric Sheptock is penetrating the nation’s consciousness as he keeps his promise to “enlighten, empower, engage, enrage, entertain, and explain.” Here’s a man who is unlikely to shop online, is probably not many women’s idea of a dream date, and can’t help anybody find job. Yet, nearly 5,000 people have signed up to be his Facebook friends. Why do you suppose that is? Could it be because he has something to say? The “homeless homeless advocate” in our nation’s capital could become a man to reckon with. In fact, he is already, as Nathan Rott demonstrates in his Washington Post profile of Sheptock.

Alexandra Jarrin is making news at this very moment by encouraging people across the country to write letters about what it’s like to run out of unemployment benefits and stare the specter of homelessness in the face, if they’re not already experiencing homelessness. She prints out their individual stories and delivers them to the office of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is one of the good guys.

Photo Note: Photographer Aaron M says,

This guy used to be an industrial painter (bridges, that sort of thing). He lost his job 18 months ago, and hasn’t found anything since. Once he went through his unemployment benefits and then his savings, his home was foreclosed and his vehicle repossessed. So now he panhandles in suburban Seattle.

Reactions?

Source: “About Travels with Lizbeth,” LarsEighner.com
Source: “DC’s ‘homeless homeless’ advocate,” The Washington Post, 12/13/10
Source: “Alexandra Jarrin, Homeless Unemployed Woman, Writes To Bernie Sanders for Help,” The Huffington Post, 12/12/10
Image by Seven_Null7 (Aaron M), used under its Creative Commons license.

0

People Experiencing Homelessness Need Underwear and Outerwear

Woolen underwearIn mid-November, on the California coastline, Mount Carmel Lutheran Church continued its 15-year-long tradition of hosting the San Luis Obispo County Band at an event to raise money for the needs of people experiencing homelessness. As reported by Danielle Lerner, they support the particular requirements of the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter, which this year is concentrating on supplying socks, underwear, and bedding.

In Lincoln Park, Illinois, around Thanksgiving time, St. Clement’s church takes up an annual collection of hats, underwear, gloves, and socks. You will have noticed that the first letters of those words conveniently spell the friendly acronym H.U.G.S., so you wind up with the name H.U.G.S. for the Homeless.

In fact, plenty of faith-based groups and community organizations across the country have concentrated their efforts on hats, underwear, gloves, and socks. We have mentioned before the importance of wearing hats in cold weather. The human body throws off a lot of heat from the skull. A hat goes a long way toward keeping a person warm.

The extremities at the other end need warmth too. In Surviving on the Streets, homeless
cartoonist/memoirist/activist/musician Ace Backwords reveals that socks and underwear are the only articles of clothing that he buys. For anything else, used is okay. But even a street person has to draw the line somewhere. (Especially if he’s a cartoonist. You can laugh now.) Actually, Backwords has quite a lot to say about footwear in general. For instance:

If you’ve got a hole in your shoe and your socks get wet, you are very likely going to be walking around in cold, wet socks for the next few days. You might have all the other warm gear you need, but with wet socks you are going to be cold and shivering and miserable and very possibly sick… Keep in mind, you are not a normal person; you will very likely be living with your boots on, sometimes up to 24 hours a day… No point in dying with them on, too, at least not just yet.

Then Backwords goes on to tell some stories that would make your lunch try to get away from you. There is nothing glamorous about street life. There is certainly nothing glamorous about frostbite or even a runny nose. Which brings us back to Texas, which people think of as hot, but parts of it can get pretty cold on occasion.

In Austin, the annual Thermal Underwear Drive is underway. It will culminate in a January 1 blowout when all the collected clothing items will find their new owners. Plans are afoot, and funds need to be raised. Richard R. Troxell says,

This will be the 10th Annual House the Homeless Thermal Underwear Party. I’ve gotten the Rockin’ South Austin Gospel Band to again participate. Joanne will help us gather hams, turkeys, pies etc. Sylvia will run the kitchen.

Richard speaks for sponsoring organization House the Homeless, and many others support the event, including KXAN, Channel 36. News 8 posted a clip featuring reportage by Jenna Hiller and introducing Homey-too, the Thermal Underwear Drive‘s mascot, who wears a set of long johns to set a good example.

Going from underwear to outerwear, there is exciting news from Detroit, Michigan, where a 21-year-old industrial design major named Veronika Scott has invented a coat that converts into a sleeping bag. Free Press staffer Bill Laitner wrote about it, and his story was picked up by the Chicago Tribune.

Depending on who you ask, there are between 18,000 and 32,000 people experiencing homelessness in Detroit, and Scott hopes her idea will keep some of them alive and relatively comfortable throughout the winter. She went broke creating prototype coats, bringing each version closer to the vision. (Industrial trivia: James Dyson has engineered 5,127 vacuum cleaners, each one slightly different, before settling on the production model.)

The “Element S(urvival) coat” is made from Tyvek HomeWrap insulation, lined with synthetic fleece donated by the Carhartt company. Imre Molnar, dean of the College for Creative Studies, endorsed Scott’s project. Journalist Laitner captured a quotation from this patron, who used to work for the outdoor gear company Patagonia. Molnar said,

This is extraordinary. If this garment is successful in Detroit, it’s going to work across the country and around the world for homeless people, to say nothing of the relief industry.

Another ally is Rev. Faith Fowler of Cass Community Social Services, which has the people and the space to start putting coats together. A local company is providing sewing machines. Clients of the Neighborhood Service Organization shelter, who over the past months have gotten to know the “coat lady,” will do the, so to speak, road testing.

Reactions?

Source: “SLO County Band uses music to help the homeless,” KSBY-TV, 11/14/10
Source: “H.U.G.S. for the Homeless,” St. Clement Church, 11/20/10
Source: “Surviving on the Streets,” Amazon.com
Source: “Thermal Underwear Drive,” HouseTheHomeless.com
Source: “College student hopes her coat will save homeless people’s lives,” Freep.com, 11/18/10
Image by mricon, 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.”

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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.