Archive for the ‘barriers for homeless’ Category

Today, I want you to meet David.  More importantly, I want you to meet David’s feet.  I talked about David in last week’s post, and David has even been mentioned in the Enquirer.

But I don’t know if you really understand David’s feet.  Frostbite sounds bad, but not horrifying.  I think David’s feet are horrifying.  Horrifying because they display the needless injuries inflicted on everyday people who can’t afford medical care.  Horrifying because they are the result of honest work, not substance abuse or living on the streets.  In fact, David lost his job because of the injury, not vice versa.

I’ve posted pictures before to show you what we do at the Respite.  You’ve seen clients after healing and recuperation, after housing and health.  Here are pictures of what an earlier stage in that process looks like:

Can you say "no" to healthcare for the homeless. . .

Can you say "no" to healthcare for the homeless. . .

. . . after seeing how bad it really can be?

. . . after seeing how bad it really can be?

People say, "I don't want my tax dollars to fund homeless services."

People say, "I don't want my tax dollars to be a free ride for someone who's just lazy."

But we don't help "the homeless," we help people.

See any lazy people here?

It’s easy to write off the issue of homelessness through stereotypes.  It’s not as easy to deny urgently needed medical care because of assumptions about past actions or potential for the future.  The health care needs of homeless individuals in our community are serious and growing.  People like David need help now or they risk drastic consequences.


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Reading other blogs about homelessness is a curious thing.  There are blogs by those who are or have been homeless, those who work or volunteer with a homeless clientele, and blogs about other topics that mention homelessness once in a while (typically when the author has an encounter with a homeless person).

The most frequently commented upon blog articles seem to be those about an individual’s first night of homelessness.  I admit, I frequently leave comments on these articles myself.

Why is it that we’re so sympathetic to the person who experiences their first day of homelessness, but callous toward the person who has been homeless for months or years?  It’s a matter of perspective.  The person spending a stray night in a homeless shelter could well be us, we think.  

What if we lost our jobs and had a concurrent major illness?  What if a loved one (or ones) passed away suddenly?  What if . . . whatever combination of tragedies it might take.  I think we’ve all had thoughts that it could be us.  For some it might take more tragedies than others, but the possibility is there.

In considering the chronically homeless person, we’re less sympathetic.  Why?  Because we believe we cannot sink to that level.  We would pull ourselves out or find help somehow.

We may be able to make the leap to understanding who someone (even ourselves) can become homeless, but we believe that if you’re homeless for more than a few weeks, well, you must just be lazy.  Or ignorant.  Or an addict.  Why don’t they just get jobs after all?  Or just apply for the loads of benefits we finance through our taxes?  Or get social security?

We fail to consider the psychological effects of life on the streets.  It takes many of our clients several days to warm up to staff at the Respite and our mission is to help them.  Imagine how difficult they find it to reconnect with family and friends.

And all those “free benefits”?  True, they’re out there.  But how long can you afford to wait?  It can take weeks to qualify for food stamps, months to gain tenant-based rental assistance, and years to be awarded social security disability.

As for employment, would you hire someone who admitted to being homeless?  How about someone who claimed to have stable housing, but was mysteriously never home when you called?  Would you hire someone with dirty fingernails or ragged clothing?  Maybe you would.  Then again, maybe you’d prefer to hire the clean-cut teenager who made the honor roll last quarter.

Are we really as impervious as we believe?  Or is the hard truth that homelessness, once it happens, can be nearly impossible to escape?  How many of these truths do we ignore because they are simply too frightening to accept?

The ultimate truth is surely more complex, but everytime I read comment-loaded articles about an individual’s first terrifying night as a homeless person, I wonder.

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I was tag surfing today, checking out other blog articles on homelessness and found a great description of one woman’s first day at a homeless shelter.  It contains many of the details I’ve heard from Respite clients (about their stay at “traditional” emergency shelters, not a respite facility), along with the fear, worry, and unease inherent to the situation. 

As you can tell from the woman’s description, a typical shelter is no place for someone to try to recover after being hospitalized, having surgery, or being released from an emergency room.  There are showers and a place to sleep, but in the wee hours of the morning, each person must return to the streets.  For an injured person, this would surely contribute to repeat hospitalizations and ER visits.

Running a homeless shelter is definitely a balancing game.  If you provide more services, you serve fewer people.  If you try to serve everyone, you can’t provide as much help for each individual.  At the Center for Respite Care, we provide medical recovery and 24-hour shelter.  We have high success rates for our population, but we are limited to serving fourteen people at a time.  Luckily, there are other agencies in Cincinnati that create something of a safety net, but we do sometimes turn people away because we don’t have the resources to serve them.  On the upside, we’re the only agency in Cincinnati that providing this service and can hopefully expand our size in the future. 

If you’ve never heard of the Center for Respite Care (or other similar respite care provider for the homeless), I’d urge you to visit our website: www.homelessrespite.org.

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It’s Friday again – our song this week is Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution,” again from LaDonna.  Millie, our nurse manager, wanted to share “Trying to Find My Place in the World,” but we couldn’t track it down on YouTube.  If anyone knows the artist for that piece, leave us a comment and I’ll post the song next week.

Meanwhile, “Revolution” is a fair description of day-to-day life for many low-income and homeless men and women who spend many a long hour waiting in line to secure benefits.  As a result of the recent economic downturn, cash-strapped agencies try to help a growing number of people with dwindling resources.  This can result in longer wait times for those who need help the most. 

For Respite clients who break the cycle of homelessness, being housed really is a revolution.  And it takes a personal revolution to work through issues of mental illness, addiction, and abuse.  That’s why we’re so proud of clients like Mike!

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Driving to the Center for Respite Care this morning was interesting.  A large thunderstorm knocked down trees and powerlines in certain parts of Cincinnati last night (including our neighborhood, Avondale) and when I finally made it through several busy intersections without traffic lights, past cones, and around Duke Energy trucks, I knew today would be no ordinary day.  We truly take our electricity for granted.

Homeless people don’t take electricity for granted because, obviously, they usually have extremely limited access to it.  However, energy concerns continue to effect homeless men and women long after their immediate housing concerns are resolved.  Why?  Because outstanding utility bills can prevent them from securing permanent housing.  While there are agencies that will help with outstanding bills, they are not able to help everyone. 

Depending on the depth of security checks a landlord performs, outstanding utility bills can have the same effect as a bad credit rating or eviction history.  Furthermore, anyone who has such a bill cannot have a utility in their name until it is paid off.  The best short-term fix is to find an apartment that has utilities included.  Even this inclusion, of course, won’t prevent a landlord from turning down these applicants.

Returning to society is something of a choice at first, but it also takes hard work, determination, and time to overcome all the obstacles and consequences of a life that has lead to homelessness.  Health issues can be improved and sometimes even resolved, but there are so many tiny details of living in society that can take months and even years to resolve.  Can you think of others?

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The homeless are people, first of all, and some people are lazy.  To say, however that all homeless people are lazy is unkind.  I watch many of my clients expend huge amounts of time and energy just to reclaim some basics: filling prescriptions, obtaining a birth certificate or social security card, or applying for food stamps.  Getting a set of glasses, for one client, took about six hours because she had a long bus wait and a long bus ride each way.  That’s a long time to go without a meal!

We really should look at the individual because there are different homeless people out there, not just one big group of “lazy homeless people.”  It’s an unfair stereotype, really.

The clients here at the Center for Respite Care are homeless and sick, so they have to navigate crazy bus schedules, medical/social work appointments, and answering some bigger questions about what comes next.  I won’t deny laziness in some, but I refuse to label them as a group.  If you met a lazy accountant, would you assume that all other accountants are lazy?  I hope that you would not.  Take the same approach with homeless people.

In the Center for Respite Care lobby, there is a sign that reads, “Homelessness is a situation, not an identity.”  None of us are immune to this situation, either, and realizing this helps build compassion.  I’m not saying there aren’t lazy homeless people, I’m saying that there are lazy people in all walks of life.  That doesn’t mean we can’t feel compassion for them.

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Homeless people typically don’t have much furniture.  Even those homeless men and women who once had apartments typically lose their belongings upon eviction.  I’ve had a lot of calls about furniture donations lately, and wanted to address the best way to donate your gently used furniture to the Center for Respite Care or another agency serving the homeless in Cincinnati. 

The Center for Respite Care uses furniture as part of Respite Permanent Housing, but we don’t accept furniture donations for our homeless clients.  Why not?  Because space is at a premium in our facility and even with a storage unit, we just don’t have the space or the manpower to process furniture donations. 

This is where New Life Furniture comes in.  New Life is a nonprofit in Cincinnati that assists families in need by providing gently used furniture to help make their house a home.  Every weekend, this great group picks up donations of gently used furniture and delivers them to those in need.  They’ve been an amazing help to our clients (see their May 3, 2008 blog entry at the last link), who enter our housing program often with only a tiny amount of clothing and personal items.  Without the help of Tim and Holly, the founders of New Life, we would have little means of furnishing apartments for all the clients in RPH.

If you have furniture to donate, please consider New Life Furniture!  Remember to check their list of acceptable items and donate only those items that are still in good working condition, without rips or tears.

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