Archive for the ‘Housing’ Category

Despite being forced to move six times, residents of the tent city dubbed “Nickelsville” in Seattle continue to rebuild.  Each time they are “evicted,” tempers flare until a new location is found.

Tent cities are frequently maligned by media and citizens alike.  Squatters, as residents are referred to, are taken as convicts, addicts, or worse.  Not every tent city, however, is built on a foundation of shame.  Nor are they ungoverned or ungovernable.  Nickelsville has a makeshift firestation and tents for food and clothing donations.

Amazingly, this tent city is self-governed, accepts donations in an organized fashion, and prohibits drugs and alcohol.

Homeless people have a bad reputation of being thoughtless and uncouth.  I have been asked, at times, if my work at the Center for Respite Care is “thankless.”  It is not; in every group of clients we serve, several exhibit the same industry and selflessness as the residents of Nickelsville.

Take a tour of the city here, from an outsider’s perspective, meet a few residents, and learn what it means to be self-sufficient, if still technically breaking the law.


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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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The Center for Respite Care has a newly-launched permanent housing program (Respite Permanent Housing or RPH)that provides scattered-site placements for clients with disabilities.  Fourteen of twenty available slots have currently been filled with clients that are working with our case manager and/or housing counselor to become self-sufficient.

Once clients obtain employment or Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Income (SSI/SSDI), they transition off the program.  Along the way, they are taught skills in budgeting, basic daily living (cleaning, cooking, bus transportation, etc.), and life skills.

I sat down with Kathy Miller, our Housing Coordinator, to get a behind-the-scenes look at life on the front lines of RPH.

Q: So, why is there a need for the services you provide?  Let’s start with housing.

A: Well, the clients in my program are disabled.  The majority are unable to work, have applied for SSI or SSDI, or are looking for employment.  This isn’t a permanent housing program: our primary goal is self-sufficiency.

Q: Ok, and as far as social service needs, what kinds of skills do you teach?

A: We cover basic daily living skills including budgeting, making a grocery list, and using public transportation.  Our funds and resources are limited, but we do devote a case manager or housing coordinator to each client to help them develop a case management plan. 

Q: I think a lot of our readers will wonder why an adult would need to learn these skills.  Can you explain?

A: Our clients have different histories, but many have always depended on someone else to take care of them, so their skills are limited.  It may have been a parent early on and later a spouse.  Some have been homeless for so long that they forgot those skills, or the world has simply changed to the point where they need to relearn them.”

Q: What are some other barriers clients face?

A: Communication is a big issue.  Clients are often isolated from family and friends for so long that they lose communication skills.  There’s a different level of slang and communication on the streets than there is in other parts of society. 

Our housing team is an indefatigable duo (as in just two!) that take care of all these services for our clients.  They select appropriate clients from Respite, recruit understanding landlords, oversee the distribution of donated furniture and kitchen supplies, organize moving days, make follow-up visits, case plans, and everything in between. 

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