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Posts Tagged ‘challenges of homelessness’

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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We call those who are served by the Respite “clients” for several reasons – it connotates respect and self-worth, helps to maintain professionalism, and it’s accurate, if somewhat formal.

One of our clients passed away yesterday morning, and calling him a client already seems wrong.  Mr. W was a friend as well as a person who came to the Respite to recover.  Despite the severity of his illness he was always in good spirits, always polite.  In fact, he was cheerful to the point that his death took some of us by surprise. 

After becoming ill one afternoon, he took a cab to the emergency room, telling his friends on the way out to help themselves to his cigarettes; he knew he wasn’t coming back. 

Although we know that everyone served by the Respite is ill, we are never truly prepared to lose them.  Rest in peace, Mr. W.  We miss you.

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving!  And what could be more wonderful than a holiday with so much great food involved?  Even for me, an admittedly mediocre chef, friends, family and (admittedly again) food take center stage.  I quizzed all available staff and clients to put together a new “complete the phrase” activity about Thanksgiving.  The query was one with which you may be familiar . .

I’m thankful for .  .  .

. . .friends and family.

. . .that there is a place like Respite.

. . .opportunities.

. . .God*, who gave me another chance to start over here at the Respite, and new beginnings.

. . .the Lord who is watching over me, keeping me clean and sober, and who brought me here.

. . .blue skies and sunshine.

. . .that I have the Lord and for everything I have, although I hope some things will improve.

. . .faith, family, friends, food, forgiveness, and fudge.

Also, we’re thankful to our extended “family” of volunteers, donors, supporters, staff members, friends, board members, and those who follow us online or via newsletter.  Your support is incredible and we are incredibly thankful for it.  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

*The Respite is secular and we welcome a diverse set of men and women with varying beliefs and backgrounds.  The intention here is to let each client’s voice be heard, not to promote a particular belief system.

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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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