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Posts Tagged ‘homeless shelter’

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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ken-juggling1 Sometimes we all feel like we’re juggling – work, bills, family, health – it can seem like  a lot.  The Center for Respite Care’s staff and clients are no exception.  Like most nonprofits, we’re always trying to keep overhead as low as possible.  And our clients often stress over health problems, fractured relationships, rebuilding, dealing with lots of paperwork (getting ID’s, food stamps, etc.), and the day-to-day inconveniences of being poor.  Waiting for a late bus when you’re trying to get to the doctor is no joke!

All of this stress needs an outlet, and that’s where Juggling for a Cure comes in!  Friendly founder Ken Lewis is a U.S. Navy vet started Juggling for a Cure in 2008 and already has a busy schedule of performances.

I think when Ken first came in, I underestimated the value of this service.  Since entertainment isn’t essential, our staff tends to focus on the basics as much as possible.  Still, it’s great to see the clients get their minds off their troubles for a while, relax, and smile.

juggling-audience-smiling

Plus, Ken doesn’t just perform, he also teaches – and learns – in front of his audience.  He has been coming to the Center for Respite Care for three months and with each visit he brings new skills to teach and props to share.  The audience gets a quick tutorial on how to learn juggling and Ken freely passes around his props for everyone to touch.  He even got us to participate.  Check out Ginger, one of our nursing assistants, learning to juggle below.  (She juggled two bean bags after only 2 minutes of teaching!)

ginger-learning-to-juggle4

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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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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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Happy Blog Action Day!  Despite writing about homeless people and the medical needs of this population all the time, I sometimes forget to consult the panel of experts (often referred to as our clients) that hang out on the Respite porch every afternoon.  Today, everyone was playing cards.  They let me interrupt to ask this question about poverty: What does it mean to be poor? 

Being poor means .  .  .

. . .fear of the future.

. . .a certain state of mind.

. . .appreciating things more.

. . .being scared.

. . .being treated like a second class citizen.

. . .there’s nowhere to go but up.

. . .you work hard to change your life to make it better.

. . .being frightened.

. . .wondering where meals will come from the last week of the month.

. . .lack of knowledge, not having much self-esteem.

. . .lack of independence.

. . .being without and being depressed.  Every day of being homeless is depressing.

. . .insufficient funds.

. . .being lost in the world.

 

I bolded the answers that my “experts” liked best.  Those two responses elicited an immediate approval from everyone in the vicinity. 

Finally, do you notice now many answers revolve around fear?  For those experiencing homelessness, extreme poverty is more about fear than money.

Another tenet of Blog Action is discussing solutions to the issue.  This is a gargantuan task.  Money alone isn’t going to work – everyone at Respite told me that today.  Compassion would be a start, maybe a huge start.  There is so much animosity towards those who are poor in the United States.  We’re willing to travel extreme distances to help out abroad; what about those in our community who are in need?

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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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