Helping Panhandlers

by Stephanie Thomas

Recently I watched a TED Talk given by Richard Berry who at the time of the talk was the mayor of Albuquerque, NM. His talk was on his program There’s a Better Way which was created to get panhandlers off the street. The city put 50k into his good-intentioned program, using the money to fix up a van and pay a driver named Will who spent an hour driving around town each day asking panhandlers if they wanted to work for the day. Most did and they were taken to a job site where they worked along city workers cleaning up trash and brush.

Mayor Berry praised the program’s success. He did in fact get more panhandlers into homeless shelters, assisted many into getting mental health and medical treatment, and helped 100 people find full time jobs. He also proved his theory that there are panhandlers who would rather work then beg. Unfortunately, the program did not make a dent in the number of panhandlers in the city of Albuquerque.

Was it a good program? It might have been with enough resources.  People on the street clearly need someone like Will who will come up to them and say, “Hi, I want to help you. Here’s a job. Here’s medical treatment. Let’s work together and we can get you off this street corner and into housing.”  However, as with so many programs designed to help panhandlers and the homeless, not enough resources and time were put into There’s a Better Way. Great ideas are worthless without the resources to back them up.

Three years after the program was created, the city changed course and passed an ordinance designed to stop people from panhandling, basically making it illegal for people to beg.

What does it take to get the homeless and panhandlers get off street? We have a model in place. It takes the same kind of funding and effort that was given to get veterans off the street.

Over the last few years the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has been focused on reducing homelessness for veterans. In some cities now, there are few to no homeless veterans. If there are programs and policies that work for veterans then why don’t we fund similar programs and create similar policies to reduce homelessness and the need for panhandling for everyone?

The list below is copied from an “abbreviated” list of the improved process that helped get veterans off the street and into housing:

  • Public housing authorities can share their housing inspection standards with non-profit organizations helping veterans find apartments. This allows non-profits to complete informal pre-inspections to help veterans find apartments that will pass required housing quality inspections on the first try.
  • Public housing authorities can eliminate any locally imposed minimum income requirements for housing homeless veterans.
  • Local VA branches can eliminate any requirement that a veteran enter treatment as a condition for receiving a Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) voucher. Such treatment is not required by federal statute.
  • Public housing authorities can allow use of a veteran’s VA’s DD-214 form to satisfy their identification requirements, rather than requiring birth certificates and social security cards, which homeless veterans may have lost.
  • Local VA branches can train VASH case managers to access the HINQ (Hospital Inquiry) database.
  • Housing agencies can negotiate rent-reasonableness with the prospective landlord at the time of the housing inspection.
  • Public housing authorities can issue provisional rent vouchers to enable homeless veterans to begin a housing search while other paperwork is being finalized.
  • Human services agencies and local VA branches can co-locate and centralize move-in assistance resources or HPRP (Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program) paperwork with a veterans’ service center.

 

Seek Help Immediately

by Susan Redner

Typically, there are a multitude of issues causing families or individuals to become homeless. For people who are earning minimum wage it’s much easier to fall into homelessness than it is for people who earn more, and much more difficult to get out. According to a report done in June by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, an individual needs to make $15.50 an hour to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Guilford County. Minimum wage is $7.25 an hour which is only $290 a week before taxes. For a person who is homeless and trying to stay in a hotel room, it’s almost impossible to afford on minimum wage. A cheap room in Greensboro is $40 a night or $280 a week.

I met Jim 6 months ago. He had recently started a new job and he was relieved to be working. Jim had gotten out of the hospital a few months earlier and only had enough money saved to stay in a hotel for a few months.

His new employer promised Jim he’d make over 40K a year in commission. Jim’s abilities were limited because of poor health, plus the hiring manager was not being completely honest, resulting in Jim making minimum wage.

Before long Jim had to move to a less expensive hotel with a room and amenities that were not as pleasant. He kept working though, hoping to make more money, but within just a few months, Jim ran out of money and was evicted. He refused to go to a shelter, and instead, Jim moved into his car.

Jim goes back and forth between living in his car and staying a room. During those times when he’s living in his car, he washes up in rest stops and gets his clothes cleaned at the cleaners. After work he drives around town for hours trying to find a safe place to park for the night. He likes to watch old TV shows on YouTube to occupy himself but he has trouble keeping his phone charged. Recently his car  began having a mechanical issue that might require repairs Jim can’t afford.

Jim is convinced he’ll be okay, especially since he can stay at a hotel intermittently. Unfortunately, many times, the situation Jim is in leads to that individual losing everything and ending up on the street.

Cheryl is a good example of what happens to people when they start down the road to homelessness. After years of working, Cheryl lost her job. She left her family and moved to Greensboro hoping to find work.  She had a little money and was able to stay in a hotel room and she had a car so she could get around. Because she parked in the wrong place at the wrong time her car was impounded. At that point she didn’t have enough money to get it out and had to give up on it. Most of Cheryl’s belongings were in the car including her laptop. After she lost her car she stayed in a shelter for a while but when that didn’t work out, she ended up living on the street. Once someone starts trying to survive outside it isn’t long before they are arrested, and that’s exactly what happens to Cheryl. She was arrested for trespassing. Now, with a police record, not place to live, no car and no job, her prospects are grim. It was painful to watch Cheryl fall so hard I hope  the same thing doesn’t happen to Jim.

It’s hard to convince someone who is still working and has reliable transportation that the path they’re on is perilous. Reaching out for help the moment you begin to lose ground is the best chance you have to save yourself. It’s easier to get help when you are still in your home. It’s easier to get help when you still have a job. It’s easier to get help when you still have a car.

If you find yourself moving towards the edge of possible homelessness, seek help immediately. Don’t take a chance on falling so far down you can’t make it back up.

A Love Letter to Mama

by Reginald Gilmore

I don’t remember much about you before I saw your face, but the warmth I felt was somewhere I knew I wanted to stay! Though this loud thump seemed too often to keep me awake, I saw something flowing through it, learning later it was your heart beat that spoke a language that would say, “Rest little one, you have plenty of time to enjoy your life. I promise to keep you safe, secure you with love, and sing sweet songs to comfort you through the night!”

Oooh mama for all you did when life breathed its air through you.

Though I didn’t turn out as great as you intended, it speaks volumes still when it says I am your child on loan. God saw you as a worthy carrier to incubate me for 9 months. It may have been a tough delivery that put us both at risk, but I was determined I would still come! To greet the world as an extension of you, I’m so proud to say to you mama – there is no one worthy to replace not even a version of the woman God created in you. Hey mama no one knows the secrets that kept us close..

We’ve shared some very special moments, in your memory I will never forget, that God chose me from your womb. Every special moment I will forever miss!

“Evicted” A Second Look

by Bob Norfleet

The reason the Greensboro Voice reviewed Evicted is because poverty causes eviction and eviction creates homelessness. Eviction is only part of the homeless problem. Actually having an eviction record creates homelessness because many landlords will not rent to someone who has an eviction record. Job loss, divorce, felony records, mental and physical disabilities all play a part in creating homelessness.

Many of our physically disabled fail to qualify for the State’s SSI benefits upon first or second applications. Often, these unfortunate people have to reapply using the services of an attorney who collects a fee from the State but only if their client is approved. While waiting for benefits the unfortunate person often becomes homeless, especially when family is not nearby to lend a hand or a place to stay.

Felony records follow ex-felons around like an incurable disease. Many felons upon release go directly from prison to homeless shelters because family and friends don’t want to associate with them or don’t have the room to share . At the homeless shelters, the ex-felon gets free room and board for only short stays (60 – 90 days). After that, most end up under bridge or in a donated tent. Yes, the punishment for the crime continues well after incarceration.

A serious mental condition that causes a person to “not play well with others” also prohibits one from qualifying or maintaining a job. Landlords don’t like to lease to the mentally ill unless the lease payment is guaranteed from some secondary source and the illness is not dramatically obvious on the date of application.

Many who are walking the streets, once lived with family but were soon asked to move out. Struggling families cannot afford to feed an extra mouth……especially if that mouth cannot get along with paying family members. Everyone is expected to carry some portion of the load. “No money, no stay.”

Only a person who has lived on the streets can feel the fear, taste the rejection or live daily with its associated loneliness. I have been amazingly blessed in this life. I was raised by loving parents and loving relatives. I got a stern scolding or whipping as a child if I did something unethical against a friend, neighbor or stranger. I was taught that I had value and was encouraged to move forward and to accept failings by getting back on my feet. I was expected to work hard and use my brain to get an education, get a job, give service others and be a loving person to my family & friends. I was taught to be kind to strangers but to keep my guard up. I missed the mark many times. Still, good choices are options that come easily to me. To the homeless, options come hard and every option seems to have scary consequences. “Got that job…..now how will I get to work? When can I get a roof over my head”.

Poverty and it’s evil siblings are unintended partners for too many in this world. Happiness for them is fleeting and choices seem limited. So they get evicted, loose jobs more frequently, commit crimes more often, end up incarcerated and experience homelessness.  Few find themselves motivated or qualified to grasp the brass ring when it comes their way because they don’t recognize its face or it’s value. It is a stranger so they pass it by. Then they get evicted

In The Eye

by Rege Gilmore

Raging out of control in a maze of pain,

Seeking refuge under the shadows of the Almighty’s name.

I need protection for this battle has just begun,

Though now I see the purpose thank God, and that it’s already won.

He has prepared me for what will be called the fight of my life,

And sometimes my weeping may go longer than a night.

Yet, when I look up and see my Giants they will be begging for mercy,

Because in the eye of this storm I’m still free in knowing He has not left me!

“Evicted” Book Review

by Stephanie Thomas

Evicted, written by Matthew Desmond, will change your perspective on the causes and result of evictions. In his book, Desmond follows 8 families through the process of being evicted. He spends an enormous amount of time with each family, allowing us to get a close look into their personal lives, revealing the effect evictions has on them.

The eight families featured in the book live in Milwaukee, in what most of us would consider extreme poverty. When they and their families are evicted, they lose more than a place to live. Some of lose all of their possessions. One loses his job. Most lose access to decent neighborhoods. With poorer neighborhoods comes poorer schools, and no chance for the children to get a descent education.

In Milwaukee, people are evicted for a multitude of reasons. One family is evicted after they complain about unsanitary living conditions, another because an ambulance is called for a child with asthma, and still another because the landlord had failed to pay the mortgage on the property.

Another tragedy that befalls families who lose their homes is they frequently have to put their belongings in storage. Once this happens, it is not uncommon for the families to be unable to pay the storage fees. At that point, their possessions are auctioned off and they lose everything including household items, furniture, clothes, the children’s belongings, medicine, and even food. To make things worse, once an eviction is on an individuals record it either forces them into less desirable housing, a homeless shelter, or the street.

Every city is different in the way it handles its poor. Some are worse than others. Greensboro has its own issues, but in spite of the difficulties our poor and homeless face, we are kinder and more generous than some of the larger cities.

If you work with individuals and families living in poverty, struggling to keep a roof over their head, this is a must read.

Close to Where We Are

Chris Ward

      This article is in response to one written by Amy Murphy: Move Homeless Services Away From Downtown?

      I became homeless in December, 2013. I was not able to find housing until October, 2014. I am a heavy guy who has a lot of physical issues that also helped contribute to my disabilities. I suffer from degenerative disk disease which has also caused nerve damage down my legs, especially the left. This results in my falling quite a bit.
         As it stands Greensboro Urban Ministries is located near the Interactive Resource Center and in spite its close proximity it would still take me two hours to walk there due to the need to stop and sit so often. I would also be in extreme pain by the time I would get to the IRC and this would only be compounded as I had to make the journey back to the shelter provided by GUM.
       If these non-profit services are moved further away then it will be harder for those who have physical limitations needing these services. Really it will make it harder for anyone lacking transportation other than their own two feet.
       Downtown Greensboro also offers more services for the homeless and near homeless than just the services that are offered by the IRC. There are also the services offered by places such as legal aid, mental health facilities and the Department of Health and Human Services.  Moving the IRC further away would limit the ability for its clients to utilize all of these services that are currently located within close proximity to each other.
       I also believe that moving the Interactive Resource Center further away from downtown could easily result in people spending less productive time waiting on computers at the library or sitting at the local McDonald’s killing time instead of spending it benefiting themselves with a GED or some other worthwhile service offered by the IRC. On the rare occasion that the IRC is closed for a holiday, this is usually how those hours were filled since there was no other place for the homeless to go.
       Yes, I agree we need more job growth in downtown Greensboro. More jobs would benefit those who are looking for work in order to get off the streets. But we also need a place that is easily accessible to the homeless so that they can do laundry, see nurses, get their mail, and even apply to many of these jobs.
      But should we make things more difficult for those who are already going through a difficult situation? If you think moving these services is a simple solution that won’t have deep impacts on the homeless then I can challenge you. Put yourselves in the shoes of the disadvantaged. Leave your money and car keys at home and try being homeless for a few weeks.
      I have always truly appreciated everything the volunteers do for the homeless community and it does help make a difference in the lives of those going through these situations. But there is so much more that you have to live through to truly understand homelessness. Trying to explain in words to someone who has never lived the homeless life is difficult.  Much the way a soldier can never truly describe war to a civilian if the civilian has never experienced it.

 

Where Can I Take a Shower?

By Stephanie Thomas

It’s something we take for granted. We get up in the morning and take a shower. If we need to wash our hands we go to the sink. If we want to wash our clothes we put them in the wash. For people living on the street and in tents, getting clean and staying clean is not so easy. Fortunately, in Greensboro, we have the Interactive Resource Center on Washington Street. For people who are homeless, being able to go there and take a shower and wash clothes is a real blessing. Unfortunately, for people who live away from downtown, it can be difficult for them to get to the IRC, especially on a daily basis. In California Doniece Sandoval came up with a solution: She turned retired city buses into mobile shower units. 

http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/01/health/cnn-hero-doniece-sandoval-lava-mae/index.html

 

 

Hannah’s Haven

By Stephanie Thomas

Drug addiction is a growing problem, destroying lives, and stealing the future from our young people. With an increasing need and insufficient resources, help is not always available. But for a few, there is Hannah’s Haven.

The faces of the recovering addicts at Hannah’s Haven were those of 4 young women. Before I arrived for the interview, I didn’t realize I had met them before. At the time I thought they were college students. They didn’t look like recovering drug addicts. They looked like young women, which of course, is exactly who they are.

Hannah’s Haven is a Teen Challenge addiction recovery facility specifically designed for young women. Located in Brown Summit, the 3 bedroom house is surrounded by woods and fields, in an atmosphere that is quiet and peaceful. Every aspect of the house feels like a home. It’s comfortable, nicely decorated, and spotless. The most recent update to the bathrooms, we’re done by the residence.

I sat down with the director and founder Bonnie Harris. Her dedication and compassion are apparent. She shared with me her personal story of recovery from drug addiction and how she felt God used that struggle to bring her to a place of helping others. She in turn shares these personal lessons with her residence, which helps them in their recovery.

The residence enter a structured and well disciplined program, rising each day at 6:00 am, working through classes, counseling, and doing chores. Admittance can cost up to a $1000, but Bonnie said she wants recovery to be affordable so she does not let a lack of financial resources keep someone from entering the program.

Ninety-six young women have gone through the 9-12 month recovery program since Hannah’s Haven first opened its doors over a decade ago. Many of those women have gone on to live happy and productive lives.

“Addiction is just what we see,” Bonnie said. “It is merely a symptom of what is really going on inside. When you take the drug away you are left with the individual. Sometimes that individual has to get in touch with who they are. We take them on a deep journey, back to the first time they felt rejection and then we work towards healing and recovery.”

Bonnie invited me to join the morning class. The girls were working through a study book with lessons and scripture. The book and the discussion were designed to teach good life choices, and change old patterns into healthy ones. The women were open about their issues and struggles. One of the women, who had served in a ministry, shared her effort to find recovery.

“In desperation I moved to a new place. I thought the change would help, but I took my problems with me.”

In spite of her good intentions, she found recovery impossible to achieve on her own. But now, with the help of the staff at Hannah’s Haven, she is making progress.

The biggest challenge for Hannah’s Haven is money. Fundraising is a large part of what Bonnie does. Besides the day to day expenses, she wants to expand the facility to make room for more women. Also in the planning stages is a thrift shop that will help the organization be more self-sufficient.

If you are interested in having Bonnie Harris speak to your organization or church about Hanna’s Haven, she is available.