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.