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.

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

 

 

Quotes from people without homes…

Quotes from people who are homeless…

 

“I am going to make something of my life. It might be rough but things will get better for me.” Quashana

“It’s as if I am looking through a window trying to reach the world on the other side.”  Amanda

“I appreciate the little things in life and thank God for all he has given me.” Susan

“I never thought I would find myself in this situation at my age.” Karon

“All I can say is, if I can do it you can too. Be encouraged today. You can change if you want to.” Tony  on his recovery from drug addiction

 

A Beggar’s Story “Marsha”

by Stephanie Thomas

I saw her standing on the corner. She was bundled up in a heavy coat, hat and gloves. It was a bitterly cold day. I had seen her a couple of times before but I was always too busy to stop and speak to her. This time wasn’t any different except that I decided that speaking to her was more important than getting my chores done on time.

I pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant that was across the street and made my way through the traffic to where she stood. She smiled when she saw me walking toward me.

I introduced myself and asked her about her day. She said she was cold and didn’t feel well.

“I have a lot of health issues,” she said. “My biggest problem is with the arthritis in my knees.”

“You are too young to have arthritis,” I said ,trying make her feel better.

“Thank you but I’m 55 years old.”

“What’s your name?”

“Marsha.”

“Where do you live Marsha?”

“I stay with friends mostly. I used to put homeless on my sign but people gave me a hard time about it. I try not to wear out my welcome. I stay quiet and to myself. I’ve stayed in hotels but I can’t afford to do that right now.”

She waved at a red SUV that passed us.

“That women gave me this hat and these gloves,” she said appreciatively.

“That was nice of her,” I said. “How do people treat you out here?”

“Some people are nice. Sometimes men give me money and then tell me they’ll give me more if I’ll come home with them. I know what that means. I’m not going to sell myself. I always tell them no. I’ve learned not to trust men. I’ve had problems with them. They start out nice but they always end up abusing me. The last man I was with beat me and made me feel terrible about myself. I wanted to leave him but he hid the car keys and took my phone so I couldn’t get away. One day, when he was sleeping, I found my phone and called my girlfriend to come and get me. That was 5 years ago. I’m still not over him.”

“You have had a rough time. I’m sorry you had to go through that. What about family? Is there anyone here who can help you?”

My parents and my brother passed away. I was close to them. It’s really hard for me at Christmas time. I miss them.”

Marsha doesn’t have a job. She was fired from her last job when there was a discrepancy in the cash drawer. That incident and her age make it unlikely that anyone will be willing to hire her. She isn’t old enough to get social security which means disability insurance is her only option, besides begging. She told me she has applied for disability insurance, but it takes at least 3 years to qualify.

There is a system in place to help people like Marsha. Unfortunately, the red tape is difficult  work through, the process can be humiliating, and failure is more common than success. For someone like Marsha, who has been abused and is alone in this world, begging seems easier.

 

Friends

 

By Natasha Toussaint

On the first day of work orientation, I befriended Kenneth, a co-worker. Kenneth was always well-dressed, always in a good mood, and hysterically funny. He excelled in all of the training modules, and helped me when I had difficulties with the material. When we had settled into our work, I was able to rely on Kenneth to help me with work-related snags, and on occasion we ate lunch together.
Kenneth had a son who was a College Junior. Kenneth beamed with pride when he talked about him. He often said his son was his best friend.

One week, Kenneth was unable to get his usual ride home. He asked if I would take him. Later that week, after we finished taking care of some of his errands, I asked him if there was anywhere else he needed to go, like the grocery store, or if he would like to get something to eat. He said no and looked at his watch. I took the hint and asked if he would like me to drop him off at the library where I’d picked him up.

“No,” he replied. “You can drop me off at the Salvation Army. I’m homeless.”
I was stunned. Kenneth had been homeless for over 5 years due to a series of unfortunate life events.

In hindsight, I realized why Kenneth was more excited about the new job than the rest of us. For him the job meant change and stability. He hoped one day to get a place of his own.
Kenneth gave me the opportunity to change my perspective of homeless individuals. Homelessness is not a look, an attitude, behavior or a condition. Homelessness is a life situation that for a multitude of reasons can befall any of us, at any time.