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

 

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced or cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
-W.E. Henley

Homeless Again

Chris McSecret badge

Life has a way of throwing us curve-balls.

Sometimes they are for the good and we don’t even really think about what a turn our life has just taken. Other times we are left in a far worse position than before and we instantly notice the change. For me, my curve-ball came back in 2013. I was left homeless and in deep despair.

Some of you may already be familiar with my story, having read it throughout various issues of The Greensboro Voice, but there is always a new chapter being written and in this chapter I once again have found myself homeless.

I have been having housing troubles since the beginning of the year. In December 2015, the property where I living was taken over by new management, from Wrenn-Zealy to Rent-A-Home. Then came the new year and as I prepared for a new semester at GTCC, I excitedly returned home with my textbooks in hand. As my friend, Bob, and I pulled up to the curb outside my house, we saw a man and woman on the front porch. I watched as they knocked and entered my neighbor’s apartment. I did not think much of it as I held a conversation with Bob about the upcoming semester. These strangers then left my neighbor’s apartment and began knocking on my door so I got out of Bob’s car to greet them.

I introduced myself to “Mickey” who advised me that she was the new landlord. She also introduced me to her maintenance man, “Sam.” Mickey said she would like to schedule an appointment for the following week to come out and inspect the property. I agreed and we decided to meet the following Tuesday. Before they left, we engaged in some minor chit chat in which I told her I was a student at GTCC and that I received Section 8 Housing via the Greensboro Housing Authority. She told me that would not be a problem for her.

After the new landlord left, I got on the phone with Greensboro Housing Authority (GHA) to make my case worker aware that the management had changed and that I had just spoken with the new landlord. My case worker requested that I let the new landlord know that they needed to go to the GHA office to fill out some paperwork and I agreed to do so. The weekend felt a bit slow as I awaited the first day of a brand new semester.

The following week I met with Mickey when she came to examine the property. After the inspection I stepped out with her on the porch and passed along the request from GHA about the paperwork. Mickey then told me that she would not go to fill out any paperwork but that I was more than welcome to get the paperwork for her and bring it by her office. I was left a bit stumped at this point because I knew that the paperwork would be a contract between the landlord and GHA because GHA would be paying my rent as they had in the past. I then called GHA and explained the response I had received from the landlord. They took Mickey’s contact information and informed me that they would handle the matter with the landlord.

College work started at GTCC and I had to focus on my studies. However, one morning there was a knock at the door. It was the new landlord’s maintenance man coming to tell me that Mickey had not received rent for the month of February. I pointed out to him that I already explained to Mickey that under the Section 8 rental program the landlord is required to fill out the Section 8 contract. I also told him that had I talked to the Housing Authority and they said they promised to take care of it with Mickey. I told the maintenance man I would contact GHA again to see what the issue might be.

Surprise! I then received a 10-day notice of summary of ejectment from Rent-A-Home. This really confused me so I contacted the phone number on the notice. The man I spoke to at Rent-A-Home informed me that they were unaware that I was receiving Section 8, which I found very odd. He also was not sure who this Mickey person was, which left me more deeply confused. He promised to figure out the situation and would call me back as soon as he had some news.

A few hours passed and soon I was contacted by Rent-A-Home who told me that the situation was more confusing than we first thought. It seemed that while Rent-A-Home was taking over the property management in December, they were not made aware of my status as a receiver of Section 8. Furthermore, they also were not informed that the owner of the property had sold my rental home. This was very infuriating since I had received a letter the previous year that promised advanced warning in the event of the house being sold.

I again contacted the Housing Authority and was told that I actually had a new case worker and was given her contact information. Upon contacting this new case worker she said they were aware of the situation and that GHA was working to resolve it. I then made arrangements to go and see the new owner the following day. Bob picked me up on February 8 and we met with Mickey, who informed me she would “not” be accepting Section 8.

Upon leaving her office I contacted my case worker at GHA again and was told that she had been on the phone with the landlord that morning. I was stumped since Mickey just claimed to not have heard from the Housing Authority. I asked GHA who she had spoken to. I was then informed that it was Rent-A-Home, which meant that the Housing Authority was not even speaking to the owner of the property.

Later in the week I was called to come into the Housing Authority offices to be reissued a new voucher so I could move.

It just got more crazy after this. Greensboro Housing Authority kept telling me that they were working on solving these issues so I began focusing more on school. Then on President’s Day I get a text from Mickey who told me she wants to work something out and to have my case worker contact her. I told her that I would not be able to do it until the following day due to it being the President’s Day holiday. Mickey told me that would be fine.

The following day I contacted my case worker and passed along Mickey’s message. I was asked by my caseworker if that would be acceptable to me and I told them that it would be fine because I just wanted somewhere to live.

It seems that while I was under the impression that these two people (my case worker & Mickey) were working things out, something different was going on. They were in fact playing phone-tag and my case worker had not made contact with Mickey (and vice-versa). So at the end of the month I received a lease termination notice hand delivered by Mickey’s maintenance man. At this point the stress of the situation began to impact my school work.

I had at this point spent February under the impression that things were being worked out between the Housing Authority and Mickey, who I soon learned works for Chaney Properties. Not only had Mickey changed her mind about working things out (under Section 8), but she also decided to evict my neighbor as well.

So I began a new struggle to find a place to move and at the same time maintain my school work. Finding an apartment approved by Section 8 Housing has been nearly impossible for the past few months. It seems that nearly all properties I am finding that fit within my “one-bedroom” voucher range will not accept Section 8. I reported this frustration to my case worker. Finally she advised me that GHA will approve raising my voucher authorization to a two-bedroom. My caseworker changed the parameters of my voucher but time was running out fast for me.

I finally found a qualified apartment. It was beautiful! The apartment manager told me they would have to do a background check but they were running a special. No application or administrative fees. No deposit. And they would accept Section 8. I really got stoked, but of course this was at the end of March.

I saw Mickey (my landlord) the same day after I returned home and I let her know I found a new place and that everything was done except for my background check. I knew that Mickey had planned to send a 10-day notice of ejectment due to a letter that I received approximately a week earlier. I asked if she would be willing to work with me on this situation, I could be out of her rental house quickly and with no fuss. She then dropped the bomb and she advised me that she had already filed the eviction paperwork.

Within the next few days I returned home to find a eviction notice taped to my door. Then I received a phone call from the new apartments to which I had applied a few days earlier. Mickey’s eviction notice popped up on my credit record and they cold not rent to me. So much frustration!

It was at this time that upon advice of a friend, I enlisted the help of North Carolina Legal Aid. The eviction process was something new to me and I had no idea what to do. The lawyer assigned to me is easy to talk to and has been very patient in answering my questions and dealing with my frustrations. He helped me file an appeal that would buy me more time. He let me know that by the time the appeal was filed I would have until the end of May to be in a new place.

At this point, the Salvation Army agreed to help me with an apartment deposit and first month’s rent to help get me out of Mickey’s house before I could be officially evicted by the courts. I felt this would protect my voucher contract. With my new voucher in hand, I finally found a two-bedroom apartment. The landlord, who is also the owner, understood my situation. The Salvation Army paid the landlord my deposit, which I was most thankful because I was flat broke.

Unfortunately the day I was supposed to move out of Mickey’s house, the new landlord advised me that his apartment was not ready. My “new landlord” told me he would speed up the process and promised that my apartment would be ready by that following Friday. When Friday arrived the landlord told me it still would not be ready until at least the following Monday. At this point a friend of mine allowed me to stay with him for a short while. With the help of several friends, we loaded my stuff into the back of a U-Haul and moved it to a storage unit so I was out by the date I had promised my lawyer.

Here I am now. For all purposes, I am homeless again. I’m still staying temporarily at an understanding friend’s house. Just recently my case worker at GHA informed me that I no longer have a voucher due to some mix up at GHA and the program I am in no longer has funding.

It is a confusing mess that I am still trying to sort out. The nightmare is not over and I know that the welcome at my friend’s house is soon to end. I really need to be in my own place but everything that has gone on has tapped out all of my funds. I seem to be without options to end my homelessness. I am lost. But I must keep moving forward. If only I knew which direction to go.

Nothing is falling into place. In fact the only thing falling is me…into despair. My depression is the worst it’s been in a long time. In fact, as I sit here writing, I am contemplating checking myself into the hospital. My drive has all but left me.

I am struggling to do the best I can but it feels like no matter how hard I’m moving forward I have a football team driving me backward. It is a horrible feeling. The harder I work to survive, the more things seem to try and push me backward.

I can’t give up and I know this. I refuse to give up.