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.

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!

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

Do Not Judge

By Lori Shepard

Do not judge

Do not assume

To know the life of

That stranger in the room

Or across the street

Holding a sign

Or standing and waiting

There on the line

Their life story

You cannot know

Just by looking

High and low

It’s true that some

Are in despair

But you don’t know

What  put them there

So do not judge

Do not assume

Why not smile

Across the room

Read that sign

Be more aware

At the very least

Offer up a prayer

Find a way

If you can

To make a difference

To your fellow man

Find a cause

To work or finance

Help someone else

To have a chance

Count your blessings

Find something to do

Remember, in an instant

That stranger could be you

Jim Rettig  1/25/54 – 01/17/17

Jim Rettig  1/25/54 – 01/17/17
Jim Rettig  1/25/54 – 01/17/17

by Bob Norfleet

Jim Rettig passed away last week. He leaves behind two sons and a sister. Jim was originally from Michigan. He came to Greensboro looking for a job after the recession put him out of a work. When I first met Jim at the Interactive Resource Center in 2015, he was homeless, jobless and broke. He also had no driver’s license which put him at a serious disadvantage. At that time, Jim was living at the Weaver House, a temporary homeless shelter operated by Greensboro Urban Ministry.

Jim had a couple of skills which he hoped would put him back into gainful employment. He was an artist and web designer.  Unfortunately, neither field was hiring in Greensboro during or even after the economic recovery.

Jim joined the staff of the Greensboro Voice in 2015. He was very involved with all discussions, attended every staff meeting , wrote several articles, and would frequently cause laughter with his dry humor. Jim created and submitted several items of whimsical art for the Greensboro Voice which reflected that humor. A couple of years ago Jim also designed the honor card for the IRC’s year end fundraising program which was a sketch he did of the Greensboro Bus Depot.

In early 2016, Jim was approved for housing and soon afterwards he secured a part time job with UNCG helping people connect with medical benefits.  Things were looking up for Jim but in 2016 he suffered a stroke. After making so much progress in his life, Jim wasn’t going to let it get him down and before long he’d bounced back and was his old self again.

Jim was always grateful, even for the smallest kindness shown to him by others.  He was especially grateful for finding and joining a new church where he met and made many new friends. And he always seemed to find humor and hope even when he was struggling to find work and living in homelessness.  I will miss Jim, and most of all I will miss his ability to find humor in even the most dire moments of life.

 (The Interactive Resource Center or IRC is a day center for people experiencing homelessness or near homelessness.)