Homelessness Myth #21: They’re All Happy-Go-Lucky

Also published on The Huffington Post.

Some housed people believe that homeless people don’t have a care in the world. They think that because many homeless people don’t appear to work, that life on the streets is carefree. Truly, nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that homeless people have extremely challenging lives for a host of reasons, some obvious, some not so obvious. Sometimes, many times, these challenges, be they physical, mental and/or spiritual, feel overwhelming to homeless people. Without resources to get help, many homeless people succumb to the pressure of these challenges and are anything but “happy-go-lucky.”

However, this myth is, perhaps unwittingly, perpetuated even by highly educated and presumably kind-hearted individuals. Take for example, these sentences:

“In my experience, the more people have, the less likely they are to be contented. Indeed there is abundant evidence that depression is a ‘disease of affluence.'”

When I read these sentences in the excerpt, “Don’t Let Chaos Get You Down” in Newsweek double issue, November 7 & 14, 2011 page 9 from Dr. Andrew Weil’s new book, Spontaneous Happiness, I thought, “Really?”

I immediately felt compelled to go out and buy the book. But not for the reason you may think. I just had to learn whether the excerpt accurately reflected what Dr. Weil intended to say in his book or whether these sentences were somehow taken out of context.

In my experience, homeless people have very few material possessions and are not content. In fact, I have found that many homeless people suffer greatly from depression. In the words of a homeless friend of mine, “All homeless people are depressed.”

I found Spontaneous Happiness to be quite interesting. It contains helpful definitions of terms, historical references about the evolution of psychology particularly as it has dealt with emotional health and depression and quotes from professionals in the field of mental health. I learned a lot from reading this book.

In Chapter 8 of the book, Dr. Weil presents his program to help people attain “optimum emotional well-being.” In his introduction to this program, Dr. Weil writes, “Feel free to proceed through the program at your own pace, taking as much time as you need with the assignments…[I]n my experience, it takes at least eight weeks to realize the effects of lifestyle changes on health, both physical and emotional.”

However, throughout the read, I kept asking myself, but what about people who are homeless? These people have little or nothing. Presumably, they can’t even afford the book. How can they deal with depression?

Truly, I don’t intend to put Dr. Weil or his fine book down. I’ve even recommended his book to one of my friends to whom I thought the book might be of interest. It’s just that I believe that the book was intended to be purchased, read and utilized by affluent people, at least by people affluent enough to be able to afford the book.

But what about unhoused people? Where are the books written specifically for them to help them meet their need to overcome depression? And how can they afford these books? And would eight weeks be sufficient to help them achieve “optimum emotional well-being?”

I don’t know the answers to these questions. There may be pamphlets on depression available at low-cost and/or free health clinics, but books? If there are such books, how many of them are available at a price that homeless people can afford? In other words, are these books available to homeless people for low-cost or free? And how would homeless people find these books?

Of course, I am presuming that some, many or all homeless people want books to help them overcome their depression. I believe that generally few people want to stay in pain. Further, it is my understanding that depression can be very painful.

If books can present tools to help housed people alleviate their depression, why can’t books help unhoused people alleviate their depression? Therefore, I believe that some, many or all depressed homeless people would benefit from and want books to help them overcome their depression.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have books that could help all people suffering from depression, not just affluent people?

Dr. Weil, can we talk?

Unsung Hero, Sally Dunn, M.S., LMFT

“Have you met Sally… Sally Dunn?  You’ve got to meet her.  Sally’s amazing,” said Ed.

“Yeah, she’s helping so many of us homeless people living in the riverbed that we call her, ‘Saint Sally,'” chimed in his pal, Lane.

I was immediately intrigued by the enthusiastic heart-felt respect that my homeless clients felt for Sally Dunn, licensed mental health clinician for the San Diego County Homeless Team.  In the world of homelessness, relationships built on trust and respect are few and far between. Yet, often these relationships are vital for homeless people’s recoveries.  When homeless people trust service providers, they can make real progress quickly.  When their respect is reciprocated, they usually know it.


I was delighted to met Sally Dunn, the woman who was providing such invaluable assistance to people living outside and in shelters.  I felt and feel that there are not enough superlatives to describe Sally and her work.  However, I can say unequivocally that Sally’s clients are sincerely grateful for the help she gives them. They trust her and feel that their respect is reciprocated. They genuinely love “Saint Sally.”

Born July 14, 1956, in Rangely Colorado, Sally and her family moved to Palo Alto, California when she was just six months old.  Her father had just gotten out of the Navy and had become an aerospace engineer. Her mother was one of the first female stockbrokers and wanted Sally to follow in her footsteps.  Eventually, Sally chose quite a different career path from those chosen by her parents.

After graduating from high school in Coronado in 1974, she attended one year at Oregon State University where she played volleyball. She continued her participation in volleyball during her second year of college at the College of San Mateo (CSM).  It was at CSM, that Sally became so inspired by her psychology professor, who happened to be a quadriplegic, that she became a psychology major.

Her remaining years of college were spent at San Diego State University (SDSU) from which she graduated in 1979. Later, Sally received her master’s degree in psychology from Texas A & M.

At twenty years old, Sally had her first job in the mental health field when she worked in a locked psych ward — a challenging job because there were so few medications available that could help the mentally ill patients.  Married in 1983 to a Navy pilot, Sally moved with her husband to Guam where she worked in special education.  Upon their return to the San Francisco Bay Area, Sally became employed with child protective services.

Sally has three adult children: her eldest son is a Japanese major at SDSU;  her second son lives in Idaho near his father’s family; and her daughter is a physics and math major at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD).

For the past twelve years, Sally has provided counseling and support to thousands of homeless people in the County of San Diego.  I once asked Sally exactly how many clients did she have?

“Well in response to your question,” she replied, “I can only tell you how much geography is involved — an area larger than downtown San Diego. I used to supervise a team of seven people, but due to cut-backs, I’m now the only San Diego County mental health clinician for all of the homeless people living in this area.”

Besides being a natural beauty, Sally is brilliant, knowledgeable and extremely practical.  She helps homeless people match their needs and goals with existing opportunities and services.  Sally continues her relationship with her clients, supporting them through their initial referrals and guiding their next steps to achieve self-sufficiency.

In addition, Sally facilitates group sessions.  Her clients find her assistance invaluable as can be seen by the following comments.

Henry, one of Sally’s clients, says, “Sally’s great.  She’s great.  Astounding. I’ve been with Sally for three years.  When you deal with Sally once a week, it takes away the urge to use drugs.  I know to keep sober and straight.  I couldn’t face her if I messed up.  You don’t want to see Sally if you mess up.  I’m afraid to mess up because I know I have to see her.

“She’s my good friend.  I love her.”

Linda, another client of Sally, shares, “She’s done a whole lot for me.  Sally’s opened up a new world.  She’s always positive.  We just connect.  Our group is wonderful.  She knows her stuff.  I don’t like phonies.  Sally knows where it’s at.  She tells it like it is… She’s the best counselor I’ve ever had.  Sally talks from the heart.”

Sally is also much admired by her fellow professionals as shown in the following examples.

Kelley J. Gebbie, Resource Specialist, Rachel’s Women Center,
Homeless Women’s Services for Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego, relates,

Sally has never failed to come to the table with her vast knowledge of mental illness in the homeless. Her passion is readily shown when she finds a much-needed bed for those that have [nothing], either financially or physically. Sally has gone out of her way to find the right solution for someone. That solution could be weeks away, yet she continues to find it.An example of this came about when a mentally ill participant needed help. When the police were not the answer, she responded with a courier to transport this woman to a much-needed mental health facility. There was follow up when she walked away, never forgetting that this woman was in need. The saying, “no one left behind” finds itself on Sally’s shoulders often. She continues to help those that cannot help themselves who find their way to her doorstep.


Lucky Michael, Caseworker, Rachel’s Women’s Center, Homeless Women’s Services for Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego, says,

Once in a while we get to meet people who make an art out of service.  At Rachel’s Center, Sally is an artist. 

Sally comes in as the statuesque blond wheeling her black briefcase with a world of information. All the women know who she is and know that they will receive a valuable answer even if it’s not a permanent solution, at minimum it’s a safety plan.

I have so much respect for Sally.  [T]o me she is more than a social worker but a leader and mentor. Sally is Picasso in her ability to think outside the box and Rembrandt paying close attention to details. The canvas is painted with pain and in the picture is a group of women validated, not necessarily healed but definitely heard.

We love Sally and our program wouldn’t be what it is without her valuable art!


Sally’s colleagues recognize her ongoing efforts to help people in need.  Homeless people trust and know that Sally will do her best to help them.  In the words of her client Susan, “Sally has helped me perform miracles.  She’s an angel!”

Homelessness Myth #9: It Will Never End

Also published on The Huffington Post

Many people feel that homelessness will never end.  They believe that homelessness is just too big a problem to solve.  Because of this belief, some people become paralyzed, unable or unwilling to see any resolution to the pain caused by homelessness for millions of families and individuals.

I firmly believe that homelessness can be solved.  We created homelessness by cutting programs without providing programs that kept people housed.  As more and more people became homeless, we ignored the issues of homelessness and the situation grew more dire.  Finally, the foreclosure crisis continues to create homeless families in record numbers.

I suggest that we use the expression that is often used when speaking about resolving the enormous issue of global warming, “think globally and act locally,” to encourage local solutions to the national issue of homelessness.

Fortunately, I am not alone in my belief that homelessness can end.  In fact, there are programs in existence today that are actually helping to solve homelessness.  But, perhaps these programs are just not well known.  So, in an effort to offer tangible proof that homelessness can be solved, I like to highlight local programs, including North County Solutions for Change, which I feel are actually successfully helping to end homelessness.

Located in Vista, California, North County Solutions for Change, http://www.solutionsforchange.org, is an innovative program, created by Chris and Tammy Megison, which offers a permanent solution for family homelessness.  My friend, Hannah Cohen, a policy consultant on issues of housing and homelessness, suggested that I visit North County Solutions for Change and she was kind enough to arrange a meeting for me with Chris Megison, President and Executive Director.  The bottom line — I am very grateful to Hannah for the recommendation and very grateful to Chris and Tammy for developing their successful program.

URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8H2fOcgFbs&feature=player_embedded

The concept of North County Solutions for Change is that of The Solutions University which consists of three clusters of housing with educational programs, employment preparation and health solutions: Solutions Intake and Access Center (IAC), the Solutions Family Center (SFC) and New Solutions (permanent housing units).  Solutions University utilizes the efforts of the participants themselves and the support of program coaches over a period of 500 days on campus and 500 days off campus to solve family homelessness.

The IAC has 14 semi-private dorm room styles units for families for which the families pay 30 percent of their income for rent.  The goal of IAC is “to provide immediate housing, support and comprehensive assessment for Solutions University applicants awaiting the move into the main on-campus Solutions Family Center.” http://www.solutionsforchange.org/campus/ The IAC is designed for three month or less stays, but due to the affordable housing crisis, families are spending more time in IAC than originally intended.

However, North County Solutions for Change has a new community initiative, Finding Our Way Home, through which it plans to acquire more affordable homes so that families can move off campus and into this permanent housing and families in the IAC can move onto the SFC on Solutions University campus.

Situated on two acres of land, SFC has 32 fully furnished apartment units, with full kitchens shared by each pair of apartment units, within four buildings in a campus style setting.  Families pay 30 percent of their income for rent and can stay for 500 days.  10 percent of all rent is returned to the families when they complete the SFC program and move into permanent housing at New Solutions.  A fifth building is a 7,600 sq. ft support center with educational, work training and baby-sitting spaces.  A staff of trained coaches encourage and support the residents.

New Solutions is comprised of permanent affordable housing for families who have completed the 500 days on the Solutions campus.  Currently, North County Solutions for Change has nineteen housing units where families can stay for 500 days with Solutions University services and then continue to live in those homes on a permanent basis.  However, through their new community initiative, Finding Our Way Home, North County Solutions for Change hopes to acquire 70-100 new permanent affordable housing units.

URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQkoDZpzL7U&feature=player_embedded

Chris explained to me that he believes that no nonprofit or government agency can solve homelessness alone, but that it takes every part of our community to work together to end homelessness.  In my opinion, Chris and Tammy have created a program that the whole community should support because North County Solutions truly helps people transition from homelessness to permanent housing.  Further, I believe that North County Solutions for Change needs to be replicated so that homeless families in other communities can end their homelessness.

Please note that Chris invites everyone to learn about the Finding Our Way Home campaign by joining the Live Webcast details of which Chris sets forth as follows:

“After working on this for over a year, Solutions for Change will launch a massive communitywide initiative in less than a week. Called Finding Our Way Home, the 1000 day campaign will officially get underway on April 22, 2010 at a community leadership breakfast event. You may join in this special event though a LIVE Webcast, available to Solutions for Change Facebook Fans here: http://www.facebook.com/solutionsforchange (you must sign up). Solutions has assembled some impressive people to lead the charge; the CEO of Taylor Made-addidas Golf, Mark King will lead the team. He, along with CEO Bumble Bee Foods Chris Lischewski and several other top executives and elected officials from around the region have rolled up their sleeves to prove that yes indeed, the impacts of homelessness on our neighbors and on our community, has met its match. It can in your community too.”

Homelessness is solvable.  North County Solutions for Change is proof.

In Celebration of Larry Milligan, Champion for Homeless People

Also published on The Huffington Post

It has been said that “a man is known by the company he keeps.” And Larry Dean Milligan (September 23, 1946 – July 14, 2011) kept excellent company — from his dear friends who are lawyers, business people and advocates, to the homeless men, women and children whom he befriended and championed, to his partner, Johanna Argoud, and their family whom he loved with all his heart.

For over 20 years, Larry worked tirelessly with Johanna and wonderful colleagues in San Diego to help homeless people in many ways, including giving food to satisfy their hunger, fighting for shelter to protect them from the elements and working for public toilets for their personal hygiene and dignity.

Larry made his causes visible by making himself visible. He tabled his opinions on the San Diego Concourse. He wrote articles and lobbied policy makers. But perhaps the most influential thing that Larry did was that he sacrificed his own health through hunger strikes to bring awareness about the plight of homeless people.

He thought that homelessness should not be criminalized. To this end, he fought the imposition of illegal lodging tickets upon homeless people who were sleeping on public sidewalks in the City of San Diego because there was not enough space in the local homeless shelters.

In 2004, largely through Larry’s efforts, the lawsuit, Spencer v. San Diego, was filed to protect homeless people from illegal lodging tickets. Larry was victorious when this lawsuit was settled in 2006 and homeless people were allowed to sleep outside on public areas in the City of San Diego from 9pm to 5:30 am without being ticketed by the police.

He felt that the November 2010 modification to this settlement was unfortunate because under this modified settlement the police are allowed to ticket a homeless person who is sleeping outside in the City of San Diego if there is an available shelter bed; if the police offer the homeless person the bed; and if the homeless person refuses the bed.

Larry took great pains to avoid confronting people. He used temperance, kindness and truth to bring about peaceful change. He was a true humanitarian.

And now a few words from some of the members of the excellent company that Larry kept.

• Judge Robert C. Coates, retired Superior Court judge, author of A Street Is Not A Home, remembers Larry for his positive influence on unhoused people and among housed people: “He was very constructive and respectful. The homeless community desperately needs people who are articulate and Larry was articulate.”

• Liza Elliott writes, “Johanna and Larry ran a weekly feeding program for the homeless in Balboa Park. I worked with them there as well as at the TACO Feeding program at the Lutheran Church. We did sit-ins at City Hall, served pizza, beans and rice to the homeless and had lots of fun.”

“Larry and Johanna were tireless advocates for the homeless, and it was my pleasure and honor to have served with them. The World will miss Larry. And so will I.”

• Scott Dreher, Esq., Dreher Law Firm, co-counsel in Spencer v. San Diego feels “Larry was the last of the true Hippies with all their altruistic, idealistic spirit, and he never lost sight of our society’s potential.”

“Indeed, Larry promised to give up his Hunger Strike only if we agreed to file the Spencer case (which resulted in voiding the City of San Diego’s policy of issuing “sleeping tickets” to homeless people in violation of the state and US Constitutions). His organizing skills were invaluable in convincing the court and city to resolve it in favor of homeless people! He was a vigorous advisor and a loving voice for the homeless to the end.”

“He called me a couple weeks ago, and his voice was filled with enthusiasm, energy and readiness as he put forth more ideas on trying to fix the social imbalance that allows people in our country to lack basics such as food, a place to sleep, and shoes.”

“I joked with him and told him we’d carry on as long as he promised not to go on another hunger strike.”

“He said ‘OK, I’m taking you at your word!”

“I loved him and miss him.”

• Timothy D. Cohelan, Esq., Cohelan Khoury & Singer, co-counsel in Spencer v. San Diegoshares, “Larry was a great spirit whom I first met in the mid 90’s when we were handling a case against the city of San Diego for failure to designate or site emergency shelters and transitional housing (Hoffmaster vs City of San Diego) — he kept me and others informed of the conditions as he saw them on the street.”

“At one point he went on a hunger strike and some believe this contributed to his later health problems.”

“Larry acted like a cheerleader on the Spencer case, always calling Scott [Dreher] or me to say how he appreciated our efforts, and how the homeless with whom he always talked, felt like someone cared. He will be missed.”

• Steve Binder, Esq., San Diego Deputy Public Defender says, “Larry had the unique capability to bridge the discussion between the police and people on the streets and to help people realize that citations alone are a simple solution to a complex problem that continues to frustrate police and the people who receive the citations, alike.”

“Larry had the ability to look past the shortcomings and problems that the police presented to the people on the streets and to look past the shortcomings and problems that the people on the streets presented to the police so that he could improve everyone’s situation.”

“Larry was a builder. He built community.”

• Dr. Ellen Beck, M.D. supervisor of The UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project at TACO (The Third Ave Coalition Organization) adds, “Larry was a remarkable person, a truly passionate change agent, who lived what he believed and helped to change laws and policy. He will be missed!”

• Jim Lovell, Executive Director, Third Avenue Charitable Organization, Inc. (TACO) notes, “Larry was an amazing force brought to bear on San Diego. His faith seemed to be what drew him to need to call those in power to act to treat all who live in their city with the same dignity that those who were wealthy and who had power were treated.”

“When Larry fasted in order to get the city to open the winter shelter early, he was quick to point out that it was a “fast, not a hunger strike.”

“When Larry would come to see me, I quickly learned that I should hold on tight because things would move very fast, and we may go to see a council member or we could be at the mayor’s desk with signatures to record turning in or we may be in the office of the Chief of Police.”

“Larry often verbally argued and pushed those in power, though he was always so quick to forgive and call them again and ask to meet. That was one of the most amazing parts of Larry. I will miss him deeply.”

Not only will Larry be remembered for the excellent company he kept, but by the passion and devotion he exhibited as an outstanding leader, as an effective advocate for homeless people and as a genuine human being.

A week before his passing, Larry told Johanna’s daughter, Ninon, about his personal philosophy. He said, “The most important thing to remember is that we are all equal.”

Homelessness Myth #20: They Make Millions

Also published on The Huffington Post

The myth that homeless people make millions or thousands of dollars is a myth of gigantic proportions. This myth incorporates the mistaken belief that homeless people make big money by trading on their homelessness, which is simply not true.

Panhandling is one of the primary ways a homeless person can raise funds. In today’s parlance “begging” is called “panhandling.”

I learned a great deal about the nature and necessity of panhandling from a young homeless woman I met outside a theater in Los Angeles. It was 9:30 p.m. on a cool winter’s night when I walked by her as she stood by a shopping cart that held her young child and her infant.

“Can you spare some change?” she asked.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out two $1 bills. As I handed these singles to the young mother, she pulled out a wad of bills from her pocket. She proceeded to place my bills on top of the high stack that she already had.

I began to walk away when I thought I would talk to the young mother.

“May I ask you a question?”


“I’m wondering about something. It’s late at night, you have two young children and you have a lot of money. Why are you and your children outside in the cold?”

“Well, you don’t understand.”

She pulled out all of her money from her pocket. For the first time I noticed that the high stack of bills was actually a bunch of crinkled one dollar bills stacked one on top of another.

“Before you came along, I had $26 here. Now, with your two dollars, I have $28. I’ll be out here until I get $36 for a motel room for me and my babies.”

I was silent. I had no more cash to give her. So, I wished the young mother well and left with a heavy heart.

Obviously, panhandling is not as lucrative as some of us think. This young mother taught me that appearances can be deceiving.

Recycling is another way a homeless person can make money. We’ve all seen a homeless person pushing a cart filled to overflowing with cans and bottles. Sometimes there are even plastic bags bulging with recyclables tied to the sides of the cart.

Can a homeless person “get rich quick” by recycling? Not really. Working from dawn to dust, a homeless person may gather as much as $40 in recyclables. Just enough for a motel room and perhaps one meal.

Also, recycling is not easy work. It requires some mental ability and more than a little physical strength. Certainly, this method of pursuing an income is not available to the elderly or infirm.

My homeless friend Danny recycled cans and bottles every day for years. Each morning Danny would follow the same route, visiting the same locations searching for discarded recyclables. He considered recycling his job and he was devoted to his work.

A lovely, responsible person, Danny was hired not long ago by the City to do part time maintenance work. Although he enjoys his new job, Danny says that he misses his old job of recycling and the places he would visit every day.

Government benefits are another way that a homeless person can acquire funds to live. In California general relief (GR), also known as “welfare,” is a program funded by the county. Although each of the 58 California counties sets its own amount of benefits, San Diego County provides $234 as a loan to a single qualifying adult.

A $234 loan per month is a far cry from riches. Often a homeless person will use some of his or her GR to rent a motel room for several nights and to pay for food during this same period of time. His or her goal is to clean up, rest, and possibly remember what it is like to be housed once again. This brief respite gives the homeless person an opportunity to leave the harsh conditions living on the streets.

A homeless person may also qualify for Social Security benefits. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is available to assist the elderly, blind, or disabled person who has low or no income. In the year 2000, SSI’s maximum monthly benefit was $512.

Social Security Disability Insurance
 is a monthly benefit for disabled people who have worked within 10 years of the disability and paid Social Security taxes. In the year 2000, the average benefit was about $750.

The monthly benefits available to a qualifying adult through SSI or SSDI will not make a homeless person rich. The goal of these programs is to provide a safety net for those who do qualify. These funds may be sufficient for a homeless person to secure housing.

People are homeless for a host of reasons, but they are not pretending to be poor. They do not have the funds for three meals a day and a roof over their heads every night.

No homeless person is getting rich through panhandling, recycling or any government program.

Why Do We Discriminate Against Homeless People?

Also published on The Huffington Post

My homeless friend, Larry, was upset as he recounted his recent experience: “The other day I went to a fast food store, bought a coffee and went outside to sit, drink my coffee and have a cigarette. But, they wouldn’t let me. ‘Move along,’ they said, ‘You can’t stay here.’ All I wanted to do was sit and have my coffee and a cigarette. And I had bought their coffee!”

What could I say to Larry? I have heard this before — presumably-housed people treating a homeless person differently than they would a housed person. For example, when housed people buy items at a fast food restaurant, we expect to be able to sit in the restaurant or on its patio and enjoy our food. It goes without saying. It’s what we expect and it’s what we get.

What are we talking about here? Fears. Fear of people we don’t know. We’ve been taught since childhood not to talk to strangers. But we’re adults now. We can introduce ourselves to anyone and thereby meet a neighbor and potential friend.

Fear of economic loss by having homeless people on the premises is a concern for any business. Everyone needs a home. But, until everyone has a home, we will have homeless people among us. What is a business to do?

I wonder if when a business accepts the patronage of a homeless person, whether that business has any responsibility to the homeless person. My homeless friend, Jimmy, was involved in a situation lately that gave me pause to think about this.

For over 10 years, Jimmy and his wheelchair-bound wife, Ellen, were homeless. When Ellen died nearly six years ago, Jimmy could not contain his grief and drank to try to literally drown his sorrows. Every day, Jimmy would visit his local convenience store and buy his morning paper and breakfast beer. During the day, as his finances would allow, Jimmy made as many trips to buy beer to the same convenience store. Needless to say, Jimmy has been a consistent customer for many years.

But his last trip to his convenience store was different. As Jimmy tells it, when selecting his morning newspaper, he thought he had paid for it and put it in his bag. Jimmy was still in the store when the owner of the convenience store approached Jimmy and told him that because he had tried to steal the newspaper, Jimmy was henceforth barred from shopping in his convenience store.

The day after this incident, Jimmy told me that he felt terrible about being barred from his convenience store.

Please know that I am not condoning theft by any means by any person, housed or unhoused. However, misunderstandings do arise.

So, I offered to speak to the owner of the convenience store on Jimmy’s behalf. Jimmy said that he would apologize to the management for the incident.

Unfortunately, the owner of the convenience store was not present when I went there, so I left my phone number with the manager and asked that owner call me so we could discuss the incident. [Note: the owner never called me.]

I shared Jimmy’s feelings about the incident with the manager. She was not interested in anything I had to say on Jimmy’s behalf. She did tell me repeatedly and with feeling that “they” are always standing outside the store and that “once ‘they’ steal from us, ‘they’ can never come back.”

I said that there was only one person involved in this incident and it was Jimmy. The manager did not know Jimmy’s name, but said that she did know that he had been coming to the store for years. She said that since he had stolen from the convenience store, he was barred from shopping there in the future.

I said that I understood her position, but that Jimmy felt terrible about the incident and would like to come in and apologize to her. She said that she was not interested in his apology.

“Please,” I entreated, “Allow Jimmy to come and apologize to you because it would be good for him to do so.”

“No, I’m just not interested,” she repeated.

This incident is an example of how some businesses regard homeless patrons as different from their housed patrons. I can use myself as an example. Every day for over two years, I have been walking several miles in the morning. On my way home from my exercise route, I always reward myself for my efforts by buying a cup of coffee in my local convenience store.

At my convenience store, the manager often greets me by name when I enter and the sales people are always friendly to me during my stay in their store. I am treated with respect and as an individual. I don’t feel like a “they.”

Could it be that homeless people, as was the case for Jimmy, are not seen as individuals? I guess I’ve written this piece in hopes of reminding all of us that homeless people are people, too.

Homeless People Need ID

Also published on The Huffington Post 

Homeless people need identification documentation for the same reasons that housed people need ID: to prove who they are, to become eligible for services and for their own self-esteem.

However, for homeless people, having personal IDs is truly a matter of survival. All government assistance programs require identification documentation as the follow examples show.

    • Without ID, homeless people cannot get food stamps, so they may not have money to buy food.
    • Nor can they get general relief (welfare) to pay for lodging, for example, without proving who they are.
    • Senior homeless people need ID to get Social Security benefits.
    • Homeless people with physical or mental disabilities which prevent them from working can only rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if they have ID.
  • If homeless people have worked 5 years out of the last 10 and are unable to work because of a disability, they may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) with ID.

My previous article, “The Trifecta of Identification,” set forth the numerous steps that it takes anyone to get ID. For a person without a home or resources, each step can be a major hurdle to getting identification.
But how do homeless people feel about having or not having ID? I asked a number of homeless youth and adults this question. I am grateful to each person for his/her response.

Lily, 27 years old:
“I have no ID of any kind because my stuff was stolen. I had my California ID stolen downtown. Without ID, it’s kinda hard. I couldn’t get a hotel room last night because I had no ID. Someone else did it. But, I was bummed. It wasn’t good. I’d like to get an ID, but I don’t have the money.”

T.J., 19 years old: “ID is pretty important. You need it for most things.

“I have all my IDs — birth certificate, social security card and photo ID. I feel better having ID because I don’t get a ticket for not having ID. I can buy cigarettes and get a hotel room.”

Wayne M. F. Robbins, Jr., 21 years old: “Personally, I think ID is a separation of who I am. Most people don’t ask, ‘Who are you?’ They ask for your ID.”

“I feel like a slave. My parents gave me that name, but if my ID is not current or if it’s broken, you can get in trouble, or fined. My ID is crinkled at the corners, so I have to buy another one. How much is an ID? $35?”

“IDs and social security cards aggravate me. I don’t feel that I should be tied down to 9 digits…”

Erin Kuklis, 22 years old: “I have no ID. I think ID is a waste of time and they have too much info on them. I’m from Alaska. I came here in August. ”

“One of my military cards, driver’s license and social security card — my whole purse with all my IDs is gone. My ID was stolen. My bank account was wiped out. There are three other people pretending to me. Those people have my parents’ address so they know where my parents live. There’s way too much info on IDs.”

“I can’t get a California ID because I have nothing showing who I am. When they [DMV] look me up, they don’t believe it’s me…”
Over the past six and a half months, our Center for Justice and Social Compassion (CJSC) helped the following homeless individuals complete the steps necessary to obtain ID. I thank each of them for their comments.
Logan, 49 years old: “No ID means you’re not even ‘Mr. Nobody.’ You can’t get work. You can’t cash your check. The police don’t like the idea [that you have no ID]. You have to eat out of the dumpsters. You have to beg for food.”

“A closed mouth don’t get fed. I asked the manager, ‘If I pick up all the trash in the parking lot, can you throw me something to eat?’ A few times they say, ‘No,’ but at some point they say, ‘Yes.'”

“Now [that I have ID,] I feel excellent … I have options now. I couldn’t get my medication without ID.”

“Having ID makes me feel really good. If I work, I can cash a check. If I get stopped by the cops, it’s valid information.”

John, 59 years old: “Before I had ID, I couldn’t do anything. After I got ID, I could do things … go to stores, all that.”

Nameless, 48 years old: “[Before CJSC got my birth certificate and replaced my social security card and Medi-Cal card,] I only had my California photo ID. I wasn’t worried about ID then. I didn’t really think about it until I went to a doctor’s appointment and they needed more ID.”

“Now that I’ve got all of my ID, I’m worried about hanging on to it. Hopefully, I can hang on to it. That’s my biggest concern. I’m worried I could lose my ID.”