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.


Homelessness Myth #10: Serving Is Tiring

Also published on The Huffington Post

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.-
- Albert Schweitzer

I am fortunate to know some very busy people who, through their service, help make this world a better place to live.  Even though they seldom take time off for rest and relaxation, they continue to work tirelessly for the benefit of all of us.   They are happy, even joyful people who get up every day to serve again. How do these busy service providers defy the law of nature that says energy expended must be replenished?

How do some people see the unvarnished misery of their fellow human beings and not be physically and emotionally drained? How do some people continue to create beauty through art and music when the world can seem so dark?  Why do they continue to serve humanity in a myriad of ways often with little support or encouragement?

Intrigued by these questions, I asked some amazingly selfless people what energizes them.  I am very grateful to them for their comments that follow.

“We are all born with an instinct for altruism and giving as surely as we are born with instincts for survival, sex and power.  But like muscles that need to be exercised, our generosity and compassion can only be developed through regular workouts.  And, like working out, volunteering and service leave you with an inner buzz.”

- Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder and Editor-In-Chief, Huffington Post

“Every day I run into a formerly homeless person who has graduated of St. Vinnie’s – in airports, everywhere I go.  Recently, I was in the hospital and the nurse and other hospital staff were all graduates of St. Vinnie’s!  We have two graduates on our board of directors.  I’m constantly running into graduates from St. Vinnie’s… that’s what keeps me going! That’s where the energy comes from.”

Father Joe Carroll, President, St. Vincent de Paul Village

“It was a ‘challenging’ question. My ‘one word’ answer would have to be EMPOWERED… which may seem strange. After all, how could giving something to others be empowering?! But for most of my adult life, when thinking of the poor, I would just get very frustrated.

Sure, dropping a dollar or some coins in the buckets of bell-ringers for the Salvation Army, or to the man with his sign on the street corner is the ‘decent’ thing to do — but it just never seemed ‘enough.’ And answering the call of organizations to donate cans of food or piles of clothing — I understand it makes a difference — but for how long?  Do my efforts really change someone’s life for the better… can one person really help?

It wasn’t until I actually walked into a soup kitchen to drop off the food that I saw ‘close up’ what one person can do. Each one of those volunteers — giving ‘straight from the heart’ — was doing more than serving food. They were affirming that those receiving were ‘worthy’… despite poverty, unemployment, substance abuse problems — whatever their reasons for needing help… someone cared about THEM. Cared enough to give, not just money or food or stuff — but themselves, their time, their effort, their concern.

For those who have nothing… living in fear and pain… that affirmation that their lives still have value to someone means the difference between giving up or getting up. One needs only to visit the soup kitchens, the day centers or the shelters to feel that power. Each one of us can make a very big difference.”

Rose von Perbandt/agent for artist Ed Miracle/Art at Work

“Despite not having had a vacation in years, a phone call, an email of success, meeting a graduate of our program for homeless people keeps me going.  I get that a lot.  Our graduates become successful and they call me five, 10 years down the road.  When graduates come from graduation, I feel like $9 million bucks!”

Bob McElroy, President, The Alpha Project

“Service refreshes my spirit, giving me a new perspective on life — my own as well as that of others.  It renews my commitment to live well and wholly within the larger Spirit that encircles us all with love.”

Karen A. Shaffer, President, The Maud Powell Society for Music and Education

“A person who really hasn’t experienced life yet, if they haven’t experienced helping someone in need.”

William Butler, M.A., M.Div

“Many times after anxiety-inducing budget or policy  meetings, I find that spending time with the clients in the program can have a calming effect. Just listing to others and helping them through their day benefits the client and the caregiver. It does not matter if the client is irritated about an issue or dealing with a particularly difficult time in their life, in social services if all interactions with others are looked at through the lens of empathy no ill will or aggravation can be transferred.


“What motivates me to help people?  I feel blessed that I have so much, so it is appropriate for me to share what I have.

“Service to others satisfies a desire in me to give back because I can’t say that all that I have or where I am in life is because of myself alone.  Someone helped each of us to get to where we are.  I am doing a payback to give to others what has been given to me.  None of us is here on our own.

As a Big Brother, I felt very fortunate that I could help children who had no father.”

Former Big Brother in the Big Brothers of America Program

“It concerns me that there are so many needs out there.  So many people are struggling.  They can’t even buy food or find a decent place to live.

I don’t work directly with clients, but I work so that life is a bit easier for them.  My hope is that what I am doing from day to day will help someone, somewhere live life with less stress and ease of mind.

This is what keeps me going;  it keeps all of us going.”

Hannah Cohen, Policy Consultant on Issues of Housing and Homelessness, President of the Cohen Group

“As a photojournalist, I have had the opportunity to talk to many of San Diego’s homeless. Each time we engage in a conversation, a cup of coffee, or just sit and watch passers by, I feel a communion with the person we call “homeless.” It’s a very special time for me.

“It moves me deeply to smile along with someone else who has little yet offers a smile in return. I will continue to be an advocate for realistic and essential change in the criminal justice system and in finding answers to eradicate homelessness.”

Susan Madden Lankford, author, Downtown USA

“Remaining silent or passive in the face of injustice is simply not an option for me, since that would be tantamount to being complicit in that injustice. So I am fortunate that being part of struggles for social justice — work that is utterly necessary if the world is to become a better place — nourishes me both physically and emotionally. The struggle, itself, infuses me with energy.”

Susie Curtiss

Homelessness Myth #12: Corporations Don’t Care (VIDEO)

Also published on The Huffington Post

Question:  should corporations care about helping to solve homelessness?  In the United States, corporations are created by the action of each of the 50 States and are subject to hosts of regulations.  They also have rights under the US Constitution.  With rights, however, come responsibilities …

Since the creation of the US Constitution, the rights of corporations have been debated.  The US Supreme Court has been determining the constitutional rights of corporations on a case-by-case basis.  For example, early in the history of this country, the Court determined that corporations could not be citizens in the United States. Insurance Co. v. New Orleans, 13 Fed Cas. 67 (C.C.D.La. 1870).  It held that under the 14th Amendment, only natural persons could be citizens. (Ibid.)

However, the Court found that corporations are “persons” within the due process clause of the 14th Amendment and therefore they cannot be deprived of their property without due process of law. (Smyth v. Ames, 169 U.S. 266, 522, 526, 1898).  It further decided that corporations are entitled to the protection of the First Amendment (First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U. S. 765, 778 (1978)), including being protected for political speech.  (NAACP v. Button, 371 U. S. 415, 428-429.)  As recently as January 21, 2010, the Court issued a five-to-four ruling that corporations are protected by the First Amendment from limits on corporate funding of political broadcasts in candidate elections.

Since corporations have been found by the Court to be “persons” with rights under the US Constitution, do corporations recognize any  “personal” responsibility to help solve the social issues of the day, including homelessness?  In other words, do corporations have hearts?

Answer:  Virgin Mobile does.

Recently, I had the good fortune to speak with Dan Schulman, President of Virgin Mobile, one of Sprint’s prepaid brands, about corporate philanthropy.  During our conversation, Dan said that he recognizes that corporations have “a moral imperative” to help those in need and that  “It’s not just good to be philanthropic, it’s good for business.”

In 2006, with the support of Virgin Unite, Virgin’s Group’s charitable arm, Dan created Re*Generation, a program through which Virgin Mobile’s 5 million customers could be empowered to help end homelessness among youth.  Dan coined the term Re*Generation so that the youthful customers of Virgin Mobile would be inspired to help members of their own generation — homeless youth.  By choosing to help homeless youth, Dan hoped that “Re-Generation” would increase customer loyalty to Virgin Mobile and, at the same time, help the 2 million youth who are homeless in the United States.

Since it began, Re*Generation has helped raise close to $500,000, plus encouraged volunteers to donate more than 200,000 items of clothing, over 30,000 hours of community service and nearly 10,000 hygiene kits through the following projects:

•  2010 Virgin Mobile Extends the FREE.I.P. Platform Beyond FreeFest to include the sponsorship of “The Monster Ball Tour Starring Lady Gaga.”  Offering music fans the opportunity to earn a seat at Lady Gaga’s sold out music tour, volunteers in more than 20 US markets each gave eight hours of their time to homeless youth organizations. Lady Gaga, moved by the disproportionate number of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness,  recorded a PSA urging fans to donate to RE*Generation and pledged to match donations up to $25,000.

•  November 2009:  Public Enemy #1.  To celebrate the third-year of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, Virgin Mobile declared youth homelessness as “Public Enemy #1.”  With the help of rap group Public Enemy, who gave an impromptu performance in the streets of DC before a concert, raised $25,000, more than 300 winter coats for the issue and for Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a local Washington D.C. organization that works with homeless youth.

•  August 2009:  “2009 FreeFest.” For the first time, Virgin Mobile’s annual summer music festival became “FreeFest” with free admission for a day long festival that previously cost fans $100/day.  FreeFest also introduced a special volunteer platform labeled FREE.I.P.  FREE.I.P. provided volunteer opportunities in exchange for VIP access to the FreeFest.

• November 2007:  National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.  The Re*Generation Task Force, with the help of singer/songwriter Jewel, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) and others, lobbied Congress for the designation of November as National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.

•  May 2007:  TXT2CLOTHE.  A partnership with American Eagle Outfitters which provided 200,000 pieces of new clothing to homeless kids throughout local distribution centers and organizations.

•  2006:  RE*Generation, Virgin Mobile’s Charitable Arm, Launched.  RE*Generation began by assembling a group of organizations like StandUp4Kids and Youth Noise as beneficiaries. The program was initially based around giving proceeds from downloads like ringtones to the cause of youth homelessness, and Virgin Mobile’s TXT2DONATE program.

On April 23, NAEH honored Dan Schulman, and Virgin Mobile USA with its partner, Virgin Unite, with its 2010 Private Sector Achievement Award.  “Virgin Mobile USA has done some commendable work in raising awareness about youth homelessness — an important and emerging issue in the field,” said Steve Berg, Vice President of Programs and Policy at NAEH. “We congratulate Virgin Mobile on their efforts and look forward to seeing the evolution of their innovative Re*Generation campaign.

Despite all that Virgin Mobile and its partners are doing through Re*Generation, Dan assured me, “There is so much more yet to do … Our goal and objective is to end homelessness.  We can’t stop until we get there.  I truly believe that’s our responsibility.”

In view of what Virgin Mobile has done and what all corporations could do, I call for a corporation summit on the issues of homelessness, possibly subtitled, “Corporations Care,” so all corporations will be encouraged to help those in need.  To be sure, I’d be happy to facilitate the conference!