Homelessness Myth #23: They Have Too Much Food to Eat

Also published on The Huffington Post. 

Really?  Do some housed people really believe that homeless people have too much food to eat?  Actually, yes.  And they provide what they consider the evidence, “Of course they have too much food to eat. See how fat they are!”

This myth leaves me stunned because I believe its falsehood is obvious. I’ve had the privilege to work with people in need for over 20 years.  Sadly, in all of that time, I have never known a homeless person who was able to eat three healthy meals a day. Really.

As we all know, obesity is an American epidemic. Whether we are housed or homeless, many authorities agree that our diet of high-calorie, unhealthy foods contributes to our obesity.  It would appear that many housed people are neither utilizing their kitchens to prepare nutritious foods, nor making healthy food choices at restaurants. Homeless people may have similar nutritional challenges, but for different reasons.

On May 25, 2012, the San Diego County Regional Task Force on the Homeless reported in “A Point-In-Time Assessment of Homelessness In San Diego County — 2012,” that there are a total of 9,641 homeless people within the county.  Of this total, 4,374 homeless people are sheltered and often receive their meals from their residential facilities.  However, there are at least 5,267 homeless people who are unsheltered and generally live without their own cooking facilities.

Unsheltered homeless people generally eat prepared food that they get from Good Samaritans, at group food service opportunities and, when they have money, from fast food restaurants and/or grocery stores.  Pasta, bread and pastries are in abundance.  Organic foods as well as raw fruits and vegetables are seldom available. Without healthful foods to eat, homeless people have very few chances of avoiding obesity.

I’m grateful to the following homeless people and service provider for sharing whether they feel that homeless people have too much food to eat.

Annie, an unsheltered homeless person, 45-years-old:  “I don’t think that homeless people have too much food.  We need more fresh veggies, not canned.  But that’s not easy to get.

“There are a lot of church services, but maybe having food every day would be good. But, we don’t have food every day.  We’re blessed to have what we get.”

Jon, 49-years-old, lives in his van: “We never have too much food.”

Glyn Franks, a housed person, 62-years-old, founder and president of Second Chances, Bread of Life, and self-described “San Diego’s biggest sinner saved by the grace of God:”

“Our goal is to feed the hungry, tend to the sick, visit prisoners and clothe the naked. We feed the hungry… We fulfill the great commission to share the good news by doing the four things I’ve said to serve the God of love.

“Homeless people don’t have enough food.  I believe that homeless people don’t have proper nutrition because they can’t cook.  Without cooking facilities, it is difficult to get proper nutrition.  Proper nutrition promotes good mental health and the ability to make good decisions.

“I believe that there are also people with roofs that don’t have enough food.

“We serve food to homeless people and housed people Saturday mornings, Thursday at high noon and holidays [in and near Ocean Beach].”

Grace, a vegetarian, almost 53-years-old, lives in her van:  “Because I have celiac sprue disease, I cannot eat anything that has gluten grains in it — wheat, rye, oats, barley, spelt.  And I’m dairy intolerant… Consequently, most of my money goes to food and dietary supplements.

“Although I have a very limited income, I still feel that it is important to give food to others who need it.  Because I’m aware of the need for healthy food and because I’m aware of how little healthy food there is ‘out there,’ I cook and prepare my meals.  Because it is hard to make food for one person, I prepare a lot of food and share it with people who need food.  Many homeless people who come to me are vegetarians or need healthy food.  So, they are very happy to have this food.

“Most homeless people are suffering from malnutrition because of not eating healthy food… I feel that one of the most important things in life is what we ingest, our food.”

John, an unsheltered homeless person, 50-years-old:  “For each community, the situation is different.  For example, in downtown San Diego, there are limited opportunities to eat indoors.  It took me two years to learn where to get food.  Several hundred homeless people are usually served at each of the following meals:

• Mondays The Lutheran Church serves a meal. Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner.

• Tuesdays Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner. The Salvation Army serves dinner.

• Wednesdays Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner.

• Thursdays Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner. The Horizon Church serves dinner.

• Fridays Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch. The Lutheran Church serves a meal. God’s Extended Hand serves dinner. The Salvation Army serves dinner.

• Saturdays Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves lunch.

• Sundays Father Joe [St. Vincent de Paul] serves brunch. Presbyterian Soup Ladle serves a meal.

“It’s hard to remember all of this.  If you don’t know where these meals are, it’s difficult.  And just to get to some of these places is an effort without a bus pass.  It can take an hour to get to a scheduled meal.

“Sometimes you have to stand in line for hours before a meal, after which there is a religious service for an hour or two and then you get to eat.  That means it could take a total of 4 to 5 hours out of your day before you can get a meal indoors.

“I don’t think homeless people are overfed.  My opinion is that there is enough food for some of them to survive.  Homeless people are more on the hungrier side than the full side.  Going to bed hungry is not a nice thing.”

Justin, an unsheltered homeless person, 25-years-old:  “This morning I woke up and I didn’t know where I was going to eat.  I was hungry.  I often get hungry.  Everyone gets hungry.  We, homeless people, are just like everyone else.”


Homelessness Myth #22: They Have Enough Money

Also post on The Huffington Post.

Do homeless people need money? Of course, housed or unhoused, we all need money. Some housed people believe that homeless people have enough money to get what they need.

However, do homeless people really have enough money to get what they need? I think not. For example, one of the most important things that any person needs is government-issued identification. People need this ID for many reasons, including to get a job, housing, food stamps (after the first month), healthcare, a bank account as well as to get married.

In California, there is a schedule of fees for DMV-issued photo ID cards. There is no fee for senior citizens (age 62 or older) to get these IDs. For everyone else, the fee for California photo ID cards is $26. However, this fee can be reduced to $7 when people meet the income requirements of a public assistance program and complete the ferification for Reduced Fee Identification Card form (DL 937) available from a host of governmental or nonprofit programs.

Homeless people under 62 years of age generally qualify for this $7 California reduced-fee photo ID card.

But do homeless people have $7?  And if they need to get $7, how do they get it?

Some homeless people work, indeed, sometimes at more than one job.  They may  “can,” meaning they recycle. Some homeless people, including unaccompanied youth, go “spanging,” that is, they ask strangers for spare change.

Often they “go signing” or “fly a sign” which means they use a sign indicating their need and request for money. Some musically talented homeless people raise funds by “busking,” a term used for playing music for donations.

Homeless artists sometimes solicit donations for their creations.  Some homeless people suffering from disabilities may receive money from government programs.  And many homeless people involve themselves in any combination of these efforts to raise funds.

I asked the following people whether they had $7 and, if they didn’t, how they would raise $7.  I am grateful to them for their answers to these questions.

Grace, age 52, lives in her RV “I have $7.  I am frugal.  I get disability and supplement it by making jewelry when I can. These are the two ways I get income.

“$7 is very important.  You can do a lot of things with $7.  To me, $7 means a meal, gas to move the RV, toilet paper or loads of laundry.

“$7 is a new wardrobe for a homeless person. Recently at the $2 Store, I bought a young homeless woman a dress, a pair of shorts, jeans, a T-shirt — three changes of clothing — all the clothing that you can carry.”

Eric, age 35, homeless “I don’t have $7. To get $7, I have to beg practically all day. I don’t ‘can’ because of germs, it’s dirty.

“Also, I make roses and angelfish that I give out for donations. Sometimes I make money, sometimes I don’t.”

OB Dillon, age “pushing 69,” homeless “I have $7.  People give me gifts because they like my guitar playing. That makes me a professional.”

Jon, age 49, lives in his van “I do have $7. To make money, I spange.”

Justin, age 25, homeless “I don’t have $7.  What I do and what I’d like to do is different.  It’s really demeaning for me.  I have to swallow my pride… It would be nice if there were part-time jobs for the homeless to do.”

Manuel, age 30, homeless “I have no money.  I’m just looking for work.”

“What would I have to do to get $7? Whatever it takes. I ask around for work. I do yard work.  Whatever it takes.”

Anonymous, age 40, homeless “I don’t have $7. What would I have to do to get $7?  I’d ask someone — probably have to ask several people. I don’t like to do that. I’d rather do some kind of work.

“How long would it take to get $7?  It took me one hour to get $12 to go to a Christian rock concert. I had $13, but I didn’t realize that the ticket was $25. I just told people why I needed the money and I got it right away.

“Getting money can take a dollar an hour, if you’re lucky.”

Bobby, age 41, lives in his car “I always have $7.  To get money, I go to work or to the bank. I work for a living, you know.”

J.D., age “almost 39,” homeless “Nope, I don’t have $7.  I make hacky-sacks and in four years [displaying his creation] this is the first one I’ve made.  I haven’t eaten for a while so I’m hungry.”

Ethan, age 18, homeless “I do have $7.  To get $7 I sit around and make jewelry out of bamboo and sell it.  It’s pretty much my life right now.”

Oasis, age 49, homeless “I don’t have $7.  I make a product out of scrap metal.  I take the casings of old 50 caliber bullets and 20-millimeter bullets and I make ‘peaceful pipes.’  I sell them to the public as they walk by.  I’m self-employed.”

Christiana, age 26, homeless “I don’t have $7.  I manage a band named, ‘Welcome.’  We have our first gig this Thursday at 8pm at Bar 11…  It’s $5 to get in.  We get a split of the door.”

Jay, age 25, homeless “I don’t have $7.  I’m unemployed.  In order to get $7, I’d have to get employed.”

Sandy, age 49, homeless “I have $7 now, but I may not have it by tomorrow.  I didn’t have a cent to my name yesterday.  I was starving.  I just asked people on the street for money.

“I get social security but I can’t live on that.  I was a homeowner.  I left my husband.”

Erick, age 40, homeless “I do not have $7.  The $7 itself doesn’t mean anything to me – it’s what I can buy for myself that matters.”

Lena, age 29, housed “I don’t have $7. I have $2 in my guitar case.

“To get $7, I would either clean houses or I play the guitar. Most of my income comes from cleaning other people’s houses. I stay with my husband in a motel that charges $175 a week for our room.”

I look forward to your comments.

Thank you, Christine

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 #16: Helping Infantilizes Homeless People

Also published on The Huffington Post

The myth that helping a homeless person makes him/her dependent, in other words, “infantilizes” him/her, is sometimes used as a rationale not to help a person in need. I believe the concepts that are being confused in this myth are the concepts of “helping” another person versus “rescuing” another person. It is important to understand the practical implications of these concepts so we can expose this myth for what it is — an excuse not to help a homeless person.

When we help another person, housed or unhoused, we are, in a word, “helpful.” Our actions that assist another person in need to realize his/her own plans for his/her life are helpful actions.

Rescuing another person is something very different from helping him/her. When we try to rescue someone, we attempt to take over a part of his/her life often substituting our own goals and ambitions for his/her own. The person we are rescuing appears to lose a part of himself/herself because we have stepped in and taken over.

Helping equals assisting; rescuing equals control. A person in need can be assisted. A baby is almost entirely within our control.

I believe that we can all agree that no rational, mature adult wants to be controlled, in whole or in part. We bristle at the mere thought of being “infantilized.” We each have had our own turn as a baby. Now, as adults, we have the opportunity to learn, grow and achieve our individual goals and desires.

But being a housed adult does not mean that each of us doesn’t need help from time to time. Truly, each of us probably needs more help than we might like to acknowledge. For example, most of us need help with letters of reference to get into college. We sometimes need “to know someone” to get a job. And most prospective buyers seek mortgages from banks to acquire their homes.

A person without a home needs help, too. Let’s face it: there is a homeless person in almost every city and rural community in the United States. Further, there are not enough beds in emergency shelters, transitional housing projects or permanent supportive housing programs to shelter every homeless person. So, the majority of homeless people are unsheltered. These are facts.

Now, what do we do?

Of course, we housed people can do nothing to help a homeless person.  Inaction doesn’t cost us anything — or so we think.

We now know through multiple studies that it costs the housed population more money for a person to be homeless rather than for that person to be housed with supportive services. We also know that arresting and jailing a homeless person for existing without shelter costs more than providing that person with shelter and supportive services.

Thus, having a person remain homeless is not cost-effective. So, we, the housed population, save money by housing a homeless individual.

Besides the financial costs, there are also hidden costs for the housed population when we don’t help people in need because we don’t exercise our human qualities of care and compassion. Through actions of compassion, we expand positive human qualities. Indeed, many religions and spiritual paths admonish their followers to “help one another.” Science has also proven that when we help one another, our immune system is positively affected. By helping others, we help ourselves.

When a person is homeless, he/she often suffers negative consequences from being unhoused. These consequences can be physical, emotional, psychological and even spiritual. Therefore, a homeless person may need help on many different levels.

How can we help? An easy and quick first step to help is to serve a homeless person nutritious food. Hunger is rampant among low-income people in the United States and most prevalent among our unhoused population. Once a person’s hunger is met, his/her entire perspective may change for the better.

Step two is to provide public toilets, showers and laundries. Everyone needs to be clean to work. Ask any employer of a fast food restaurant.

Together, these two steps will have an immediate impact of decreasing the number of people who are homeless. An able-bodied and able-minded unhoused person will be fortified and clean. He/she will be employable. Once gainfully employed, he/she can afford housing.

Step three is providing shelter for each person who is homeless. Right now we housed people are involved in creating housing for unhoused people often in the form of emergency shelters, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing.

We could also provide housing to homeless people by converting abandoned military bases into self-sufficient villages where homeless people will be welcomed. Working together, nonprofit organizations could help the government create these villages. The nonprofits could also train the residents to run their own village with light industry and organic farming.

Helping homeless people is good for all of us.

Homelessness Myth #15: Just Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps

Also published on The Huffington Post

“Why don’t homeless people just pull themselves up by their own bootstraps?”  What I believe some housed people mean by this question is that homeless people should be able to get themselves out of homelessness by themselves, through their own efforts.  Of all the myths about homelessness, I feel that this myth indicates the least understanding about the situation in which homeless people find themselves.

Homelessness is a very complex issue.  Actually, homelessness is the result of many factors that contribute to people becoming and staying homeless.  Among these factors are lack of affordable housing, insufficient income, lack of jobs, mental and physical impairments, addictions, abuse, the foreclosure crisis, municipal ordinances and community attitudes.

Lack of affordable housing is the most obvious, yet the most challenging factor, in my opinion, in overcoming homelessness.  There are not enough emergency shelters, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing or affordable housing in any major city to house the number of homeless people living in that city.

In the event that a homeless person receives some kind of federal or state support, these benefits are generally not sufficient to cover the cost of housing, food and necessities, such as medical care and medicine, in any major city.

But how about homeless people getting jobs that will allow them to pay for housing?  Some homeless people do work, but cannot make and then save enough money for first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit, so that they can move into an apartment.

And then there is the credit check done by some potential landlords through which they eliminate people who have poor credit scores as potential tenants.  Many homeless people, including most foreclosure victims, have poor credit scores and thus do not qualify for some housing.

Nearly everyone recognizes that there is a high unemployment rate in the United States.  There are just not enough jobs to go around.  Unemployed homeless people have the same challenges as housed people as they seek employment.  However, homeless people often don’t have the supportive environment and means, such as a home, clean clothes, job skills and transportation, essential to making a good impression for job interviews and securing jobs.

I asked several eminent professionals and unhoused people about their thoughts on the statement, “Homeless people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.”  I am very grateful to them for their comments that follow.

Ken Peters, Peer Liaison for San Diego County through Recovery Innovations of California: “I do feel the idea that homeless people with mental illness need only ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ is ridiculous. Most of this community is so worn down by life they have little hope things can be any better.  Many have been abandoned by friends and family and feel no one cares.”

Stephen Carroll, M.S.W., Homeless/Transition Age Services Division Director, San Diego Youth Services:  “Regarding ‘bootstraps,’ my thought is that ‘to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps’ implies that we are responsible first and foremost for the changes that we want to make or need to make in our lives.

But like most, if not all, of us, when we find ourselves literally pulling up our bootstraps, we need someone or something to lean on to help support us until we have succeeded.  One is an American value, the other a human value.  And in my opinion, each is complimentary of the other.”

Roger, 26 years old, unhoused: “My belief is that we have to work as a team to do anything.  We have to come together as a unit and [that way we’ll] get 10 times as much done as we can by ourselves.”

Clayton, 25 years old, unhoused: “You should always be ready to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps because you can only count on yourself.  But, working as a team and taking guidance from elders are always a plus.”

Sean, 19 years old, unhoused: “People need places to go where you can get a place to stay, where they can get a job.”

Brooke, 21 years old, unhoused: “Do good deeds and you get good deeds.”

Darcy, 21 years old, unhoused: “I think it’s a community effort.  We can help ourselves and yet, we need to work together.”

Glorious, 23 years old, unhoused: “We have a lack of common spaces.  Our world needs that right now.  We’re interdependent.  To learn anything, we need teachers.  Our experiences are shared.”

Keoni, 28 years old, unhoused: “I’ve been on the road since I was 16 years old.  I know how to get myself up.  But I have to meet ‘locals’ [housed people] to get a job and a house.”

People who have no homes have fallen upon hard times.  They may experience a crisis state that envelops them and can feel overwhelming.  They may need a respite, a time to gather their thoughts, reflect and make plans for the future.  Perhaps counseling would help.  Certainly, being outdoors day and night during a time of crisis is not conducive to recovery from the crisis.

In my opinion, we all need to help one another.  Homeless people may need help to get out of homelessness.  Through understanding and compassion, we can help our neighbors be they housed or unhoused.

Homelessness Myth #14: They Choose to Be Homeless

Also published on The Huffington Post

No one truly chooses to be homeless.

Certainly, the nearly 50 percent of homeless people who are women and children don’t choose homelessness over being housed.

Further, the 25 percent to 40 percent of homeless people who are reportedly veterans would presumably prefer to re-establish the lives that they had before their military service rather than choose to become homeless.

Finally, we know that 35 percent to 45 percent of all homeless people suffer from some kind of mental illness.  If some homeless people are mentally ill, do they really have the mental capacity and ability to choose being housed over being homeless?

This morning my homeless friend, Jerry, asked me what I was up to today.  When I told him that I intended to write an article about the myth that homeless people actually choose homelessness over being housed, he said, rather matter-of-factly, “I choose to be homeless.”

“Really,” I replied.  Then I did something which upon reflection, I wish that I had not done. I asked Jerry to think about the life of the young person we saw getting out of his vehicle.

Motioning toward the young person, I said to Jerry, “If right now I were to give you the choice to exchange your lifestyle for his lifestyle with an apartment, refrigerator, bathroom, TV and car, would you do it?”

Jerry was silent.  He didn’t respond.  He just kept looking down.

I knew I had touched a nerve and possibly brought to his mind a lifestyle that is not an option for Jerry, not a choice for him.  At this moment, there is no way that Jerry can have a housed lifestyle and he knows it.


Because there is no room in the homeless shelters for the numbers of people who need a bed.

Because most, if not all, homeless shelters require that their clients be clean and sober before they can be admitted to their program.

Because there are limited, if any, programs to help a homeless person get clean and sober while they are on the street.  There are insufficient rehabilitative programs of any kind for the numbers of homeless people living on the street or in shelters.

Not long ago, a homeless friend, Nicky, said to me, “I choose to be homeless.”

“Really,” I said.  “Do you choose living in the cold, the trash food, the lack of a real bed or apartment?”

“No, those are the bad things about being homeless.  I don’t choose those.”

“You do realize that if you choose to be homeless that these things are a natural consequence of your choice?”

“Yes, but those are not the things that I choose,” he said.

In my opinion, one choice from two or more options is only a true choice when the consequences of the choices are equal or nearly equal.  The choice between living in a home or living on the streets is an unequal choice because of their unequal consequences.

Homeless people living on the street have no bathroom facilities, limited clean food, and unconventional sleeping conditions.  Often, the unsheltered homeless people eat “trash food” to stave off their hunger.  Clothing appropriate for the weather is sometimes a luxury.  Warm blankets, unsheltered people’s basic necessity, spread on the ground or on cement, even over cardboard, are no substitute for a real bed inside an apartment or shelter.

And we have not even discussed the safety issue.  When we housed people are indoors we lock the doors against possible intruders.

How can homeless people protect themselves from someone, housed or unhoused, who wishes them harm?  Often, homeless people stay awake in the night, sleep in well-lit areas or sleep in hidden places so as to keep themselves safe.  But, there are no locks outside.  There are not even doors which can be locked.

The answer: provide services for homeless people where they are.  For example, create programs that are for unsheltered people who have not yet kicked drug or alcohol addictions.  Have programs for people who live outside but who have mental illnesses.  Meet the people where they are mentally and physically.

Why wait and demand that homeless people become clean and sober on their own so that they can get into a shelter, when they will come to find out that there is no available bed in any shelter?

Help unsheltered homeless people become clean and sober through services and shelter programs designed for people recovering from additions.

I’m sorry that I raised the thought of a housed lifestyle for my friend, Jerry.  I raised unreasonable expectations for my friend and for what purpose — just to make a point?  I won’t do that again to Jerry or any other unhoused person.


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!

Homelessness Myth #8: One Size Fits All

Also published on The Huffington Post

Since the 1970s, as homelessness in the United States increased dramatically, some social service agencies created short-term homeless emergency shelters and transitional housing facilities to house homeless people. Some service providers emphasized the importance of finding jobs for their clients.  Their theory, “Jobs First,” was that once their homeless clients had jobs, they would be able to afford their own apartments and be housed permanently.

Over twenty years ago, Tanya Tull, president and CEO of Beyond Shelter and founder of Para Los Ninos, developed and implemented an alternative methodology to emergency shelters and transitional housing for the purpose of ending family homelessness that she coined, “Housing First” which:

• provides crisis intervention to address immediate family needs, while      simultaneously or soon thereafter assisting families to develop permanent housing and social service plans

• helps homeless families move into affordable rental housing in residential neighborhoods as quickly as possible, most often with their own lease agreements

• then provides six months to one year of individualized, home-based social services support “after the move” to help each family transition to stability.  (See, http://www.beyondshelter.org)

Similar to the housing first methodology is the “permanent supportive housing” approach  through which homeless people, regardless of whether they have families, can receive permanent housing with services to help prevent and end homelessness.

Together, the housing first methodology and the permanent supportive housing approach have now become widely accepted by some social service providers as “the way” to end homelessness.

But what about the 35% – 45% of the homeless population who have psychological problems? And what about the homeless people who suffer from physically debilitating problems?

I suggest that the first methodology for homeless people who suffer from mental illness and/or physically debilitating problems should be appropriate psychological and/or medical care and treatment.

Every mentally ill person, housed or unhoused, deserves appropriate care and treatment for their illness, even if that appropriate care and treatment means commitment in a mental institution.  Every physically disabled person, housed or unhoused, should receive appropriate care and treatment, even if that means long-term hospitalization.

I asked some people who are or were homeless how they felt about whether one methodology could be utilized as the best way to end homelessness.  Their responses follow.

Maurice:  “I believe that you know that it [the solution to homelessness] is multi-layered.”

Olivia:  “One size cannot fit all.  Many people are just coming out of violent situations, drug rehab, or prison.  [They are] not just jobless.

“Where to put them would be based upon the level and type of psychological problems they may have…

And prison does not train its inmates to behave appropriately for mixed-gender society.  Mental institutions with therapists and staff do.

“You must separate those with severe psychological problems from those without.  Otherwise, you create an environment that is psychologically, emotionally and physically dangerous to those who may be leaving stressful situations…

“[Some people] believe that healthy clients living in close quarters with those still in recovery from drugs, violence or prostitution will positively affect a change in the ill.  But, we’re not psychologists and it is merely putting new prey in the hands of predators recovering from such.”

Barbara R.:  “The concept of “one size fits all” is ludicrous, asinine and insane.  Try and take the dynamics, for example of women, children, men separately, whole families, and the new trans-gender population.  How can one remedy cure all the ailments?”

Melanie:  “The solution to the homeless issue is to view each individual within the homeless population as unique, and in so doing, properly address his/her situation in such a way that is in accordance with his/her vision of happiness.”

Pamela:  “The myth that one size fits all as a solution to homelessness is definitely not possible because the requirements to bring a person from homelessness into self-sufficiency is a process that inherently must be individualized.

“Individuals need a community network that is able to supply the needs of a wide variety of services that are available to bring them from the state of homelessness into self-sufficiency.”

Tim:  “Can’t get a phone call.   How can my needs be met?”

I believe that all social service agencies that are doing good things for homeless people are doing something great.

I further believe that we should continue, support and fully fund housing first and permanent supportive housing projects.

Finally, I believe that in order to help homeless people who have many different needs, we need simultaneous implementation of many kinds of approaches and methodologies, including the following three steps to ending homeless:

1.  Public toilets, showers and laundries

2.  Housing, transitional and permanent, with supportive services

3.  A self-sufficient village on an abandoned military base

• where homes and apartments would be available for families and individuals
• where a building would be available with services for mentally ill people
• where a building would be available with services for those people with dual diagnosis
• where a building would be available to house and provide for homeless orphans
• where light industry could provide employment for the residents
• nearby an established school district where the youth could attend classes
• run at first by a council of nonprofit agencies and then, as soon as practical, run by the         duly-elected representatives of the self-sufficient village.

Homelessness Myth #4: There’s Room In The Inn

Also published on The Huffington Post.

On December 8th, the San Diego Union Tribune reported that on the previous day, the County of San Diego, California experienced one of “the most powerful winter storms in several years…bringing damaging winds, record-setting rainfall and several inches of snow to the mountains.”

My homeless friend Maurice supplied me with the following video of the situation of homeless people in downtown San Diego and the efforts of Alpha Project president, Bob McElroy, to help homeless people cope with the challenging weather.  This video, as you will see, was filmed just outside the Emergency Winter Shelter, run by Alpha Project, which was filled to capacity.

Some background from the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless 2009 Point In Time Count:

1.  In the County of San Diego, there are a total of 7,892 homeless people of whom:

  • 4,014 homeless people are living on the streets
  • 965 homeless people are living in emergency shelters
  • 2,913 homeless people are living in transitional housing

2.  In the City of San Diego, there are a total of 4,338 homeless people of whom:

  • 1,868 homeless people are living on the streets
  • 656 homeless people are living in emergency shelters
  • 1,814 homeless people are living in transitional housing

Homelessness Myth #3: Unsheltered People Only Count At Night

Also published on The Huffington Post.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Renewal (HUD) requires that every two years during the last seven days of January, Continuum of Care (CoC) systems (those agencies that HUD funds on a competitive basis) count the number of homeless people within their geographical areas.

HUD guidelines suggest that the best practice for counting homeless people is to count unsheltered homeless people on the same night as counting people staying in shelters or when the shelters are closed.  Thus, while the counts of homeless people living in shelters take place during the day, the counts for unsheltered homeless people generally take place from midnight until 4:00 a.m., or from very early in the morning, often beginning before 4:00 a.m.

In 2007, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the lead agency for Los Angeles CoC, counted 68,608 homeless people residing within the Los Angeles CoC.  Not included within the Los Angeles CoC count were the cities of Glendale, Long Beach and Pasadena, which counted a total of 5,094 homeless people in their cities.  Thus, in 2007, the total count of homeless people in Los Angeles County was 73,702.

On October 28 of this year, LAHSA released its January 27-29, 2009 count of homeless people that found that 42,694 homeless people reside within the Los Angeles CoC. Again, not included within the Los Angeles CoC count were the cities of Glendale, Long Beach and Pasadena, which counted a total of 5,359 homeless people in their cities.  Thus, in 2009, the homeless population in Los Angeles County was counted as 48,053.

While 48,053 homeless people is an extremely large number, representing misery for thousands of men, women and children, this number is surprising to some service providers because it represents an unexpected 38% decrease in the number of homeless people counted in 2007.

In its press release, “New Census Reveals Decline in Greater Los Angeles Homelessness,” LAHSA attributes this 38% decrease in the number of homeless people counted in Los Angeles County in 2009 to “progress in the City’s and County’s efforts at reducing homelessness.”

Of particular interest are the statistics that LAHSA quotes in its press release stating that:

[t]he decline in the numbers for Los Angeles appears consistent with similar national decreases [in the number of homeless people counted] seen in areas like: 

New York: 30% decrease
Indianapolis 22% decrease
Riverside County 22% decrease


I propose that counting all homeless people, whether sheltered or unsheltered, during the day would yield a more accurate number of the people who are homeless.

1. Finding unsheltered homeless people at night is problematic. In some cities, there is police activity to break up illegal public camping.  However, on those nights at the end of January every two years, enumerators look forward to finding encampments so that they can find homeless people to count.

It would appear that the police and the enumerators are working at cross-purposes.

2. Would you like it if a team of enumerators came to your home in the middle of the night?  Some homeless people know about the count process and may not want to be disturbed so perhaps they find more out-of-the-way places to stay on census nights.

3. Some unsheltered homeless people stay awake at night.  Why?  Because sleeping at night “outside” puts homeless people in a very vulnerable state.  They often sit in well-lit areas or on buses, or they walk.

The unsheltered homeless people who do try to sleep at night often look for quiet, private places so they are protected from prying eyes, possible attacks and the elements.

4. I suggest that the enumerators bring non-perishable canned and packaged food with can openers to these hungry, poor people.  This act of charity could make the counting experience something that homeless people might look forward to and for which they would make themselves more available.

5. Unsheltered homeless people can be more easily found during the day in public places, in food lines and at service providers’ locations.  Why not utilize the organizers and volunteers at these locations to help introduce the enumerators to their guests?

Finding unsheltered working homeless people can be accomplished by talking to the organizers, volunteers, service providers or friends who know these homeless people.

6. Concerned about double counting homeless people? Homeless people are knowable.  Prior to the official counting dates, a team could just go out, meet homeless people and bring much-needed canned or packaged food.  By knowing in advance many of the people they are counting, enumerators would know to avoid counting the same person twice.

Further, in the case of meeting a homeless person who enumerators have not previously met, the enumerators could simply ask the homeless person if he/she has been counted already.  Once a trust or friendship has been established between any enumerator and any homeless person, this information will be more readily forth coming.

7. It would be helpful if each team of enumerators were accompanied by a trained mental health professional.  Stress is a challenge for all of us and certainly homeless people experience a great deal of stress.  Thus, by their mere calming presence, these mental health professionals would be providing a valuable service.

It is important for many reasons, including justifying the funding of homelessness services, that homeless people be counted.  However, we must be as creative in our thinking about the ways to count them as homeless people are creative in the ways that they survive on the streets.

As fellow human beings, homeless people are entitled to our respect, need our help and deserve our compassion.