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.”

The Trifecta of Identification

Also published on The Huffington Post

When a homeless person has a certified copy of his/her birth certificate, a state-issued photo identification card (or driver’s license) and an original social security card, he/she possesses “The Trifecta of Identification.” Having possession of these three forms of ID is often the threshold issue for a homeless person to access many services. In order to receive needed identification documentation, a homeless person may have to overcome numerous hurdles.

Throughout the United States, government entities often provide direct services and/or fund services for unhoused people. However, access to these services generally requires the production of one or more personal identification documents on the part of the homeless person.

For example, the County of San Diego, CA, provides County Medical Services (CMS) for uninsured, low-income individuals who have immediate or long-term medical needs. In order to qualify for CMS, an individual must have identification documents: a certified copy of his/her birth certificate, a California photo identification card (or driver’s license) and a social security card. In addition, a divorce decree or death certificate of a spouse is required, if applicable.

Unfortunately, many homeless people do not have any form of identification. Why? A homeless person’s ID may be lost in the disruptive process of losing his/her home and many of his or her possessions. Further, without shelter, a homeless person may lose his/her ID because he/she does not have a consistently secure place to keep identification documentation. Finally, without shelter, a person is often exposed to inclement weather and may be vulnerable to acts of theft and violence through which his/her ID is lost.

While state requirements may differ, the steps in the State of California for getting identification documentation can present a host of hurdles for a homeless person, as can be seen as follows.

A. Certified Copy of a California Birth Certificate

To get a certified copy of a California birth certificate, a person needs to
1) Determine whether he/she is authorized to obtain a certified copy or only an informational copy
For a full listing of authorized individuals, seehttp://www.cdph.ca.gov/certlic/birthdeathmar/Documents/Certified-Copies-Birth-and-Death-PAMPHLET-(11-10)-MERGED.pdf

2) Download from a computer, or get, the California Department of Public Health Pamphlet, How To Obtain Certified Copies Of Birth And Death Records
Available at the immediately above referenced website.

3) Download, or get, the Application for Certified Copy of Birth Record

4) Sign and have notarized the Sworn Statement, attached to the application, which contains the declaration that the registrant is entitled by law to receive an authorized copy of the birth certificate

5) Pay $16 for the certified California birth certificate

6) Mail the completed application form, notarized sworn statement and check or money order to CDPH Vital Records
See http://www.cdph.ca.gov/certlic/birthdeathmar/pages/certifiedcopiesofbirthdeathrecor ds.aspx

B. California Photo Identification Card

To get an original photo identification card from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), a person needs to
1) Visit a DMV office
2) Complete application form DL 44
3) Give a thumb print
4) Have his/her picture taken
5) Provide his/her social security number
6) Verify his/her birth date and legal presence through a certified copy of his/her birth certificate or other acceptable documents
7) Pay the application fee. A reduced fee based on income may be available through a public assistance program.
See http://www.dmv.ca.gov/dl/dl_info.htm

C. California Driver’s License

To get an original driver’s license from the DMV, a person over 18 years of age needs to
1) Visit a DMV office
2) Complete application form DL 44
3) Give a thumb print
4) Have his/her picture taken
5) Provide his/her social security number
6) Verify his/her birth date and legal presence through a certified copy of his/her birth certificate or other acceptable document
7) Provide his/her true full name
8) Pay the application fee
9) Pass a vision exam
10) Pass a traffic laws and sign test.
See http://dmv.ca.gov/dl/dl_info.htm
In order drive a car in the State of California, a person under 18 years of age must qualify for a provisional permit and supply the signatures of his/her parents, legal guardian or person(s) having actual full and complete custody. For further details, see http://dmv.ca.gov/dl/dl_info.htm#SSN

D. Duplicate California Photo ID or Driver’s License

To a apply for a duplicate (lost or stolen) photo identification card or driver’s license from the DMV, a person needs to
1) Visit a DMV office
2) Complete application form DL 44
3) Give a thumb print
4) Have his/her picture taken
5) Pay the application fee A reduced fee based on income may be available through a public assistance program. No fee for a senior citizen (62 years of age).
See http://www.dmv.ca.gov/dl/dl_info.htm

E. Social Security Card

To apply for a new Social Security number, a U.S. born citizen age 12 or older needs to
1) Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
2) Produce two original or certified copies of documents proving
a. U.S. Citizenship through such documents as a U.S. birth certificate or U.S. consular report of birth or U.S. passport or Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship
b. Age through such documents as a U.S. birth certificate or passport
c. Identity through such documents as a U.S. driver’s license, or state-issued non-driver identification card or U.S. passport or Employee ID card or school ID card, or health insurance card (not a Medicare card) or U.S. military ID card3) Take the completed application and original documents to a Social Security office and be interviewed
See http://www.ssa.gov/ss5doc/?ID=ori&Selfchild=self&Status=us18&Submit=Submit

To get an original social security card for a U.S. born citizen under 12 years of age, a parent or legal guardian needs to
1) Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5); and Show documents proving the child’s:
a. U.S. citizenship;
b. Age
c. Identity
2) Show proof of the parent’s or legal guardian’s identity.
3) Take the completed application and original documents to a Social Security office.
See http://www.ssa.gov/ss5doc/?ID=ori&Selfchild=child&Status=us&Submit=Submit
For further details about applying for a social security card for foreign-born citizens or noncitizens, seehttp://www.socialsecurity.gov/ss5doc/

F. Replacement Social Security Card

To get a replacement social security card, a person needs to
1) Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
2) Show original or certified copies of documents proving Identity and U.S. citizenship or immigration status, if not a U.S. citizen.
3) Take or mail the completed application and documents to a Social Security office. Any documents mailed will be returned.
See http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/251

To get a replacement social security card for a child, a parent or legal guardian needs to
1) Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5).
2) Show original or certified copies of documents proving the child’s identity and U.S. citizenship, current, lawful, work-authorized status if the child is not a U.S. citizen
3) Show a document proving the parent’s or legal guardian’s identity.
4) Take (or mail) the completed application and documents to a Social Security office
See http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ss5doc/?ID=rep&Selfchild=child&Status=us&Submit=Submit
For further details about replacing a social security card for foreign-born citizens or noncitizens, seehttp://www.socialsecurity.gov/ss5doc/

G. Mailing Address

In addition to meeting the requirements to obtaining a certified birth certificate, personal identification card (or driver’s license) and social security card, a homeless person must also overcome the hurdle of having no home address so that he/she can receive the mailed documents. To overcome this hurdle, a homeless person needs to find an alternative acceptable mailing address. Sometimes, nonprofit organizations will offer to serve as a mailing address for a homeless person.

H. The Time Factor

Having patience may or may not be considered as a hurdle to getting identification documents. However, patience is a necessary attribute for any applicant for identification documents, including a homeless person, because each identification document can take anywhere from weeks to months to be received through the mail.

Certainly, the time and effort needed to overcome the hurdles to securing the required identification documentation may delay the receipt of said documents and as a result delay the services needed by a homeless person. Sometimes, these hurdles prove insurmountable for a homeless person and vital services are not received.

Occasionally, the certified birth certificate, a state-issued photo identification card (or driver’s license) and an original social security card are collectively referred to as, “The Holy Trinity of Identification,” a reference to religious belief in The Holy Trinity: God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

However, I prefer to refer to these three documents as “The Trifecta of Identification.” A trifecta is a type of bet in a horse race in which the gambler must select the first three finishers in exact order. Like the gambler winning a trifecta, getting “The Trifecta of Identification” is far from a “sure bet” for a homeless person.

Arson for the Humanitarian

Also published on The Huffington Post

 

At 5 a.m. on Friday morning, January 11, flames rising from Bianca Koch’s red 1991 BMW convertible lit up the alley between Narragansett Avenue and Niagara Street in Ocean Beach, CA (OB). Luckily, the fire department was able to put out the blaze before it could spread to nearby structures. While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, Bianca feels that her car was deliberately totaled as a result of arson.

2011-02-18-BiancaKoch.jpgBianca Koch Surveys Her BMWNearly three years ago, Bianca, 40 years old, moved to OB because it was a convenient location for her business of supplying markets, stores and cafes with organic health products. Further, although she had lived in different parts of San Diego, she favored the beauty of Ocean Beach and its small-town neighborhood atmosphere.

Ironically, she also appreciated the sense of security she felt in OB because, in her words, “the beach patrol has everything under control… They check up on people asking them by name, ‘How are you doing?'” She noted that neighborhood groups, including the Ocean Beach Mainstreet Association (OBMA), “looked out for everyone” and encouraged the reporting of crimes. Biance felt, “Any time of night, I could step out and go to the beach. There was nothing to be afraid of…That has changed now.”

Although a woman of many interests, Bianca has been concentrating her time on three basic pursuits:

(1) Suppling her customers with organic dehydrated wheat grass, organic fermented Kombucha Tea in amber bottles and alkaline natural spring water in 100 percent biodegradable bottles.

(2) Writing the following articles about OB for the local paper, The Peninsula Beacon:

“Local Police Officers Commended For Excellence,” Opinion Section, Letter to Editor, Nov 18, 2010: Volumne 25 , Number 24.

“Special Christmas in OB; It’s Great to be Part of It,” Opinion Section, Jan 6, 2011, Volume 26, No.1.

“Free Medical Exams to Be Offered In OB,” Summary Page of News, News Brief, Jan. 13, 2011, Vol. 26, No. 2.

“OB: Is it the world’s friendliest dog town?” Guest Commentary by Bianca Koch,
Jan. 27, 2011, Vol. 26, No. 3.

“Headcount on Homeless: OB’s clergy group rallies to address the needs of transients, disadvantaged,” Feb. 10, 2011, Vol. 26, No. 4.

“Tunisian Visitor Sees Mirror Images in Egyptian Crisis,”
Co-authored with Kevin McKay, Feb. 10, 2011, Vol. 26, No. 4, p. 4.

“Young Students Bring Breath of Fresh Air to Survey,” Feb. 10, 2011, Vol. 26, No. 4, p. 7.

(3) Working as a volunteer with homeless people, the local churches and outreach groups.

Bianca believes that she knows why a person or people destroyed her vehicle: “I think it is a group of people who don’t like me promoting or helping homeless people or the churches.” Note: Bianca’s car was destroyed the day after her article of February 10, “Headcount on Homeless: OB’s clergy group rallies to address the needs of transients, disadvantaged.”

She cares deeply about the welfare of homeless people.

Bianca explains, “I am very passionate for the human rights of people. Listen, understand, try to put yourself in their shoes. Try to think what it would be like if you were hurt, raped by a relative… They have no one to turn to. Thanks to the churches and the outreach groups for all that they do. But we need more [help].”

What exactly does Bianca do?

“Although I have not been asked to do it, I always have supplies in my car, my former car, for homeless people… I generally don’t give money to them, but I will supply them with needed toiletries so that they know that someone cares. I got a radio for someone who needed a radio to drown out the voices in his head. Most of all I listen. They [the homeless people] all come to me with their problems and everything.”

When does Bianca help homeless people? “I do this every [available] hour of every day.” Bianca is quick to say that helping homeless people ‘is not my mission. It’s a part of my daily life.”

In return for the respect that Bianca shows homeless people, she feels that homeless people “give respect back” to her. Continuing, Bianca says, “If people would respect them, they will give the same respect back. They will try to fit into the community, if they can. No one gives them the chance.”

Since the fire, Bianca has received notice that she must vacate her apartment within 60 days.

So what are her plans for the future?

“I need to buy a car — that’s my immediate goal. I need a place to live. And I need to continue to do what I’m doing [to help homeless people]. I would like other people to join me…

“Treat homeless people with kindness and you will get a lot. There are different economic levels in our community. The different economic levels need to get to know each other. Then we will have a clean, beautiful OB. I wish it would be that way all around the world. But I will start here in OB.”

 

Homelessness Myth #19: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Also published on The Huffington Post

Imagine for a moment the image of a homeless person. How do you feel? Are you imagining someone you respect?

Many of us do not respect homeless people. And by “us,” I mean “housed people.” Often, having respect for homeless people is only a myth.

At home with our families, at work surrounded by colleagues and even with friends, we may thoughtlessly use negative words, such as “bums” or “transients” to describe unhoused people. Our use of these words has become so prevalent that even homeless people use them to describe themselves.

For example, I saw a homeless man wearing overalls taking a shower at the beach two days ago. Standing in the cold weather under even colder running water, the homeless man made a great effort to wash. \As the homeless man finished his shower, he explained to an approaching housed person, “That’s how a bum washes his jeans.”

The word “homeless” is an adjective. There are homeless dogs and homeless cats. We need to remember our nouns. We need to be clear and accurate when we’re speaking about a “homeless person.” By avoiding the noun “person” when we’re talking about someone who is unhoused, we’re essentially dehumanizing the person about whom we’re speaking.

Words count and we know that words can hurt.

In addition, while we may be sympathetic to housed people with various limitations, our empathy does not seem to extend to homeless people with the same limitations. It seems that many of us have become desensitized to the plight of homeless people through constant exposure to negative language and images in our culture. For example, our print, radio and TV media often contain many disrespectful and inaccurate references to “transients,” when those homeless people are often born and raised in the same area in which they are currently homeless.

We may also show disrespect through our treatment of homeless people. Why else would we offer fewer services than are needed by them? We disrespect homeless people when we have insufficient shelter space for the number of homeless people within any municipality. We generally don’t meet homeless people “where they are.” In other words, we often ignore the reality of their situations and require that homeless people live up to our standards in order to get into shelters and/or receive services.

However, there is some very good news. The cities of Los Angeles and San Diego are now attempting to “meet homeless people where they are” by providing housing to 50 and 25, respectively, most-in-need homeless people regardless of their personal needs, habits and/or addictions. After these people are housed, appropriate services will be offered.

Why should we respect homeless people? We need to respect homeless people because they’re people. Living without a home, money, modern conveniences and often a job, they’re suffering more distress than many housed people have ever experienced.

Further, about 45 percent of homeless people are mentally ill. Does this diminish the respect that we owe them? No, because they’re still people. Most of the time we are unaware that certain housed people that we know are mentally ill. Because of a number of factors, mental illness among housed people is often not as obvious as the mental illness of homeless people.

It seems to me that the issues of homelessness have been in existence long enough for homelessness to become a formal science. Although we don’t offer enough shelter to meet the entire need, we now offer homeless people more housing assistance than ever before. Our service programs have become more effective over time and our statistical methods of counting homeless people have improved.

Therefore, it’s time to review our language concerning homeless people, our cultural influences on the topic of homelessness and our treatment of homeless people so that we can recognize our biases. When we realize our negativities, we can make changes to reflect our enlightened state of mind.

Once we respect homeless people, our world will change for the better.

 

Breaking News: “Please Don’t Feed Our Bums!”

Also published on The Huffington Post

“The sticker is the issue.”

– Frank Gormlie, attorney, grassroots activist and editor/publisher of the OB Rag at obrag.org

On June 23, 2010, with local police standing watch, emotions of bystanders ran high as Frank Gormlie sought signatures on his petition requesting that The Black, a head shop in Ocean Beach, CA, cease selling a sticker that Frank said was very close “to hate speech which is illegal.”

The sticker, created by Ken Anderson and a friend, began being sold about two weeks ago at Ken’s place of employment, The Black.  This three-and-a-half square sticker says, “Welcome to Ocean Beach.  Please Don’t Feed Our Bums!”

Hats and tee shirts with the same sticker are also available for purchase at The Black.

The story of this sticker has captured national interest as can be seen in the following video from myFOXphoenix.com.

WATCH:

http://www.myfoxphoenix.com/video/videoplayer.swf?dppversion=2046 

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 #5: Sleep-Walking Will End Homelessness

Also published on The Huffington Post.

Some of us ignore the issues of homelessness.  When we walk past homeless people, we may even pretend that these people do not exist.  I call the act of ignoring homeless people who are right in front of our eyes, “sleep-waking past homeless people.”

Of course, sleeping is a natural function for all human beings.  Mark Stibich, PhD. wrote in About.com Guide, updated on May 8, 2009, that sleep is important for people because:

1.  Sleep keeps your heart healthy; 2.  Sleep may prevent cancer; 3.  Sleep reduces stress; 4.  Sleep reduces inflammation; 5.  Sleep makes you more alert; 6.  Sleep bolsters your memory; 7.  Sleep may help us lose weight; 8.  Naps make you smarter; 9.  Sleep may reduce your risk for depression; and 10. Sleep helps the body make repairs.

From reading this lengthy list of benefits, it is obvious that sleep is very helpful to our well-being.

However, one thing that sleeping will not do is help to end homelessness.  Since the 1970’s, homelessness has increased and homeless people have become a familiar sight.  Often, housed people turn a blind eye to the plight of homeless people.  But why?

In my experience, some housed people ignore homeless people for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps the most common reason is that these housed people are afraid of becoming homeless themselves.  This fear is similar to the fear of contracting a disease that some of us experience when we are around a person we know has a disease.

By merely acknowledging the existence of a homeless person, some housed people are reminded of the fragility of their own economic existence.  They begin to think that their job and/or savings could go away and they remind themselves that they are only a paycheck or two away from becoming homeless.  This fear is based upon today’s economic reality.

Further, homeless people are often ignored because some of us housed people have become so familiar with what we deem to be their unsightly images, the “blight of homelessness,” that we just want homeless people to go away.  We are not surprised to see homeless women and men. Rather, we have come to almost expect to see homeless people standing on the corner or sitting in the park. The expression, “familiarity breeds contempt” may hold true in this case, particularly with regard to homeless adults.

Perhaps, some of us are surprised to see children we think are being unsheltered with their parent or parents. Seeing children who are unsheltered is not a familiar sight because they are usually either in school and/or being hidden by their parent(s).

Homeless parents sometimes hide their child to avert the perceived threat that their child will be taken away from them by law enforcement authorities. I say “perceived threat” because homelessness is not in itself enough grounds for the police to take away children from their homeless families. However, if a child is in danger because of being homeless or if their parent(s) is suspected of being an unfit parent, for example, the police have a positive duty to protect the child and remove the child.

Finally, some housed people may be afraid of some homeless people because these homeless people are strangers. As children, we are taught to be afraid of strangers with instructions such as, “Never talk to strangers!”  This fear of strangers is meant to protect children from danger.

However, adults have a greater ability than children to understand life situations and the new people they encounter.  While fear of the unknown is a common fear, we adults can change unknown strangers into acquaintances through the simple technique of introducing ourselves to people when we meet them.

By “sleep-walking past homeless people,” we will never solve homelessness. We cannot end homelessness by ignoring the problem.

We need to wake up!

Only by being aware of something, can we affect it.  Only by becoming aware of the issues of homelessness, will we be able to solve them.  Awareness of the issues of homelessness comes through opening our eyes and truly seeing homeless men, women and children.

Once we are awake and aware of the plight of homeless people, we can educate ourselves by directly serving those in need, by assisting people and programs already in place to help others and by attending workshops and seminars on the topic of homelessness.  Through our own education, we can understand what we can do to help those in need.

Finally, through compassion, which is factually love in action, we can resolve the issues of homelessness.

I suggest the following steps to cure “sleep-walking past homeless people:”  Awareness, Education, Understanding and Compassion.

Homelessness Myth #2: “They’re All Bums!”

Also published on The Huffington Post.

Absolutes can be tricky because there is usually an exception that “proves” or breaks every rule.  We have often heard the expression, “Never say never!” We generally know in our hearts that in the world of human beings, no one is perfect, no rule remains unbroken and no expressions are absolute.

The same is true with homeless people. There are no absolutes. Just based on what we intuit about the world around us, we know that each homeless person is a unique person – just a housed person without the home.

Whether a person can be called a bum actually depends upon how, of course, we define the word, “bum.” However, anyone chooses to define that word, I think most of us would agree that children are not bums under any definition.

In my experience, I have found that approximately 25 percent of homeless people are children. Together, women and children make up close to 40 percent of homeless people and are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. They have not chosen homelessness as a life-style; rather, homelessness has been forced upon them.

Escaping battery is one reason why women become homeless. When women leave their batterers, they generally take their children with them. Battered women’s shelters are testaments to this experience. Not unlike homeless shelters generally, most of the battered women’s shelters are full.

Another reason women and children become homeless is the impact of a challenging economy upon single mothers. Since the first working mom sought employment, finding a job and arranging for childcare so she could go to work have been huge issues. In the past, however, some of these working moms had family that they could rely on to some extent for support.

Today, large distances separate many family members and extended family finances have dwindled due to a host of economic circumstances. Thus, poor mothers often find they are unable to get help from their already overstressed family support system.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 signed into law by President Obama on February 17, 2009, will hopefully help prevent more people from becoming homeless. On October 8th, LaDonna Pavetti, director of the Welfare Reform and Income Support Division of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support that the ARRA  “prevented millions of Americans from falling into poverty and has helped some states to forgo significant cuts that would have weakened the safety net for very poor families with children.”

Part of ARRA, the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) as administered through the States and their Continuums of Care may help homeless women and children become housed. Since applications for assistance are just now being made available to potential participants, the impact of the HPRP is yet to be felt.

The opinions that some housed people may have of homeless people may be understandable, but their opinions are uneducated. For example, some housed people may see homeless people sleeping in public during the day and conclude they are lazy.

In truth, many homeless people choose to sleep during the day because it is too dangerous for them to sleep at night because that is when they are most vulnerable.

Some time ago, I accompanied students from Crossroads High School in Santa Monica as they made a short film about homelessness in their city. I introduced them to my friend, “Charles,” who spoke to them very frankly about his experiences since he became homeless.

Charles shared that although he was over 6 feet tall and weighed over 230 pounds, he was afraid to sleep at night.

“Why?” asked the surprised students.

Charles was slightly embarrassed when he confessed that when he slept at night he was afraid someone would hurt him. Instead, he chose to sleep during the day and in well-trafficked areas because he felt that the constant flow of people would provide him with an additional measure of safety.

Charles asked the students if they had read the reports of some young people who had killed homeless people while they slept.

Bums or people protecting themselves? You decide.

Service Providers, Unite!

Also published on The Huffington Post.

It seems that every service provider has a solution to homelessness.  And guess what, it’s their own program!  That’s fine with me, except service providers generally do not play well with other service providers.  They generally don’t share their programs, they generally don’t share their ideas and they generally don’t share their praise of other programs.  It’s this sharing that, in my opinion, is necessary to arrive at working solutions to the issue of homelessness.

Who are service providers? Municipal governments generally consider service providers to be government agencies, nonprofit corporations and for-profit corporations that provide shelter, food, clothing and necessary items to people in need.  Sometimes these services are free and sometimes these services have a price tag for poor and homeless people.

Municipal governments do not generally consider the individuals and groups who just go out and directly serve those in need in public as service providers.  These individuals and groups are the Good Samaritans who are spoken of and encouraged by every religious and spiritual organization and/or by their own conscience.  I call them, non-government service providers (NGSP).

Unfortunately, municipal governments do not generally consider NGSPs to be “in the continuum of care” because NGSPs are independent of government control, funding and licensing. Municipal governments often foster a “we” and “they” mentality between the government and the NGSPs by passing constitutionally questionable laws, such as requiring a permit for legal NGSP efforts, in an effort to control or end the activities of the NGSPs.

What all service providers, including the NGSPs, do is keep very busy with their own programs.  Fundraising alone is a full time job.  Nevermind running the program and actually helping people in need.

Their time is full, more than filled with everything that they need to handle to get their program running.  There is no time left for communicating with or meeting with other service providers.  So, service providers end up being insulated in their own extremely busy worlds away from the possibly helpful experience of sharing with other similarly situated service providers.

What concerns me most about this business-imposed isolationism among service providers is that service providers tend to criticize solutions to homelessness proposed by service providers other than themselves.  It happens all of the time.

Recently, I was discussing possible solutions to homelessness with a noted service provider who actually runs two homeless programs.  She stated to me that she was against any program through which homeless people were segregated from society, as in a self-sufficient village.  She only favors solutions to homelessness that mirror her own program, that is helping homeless people get vouchers and funds so that they can rent apartments in the midst of the city.

Her solution to homelessness is wonderful. Of course, some homeless people can be helped through this program, but only as long as apartments, vouchers and funds are available.  This service provider admitted that she could not help all of the homeless people coming to her for assistance because of limited available apartments, insufficient number of vouchers for rent and rising rents in existing apartments.

Another service provider recently commented to the press that no one should give water and food to people living outside because homeless people who received these handouts were then not motivated to get services from service providers. What he meant was that once they had some water and food, homeless people would not be motivated to seek services from his program.

But, some of the services in this service provider’s program have five-week waiting periods.  What are homeless people supposed to eat and drink during the five weeks they are waiting for his program’s services?

Let’s end this bickering.  Any service provider doing something good for those in need is really doing something great!  Here are three things that may be helpful for service providers to consider.

1.  The charitable giving of food and water by NGSPs is a band-aid approach to ending homelessness.  However, when we have a cut, a band-aid is the appropriate method of protecting our cut from further damage, infection. Food and water are necessary to life.  The goal here is to keep people alive for the day, a noble goal to be sure.

2.  When NGSPs give food and water to homeless people, this generosity is usually limited to once or twice a year or, at best, once a week.  Does anyone actually believe that homeless people can live on sporadic acts of generosity?  It is not logical to expect homeless people to avoid any additional services just because they occasionally receive food and water from another source.  When in need, people seek out all available services.

3.  Why criticize other programs be they government, corporate or NGSP programs?  The issue of homelessness has many sub-issues, including emergency assistance to homeless people, short and long-term housing solutions and employment opportunities. No one program that I know of provides all of the services needed by homeless people.

The real solution to homelessness is to work together.  Cooperation in goodwill is love in action.  Let’s do it!

The Joy of Service

Also published on The Huffington Post.

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.
– Rabindranath Tagore

“Service.”  The word alone can conjure up a daunting feeling of being responsible for doing something we might not like or want to do.  Perhaps, the thought of having to do “community service” is overwhelming.  Please read on, you may be surprised.

The word “service” has many uses.  Dictionary.com finds that “service” can be used as a noun, “an act of helpful activity;” it can be used as an adjective, “of service, useful;” it can be used as a verb, “to make fit for use;” and it’s even employed in idioms, “at someone’s service” and “be of service.”  And, of course, we use the word “service” to describe those people who defend this country in “military service.”

Where can we serve?  We can serve in our own family by simply sharing our love.  We can serve those in our own neighborhoods through acts of kindness and compassion.  We can serve individually or together at every level of our culture.  Obviously, all of us, regardless of age, can serve.

Is service helpful?  Service is always helpful.  Through service, by definition, we help.  However, scientific research studies also have shown that when we serve our immune systems can actually get stronger.  Who wouldn’t want a stronger immune system?

Further, when we serve, we exercise our better inclinations and attitudes.  We know that “practice makes perfect.”  So, as we serve, it becomes more natural for us to serve.  Through repetition, service becomes more familiar and easier to do.  In very short order, service can become a habit, a way of life.

Can you imagine what the world would look like if we all had the “service habit?”  Compassionate acts would be everywhere.  Rather than greed, we might exhibit understanding and kindness as the first response many of us have to life situations.

Perhaps most profoundly, whether we are conscious of this or not, every act of service has a spiritual quality.  It is through service that we acknowledge through action that we are brothers and sisters to one another and that we share a common home, planet Earth.

I believe that this spiritual quality is expressed within each of us as joy.   It is this joy that Rabindranath Tagore refers to in the above quote.  I call this “the joy response.”

Please test your “joy response” by taking the following steps:

1.  Reflect on your present mood.  Notice if you are happy, sad or bored.

2.  Do something to help another person or a cause.

3.  Reflect on your mood after your service.  I’m betting you will be feeling joy.  You may even be smiling.

If you have never felt “the joy response,” I can tell you that this automatic reaction within each of us is a pure expression of love.  Because we automatically give ourselves “the joy response,” we really don’t need to get a “Thank you” from those to whom we do service.  Through “the joy response,” we give ourselves our own thanks!

Perhaps, I can provide an example of “the joy response.”  Occasionally, a young person who is working with our organization, Children Helping Poor and Homeless People (www.chphp.com), has shared their feelings that arose when they shared food with a homeless person, but to their dismay, the homeless person did not say, “Thank you” for the gift of food.

“That’s an easy one to explain,” I say.

I ask the young person whether he or she lived in a home, if they slept in a bed and if they had a television.

“Yes, yes and yes,” they respond.

“So, let me understand,” I would say.  “You have a home, a bed and a television while the homeless person probably has none of these things.  And you expect the homeless person to thank you for the hamburger.”

“Hmm.  But wait,” I continue, “how did you feel when you gave the hamburger to the homeless person?”

Without exception, the young person always says, “I felt great!”

That’s the “joy response.”  That’s the “Thank you” that we give ourselves for an act of service.  You see, we’re always thanked for our service.