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.”

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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.

 

Homelessness Myth #18: The Police Will Solve It

Also published on The Huffington Post

Homelessness is first and foremost a social service issue. In other words, homelessness can be and will be resolved through the work of compassionate individuals and social service agencies, be they nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Nevertheless, the myth exists that homelessness is primarily a police issue.

If homelessness is truly a social service issue, why is police activity often seen as the ultimate solution to ending homelessness?

First, some housed people fear homeless people. The concept of “NIMBYism,” not in my backyard, is the totality of the negative thoughts and fears of some housed people who think that their safety depends upon homeless people, as well as social service programs serving homeless people, not existing in their neighborhoods, their “backyards.” These housed people often look to their municipal policymakers, legislative bodies and the police to “solve” homelessness by preventing or removing homeless people and homelessness programs from existing in their neighborhoods.

Second, often in response to the real or perceived feelings of housed people, some municipal policymakers and legislative bodies have focused on homelessness as an issue to be removed from within their borders, rather than as a city issue to be solved. These municipal lawmakers may pass ordinances that appear to remove the problem of homelessness within their city as a political tool for garnishing votes in the next election from their fearful constituents.

City ordinances do not cost money to draft and pass because the municipal legislative bodies are already in place and being paid to pass ordinances. So passing ordinances relating to homelessness per se, costs no additional funding.

Third, when a city focuses on passing municipal ordinances for removing homelessness from within the city, its police department becomes charged with enforcing these ordinances. Police departments already exist and, hence, no additional funds are needed to create an enforcement body.

There is no doubt that there are many fine members of police forces across the United States who diligently enforce the laws and simultaneously compassionately help homeless people. In addition, in a number of municipalities, there are police teams specifically dedicated to addressing homelessness. Sometimes these police teams have a working relationship with social service agencies and may refer homeless people to them for needed services. However, while the police can help homeless residents, the police cannot be expected solve all of the issues of homelessness.

What can we as individuals do to help end homelessness? We can do a lot:

• We can volunteer for and support local social service agencies who are helping to end homelessness.

• There still may be time this January to volunteer and support the HUD-required Point In Time Count (PITC) of homeless people which has been mandated nationwide bi-annually at the end of January since 2005. HUD uses the statistics gathered as a basis for distributing millions of dollars of federal funds to social service agencies.

• We can be kind and compassionate to everyone regardless of economic standing.

I asked several social service providers to share their views on this myth. I am grateful to them for their comments that follow.

“There are a lot of times when the police get the rap… My experience is that the police are much more of a friend to us [Alpha Project] and homeless people. But, the police are complaint-driven…

“All the best officers are sympathetic to homeless peoples’ situations. Anytime the HOT Team [San Diego Police Homeless Outreach Team] brings in a homeless person, we put them in the shelter… The HOT Team is our biggest advocate. There is no place to take anyone without the Winter Shelter being open.”

— Bob McElroy, President, Alpha Project. The San Diego Winter Shelter Program is run by Alpha Project.

“Social services — whether publicly or privately funded — are all dedicated to improving social conditions- – that’s why they’re called social services. It’s part of the community that has solving social problems as its core mission, its bottom line. Social service agencies are core in providing the relationships people need to be successful. 

“Yes, to solve homelessness, let’s make everyone count. Let’s support the experts – the social service agencies – in the powerful work of building relationships with each person who is without a home.”

– Patricia Leslie, M.S.W., Director, Social Work, Point Loma Nazarene University

“The police can be invaluable partners in our shared effort to alleviate homelessness. However, they cannot be expected to arrest or simply relocate people who are homeless. Many jurisdictions restrict the reach of the law enforcement when it comes to where people sleep or reside during the day… 

“However, what is clear is that Homelessness is not a Police Issue, it is a ‘Community Issue’. As a community, we can solve homelessness. The solution begins with empathy, compassion, and understanding. This is often difficult, but necessary in order to create the groundswell of action needed to create solutions. From this, we need to commit to affordable housing, employment options, health care, and ongoing supports in order to enable people to achieve their potential. Whose issue is it? Ours.

– Peter Callstrom, Executive Director of the San Diego Regional Task Force

“I, of course, sincerely believe that homelessness and problems that accompany it must be addressed by society at large and the social service agencies that have the knowledge and skills to help the homeless population. Government (cities and counties) and the service providers should be working together to help homeless individuals and families acquire housing, health care, both physical and mental health, education and the employment skills they need to become contributing members of our society.

“The police do have an important piece in this process, but it should be ‘compassionate policing’ such as the Homeless Outreach Teams that are trained to work with the chronic homeless population…

“All of us must take some responsibility to help solve [the homelessness] problem. So many talented and caring people are trying hard to end homelessness. We all need to do our part.”

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

“It’s such a myth to me, that when I heard that, I almost brushed it off my shoulder…because the political involvement [in homelessness] does not make the issue go away, it only moves it around. You can sweep [homelessness] under the rug, then you shake the rug and people on the other side of the street get upset. 

“Whatever we do to get rid of ‘the problem’ [homelessness], we affect all those communities around us. It does not go away; it only grows.”

– Tim Sandiford, Head Trustee, Point Loma United Methodist Church, Commissioner of Ministries and Missions, Member and Point Person for Public Facilities, OB Forum

 

Homelessness Myth #17: They Flock for Services

Also published on The Huffington Post

In my opinion, the popular myth that homeless people “flock” to any particular city to take advantage of its services is cruel. This myth is espoused by some housed people, including some people in positions of political power in certain municipalities. They argue that their city should not offer humanitarian services or add further services to what they are already providing to homeless people, because, if they do, more homeless people will be attracted to their city.

In essence, they rationalize that homeless people will “flock” to their city for its services. As a result, this myth is often perpetuated as the reason to avoid creating or increasing services for people in need.

First, people don’t “flock.” When using the word, “flock,” as a verb, we can say, “birds flock.” Or we can say the phrase, “a flock of birds.” People move.

Usually people who are housed or unhoused move individually or in family units. They move when it is convenient for them, often during vacation time so that their children avoid missing school. Or they move to accept a new job. Or to “start a new life” for whatever reason in a new locale.

Only the impact of a major natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina, forces numbers of people to leave their homes and move en mass because their homes have became uninhabitable.

Second, statistics show that when a person is housed and then becomes homeless, they generally stay in their own location.

For example, in 2005, the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) held “the single largest homeless enumeration effort ever conducted…using HUD-recommended practices for counting homeless persons” that was published in its 2005 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, “Executive Summary,” p. 3. LAHSA also reported in this same “Executive Summary,” page 8, that among the 88,000 plus homeless people residing in Los Angeles County, 78 percent of them were housed in Los Angeles County when they became homeless.

Obviously, these homeless people didn’t “flock” from another jurisdiction to become homeless in Los Angeles County. In The Daily News of January 13, 2006, LAHSA Commission Chairman Owen Newcomer acknowledged, “We do not have a situation where hordes are coming in from outside the county.”

In its 2007 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, LAHSA found that there were nearly 74,000 homeless people residing within the County of Los Angeles. At that time, LAHSA also found, but did not publish, that the percentage of homeless people who were housed in Los Angeles County when they became homeless increased to 84 percent. (Source within LAHSA)

Third, some people also say that homeless people “flock” to jurisdictions where there are services to help them. However, in its 2009 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, LAHSA reported that there were just over 48,000 people who were homeless in Los Angeles County. This number represented a decrease of 38 percent of the number of homeless people in Los Angeles County from 2007.

To what does the County of Los Angeles attribute this decline in the number of homeless people residing in the County? On November 13, 2009, I asked that question of a LAHSA employee who told me that the decrease in the number of homeless people was due to the cooperation between the City and County of Los Angeles and their programs that have been helping homeless people become housed. It would appear that providing effective housing programs does lead to a decrease in the number of homeless residents.

I asked several homeless people what they felt about this myth. I thank them for their responses that follow.

Jon, 47 years old: “I left East County because it was not making me happy and I have to be happy. Homeless people come to certain areas for the people. People are attracted by people. The services come after that. I didn’t know about the services when I came here. I only heard about them after I was here.”

Cosmic, 48 years old: “I wanted to come to Ocean Beach (OB). Someone told me about OB and I looked it up on the Internet. I didn’t come here for the City services. I am an OBcian.’

Cameron, 32 years old: “They try to keep services out of the beach communities because they don’t want to attract more people. But [homeless] people don’t come here for the services because there’re not many services or shelters.”

In conclusion, it is human nature that people move from one location to another seeking better opportunities for themselves or their families. Housed people move, why shouldn’t homeless people? However, if we are all kind to our neighbors, housed and unhoused, and provide housing programs for those people in need, there would be less homeless people in every city. What a wonderful way to put a myth to rest!

 

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.