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.

Homeless People in San Diego Compete in Triathlon (VIDEO)

Also published on The Huffington Post

On Sunday June 27, 1,400 people participated in the 28th annual San Diego International Triathlon consisting of a 1K swim, a 30K bike ride and a 10K run.  The event raised $50,000 for the homeless programs of St. Vincent de Paul Village.

Six participants, racing in two teams of three people, were the first homeless women and men from St. Vincent de Paul Village to join in this event.  I asked these six amazing participants why homeless people would run in a triathlon.  I thank them for sharing their stories.

Team #1 Biker
Colette, 56 years old, born in Los Angeles, CA


“I am a former police officer and I came to St. Vinnie’s seeking asylum.  My homelessness was not a choice — it was due to circumstances beyond my control.

Although I have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I completed short and long term programs at St. Vinnie’s.  I am not homeless anymore.  I have my own apartment.  Now it’s a question of survival.

I rode the 18+ miles on a mountain bike.  [Laughing] I was the only rider on a mountain bike.  Everyone else had a real nice 10-speed, aluminum, made for racing bike.  But I love exercise.”

Why bike in the triathlon?

“Exercise is one of the most therapeutic things for me.  Although I began jogging in 1983, I have a stress fracture in my right foot, so I rode the bike. Participating in the triathlon was my way of saying thanks to St. Vinnie’s and Father Joe for helping me.”

Team #1 Walker
Charles, 57 years old, born and raised in San Diego, CA


“Although I had walked in a couple of 5Ks, this was my first triathlon.  I prepared for this race by walking one and a half months.  Before that, I had had kidney surgery.  The race gave me something to look forward to.

I would eventually like to get a job.  But depending upon what the doctors say, I may not be able to…”

Why walk in the triathlon? 

“Besides praying and reading my Bible, the triathlon helped give me hope. The triathlon, and walking to prepare for it, helped fight my depression and anxiety.  There is nothing more beautiful, nothing more wonderful than a park setting, even though it’s in the city, I find peace in my walk.”

Team #1 Swimmer
Malcolm, 49 years old, born and raised in San Diego, CA


“Before I ran in the San Diego International Triathlon, I had no previous triathlon experience.  I became homeless six years ago due to drugs and alcohol abuse.  My future plans?  I want to finish my classes at the Village.”

Why swim in the triathlon? 

“I have a background in water polo from high school.  There was a poster displayed in the men’s dorm about the triathlon.  I said to myself, ‘I can do this.’  I did not know which leg of the triathlon I would do until the day before the triathlon, so I practiced all three parts — swimming, biking and running.”

Team #2 Biker
Amos, 19 years old, born in Jamaica and raised in Haiti


“I came to the United States in 2005 to go to school, get a paying job and help my people back there in Haiti.  My goal is to attend United Education Institute (UEI) in Chula Vista and learn criminal justice.  I plan to become a police officer.”

Why bike in the triathlon? 

“I heard that many people had problems because of their age.  So, I thought biking in the triathlon was a way to show that age doesn’t matter.  It just matters that you finish.  The same attitude applies to life.  You can’t give up.  You have to finish.  And I had fun doing it!”

Team #2 Runner
Jan, 24 years old


“I became homeless in 2008 as a result of domestic violence.  Running is good exercise and a stress reliever.  Running relieves what I went through and will help me get back to school and become a nurse.”

Why run in the triathlon? 

“Except for my son, running makes me the happiest.  ‘Forrest Gump’ is my favorite movie and an inspiration for me.  I wish all St. Vincent de Paul residents could participate in the triathlon so that they improve physically and emotionally.”

Team #2 Swimmer
Nikita, 62 years old, born in Bulgaria


“In 1999, I came to the United States. I became homeless in 2007 when I left my apartment in LaMesa, CA because it was being remodeled.  After the remodel was completed, I was told that I could not go back to my apartment.

From the time I was a young girl in Bulgaria, I enjoyed sports.  As a student at the university, I studied Preventive Care Medicine.  As a math teacher and then later as a vice principal in a high school, I kept my love of swimming. In the future, I would like to work for Father Joe at St. Vincent de Paul Village.”

Why swim in the triathlon?

“Because they put an advertisement up.  I like adventures.  I thought, ‘I can do this.’  Every opportunity I can to do sports, I do.  Every day, I go to 24 Hour Fitness Center and swim.”

I asked triathlete Nicholas Coniaris, MS, CRC, the program manager at the Education Center/Health and Wellness Program for St. Vincent de Paul Village why he encouraged and coached these athletes.


Nick responded, “At Father Joe’s Villages we strive to heal and rehabilitate the whole person, and that includes their bodies, minds and spirits. Yoga, tai chi, meditation, music group, walking and triathlon are all opportunities that we provide for our residents to start creating energy, pride and good health for themselves.”  Please visit www.svdpv.org for further information about Father Joe’s Villages.

The event creator and coordinator, Rick Kozlowski, was excited about the participation of these athletes: “This past race, something happened that we had talked about for 28 years — this year I got to see St. Vincent de Paul residents do what I had created all these years.  I hope that homeless athletes will participate in future San Diego International Triathlons!”

Please watch the following YouTube video of these athletes in action.


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.



Homelessness Myth #11: Homeless People Rest All Day

Also published on The Huffington Post

For most homeless people, rest is a luxury.  When people are unsheltered, they don’t have a home within which to retreat for rest and relaxation.  Often they are challenged to get the full amount of rest and sleep that human beings need to function effectively in the world.

Further, each day many homeless people are busy with a host of activities, including locating work opportunities, going to government agencies, arriving at health appointments, attending food services, discovering shower facilities and finding rest rooms.  The time involved in accomplishing each of these activities depend upon their availability and their proximity to homeless people.

Then, there is the practical issue of keeping track of time:  how do homeless people keep track of their appointments, the time of day, the day of the week?

And how do people with limited or no access to communication devices such as phones or email services, make or confirm appointments?

Getting from the location of one activity to another can also be problematic for homeless people.  There is limited public transportation and bus service can be infrequent.  If a bus is late, an appointment may be missed thereby compounding the schedule of activities for another time.

Whenever meals are missed, homeless people may suffer hunger and may experience physical weaknesses that may lead to an inability to function well.

I asked some homeless people for their comments about rest and relaxation.  I am very grateful to them for their comments that follow.

“I can’t relax because I’m too worried about whether my wheelchair will be stolen or whether I’ll be molested or raped at night. 

– Lori


“I have to watch my people, no matter the race. 

“Why am I homeless?  I’m on a waiting list [for the shelter].  Shouldn’t there be housing provided for people released from prison?  With all the empty dwellings, why isn’t there housing for homeless people?

What oppresses us so much is the economy, the war, the lack of jobs, so many cars and taxation on everything.  Have we cleaned up our own backyard in the world?  This struggle has been going on for all time.”

– Larry


“If I get a chance to relax, I do; otherwise I’m busy.” 

– Anonymous Woman


“For homeless people, rest and relaxation is like oil and water.  They don’t mix. 

“When you’re homeless, everything you own is in a shopping cart.  You can’t go anywhere because you’re busy protecting your things.  Sometimes, the police come by, take the shopping cart and destroy your things.

“You spend all day packing and unpacking your things, walking for food, walking for a shower, and walking… You can’t look for work without a shower.  By the end of the day, you’re exhausted.

“There is lots of emotional stress and pain.  Then, you want to kill the pain with alcohol or drugs… to get a shot and go to sleep.  But you’re homeless; there is no place to rest your head.

“Twenty-four seven there is hardly any chance to survive.   [Due to all they have to do to try to survive] homeless people live two days in one day.  That’s a lot of stress.  Rest and relaxation is not an option.”

– Edward and Sonny


“We’re not relaxed.  We’re feeling oppressed with the government, with our family.  We’re in bad spirits.  We’re at the bottom of the food chain.  We’re basically lost, lost and confused. 

“We do want to be good citizens in society.  We try to get away from relying on drinking and drugs.  St. Vinnie’s (St. Vincent de Paul Village) helps.  You can always get a hot shower at St. Vinnie’s.

“I was a welder for twenty years.  I got laid off a year and a half ago and I lost everything.  The economy brought me to the streets.”

– Joseph


“The police won’t let me lay on the street from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m.  If you’re walking the streets all day, you get tired.  It takes all day to do what you have to do.  There’s no time to relax.” 

– Anonymous Man


“It’s a cycle.  I’m restless and bored so a drink helps me get through the day.  As soon as I get into a shelter, I’ll get into a [detox] program.  I gave up crack because it made me forget. 

“Using drugs and alcohol saps your initiative.  But, when you’re homeless, you need initiative to get a plan to get out of homelessness.”


– Frank

“It’s hard to relax.  I was a migrant farm worker.  I was picking avocados and I fell of the ladder.  My leg was not broken, but it got hurt. The only time I relaxed was after I worked, and then I rested with the radio. Without a job, I get anxious.  If I’m not keeping busy, I can’t relax.” 

– Bird Man of Alcatraz

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 #7: “Oh, No! A Transient!”

Also published on The Huffington Post

“Transient” is the new “N” word.  Although commonly used, the word, “transient,” is often used to disparage homeless people, much as the “N” word was used in the past to disparage African-American people.

By formal definition, the word, “transient,” comes from the Latin, transire – to go over, to go.  Dictionary.com gives definitions for this term as an adjective as in “passing with time; transitory” and as a noun, “one that is transient, especially a hotel guest or boarder who stays only for a brief time.”

Some housed people use the term “transient” to ridicule homeless people.  They use that term to mean a person who is an untouchable, an undesirable, often a lazy, possibly a bad person who is not a member of their community, but only staying in their community to utilize the available services and then the homeless person will be on their way.

However, the majority of homeless people in a certain place may not have come from somewhere else, nor do they intend to go anywhere else — so they can hardly be called, “transients” under any definition.  For example, the 2005 City of Los Angeles count of homeless people found that 78 percent of the homeless people living in LA were housed in LA when they became homeless.  They didn’t go to LA from anywhere else to become homeless in LA, nor did they leave LA upon becoming losing their housing.  Housed or unhoused, these people live in LA, they are Angelinos!

Where people live is their residence. The concept of residency is an easy one to discuss when people are housed because there are formal rules that apply to them.  For example, for tax purposes, we can only have one primary residence. Of course, we can have “second homes” or more, such as summer or vacation homes.  Wherever our second home is, we retain our legal residency at the location of our primary residence.

Establishing residency for homeless people is less obvious because homeless people, by definition, have no houses with a street addresses.

I believe a compelling argument can be made that unsheltered homeless people reside where they live, that is, on the streets.  Support for this argument may be found in voter registration materials.  Each of the 50 states set forth the voting registration requirements for federal elections and elections in their states.

For example, the California Secretary of State, Debra Bowen’s website (www.sos.ca.gov/eletions/election_faq.htm) sets forth a list of voting registration prerequisites. In order to register to vote in the State of California, a person must:

• Be a citizen of the United States;
• Be a resident of California;
• Be at least 18 years of age as of the day of the next election;
• Not be in prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony; and
• Not be deemed by an appropriate court to be mentally incompetent.

This website further raises and answers the question of how long a person must live in California in order to be a “resident:”

Q: I have just moved.  Am I required to re-register?
A: Your voter registration should always reflect your current residence.  However, if you have moved from your home into a temporary residence that you do not intend to use as your permanent residence, you can continue to use your prior permanent residence where you were previously registered to vote as your address for the purpose of voting.

Thus, a person becomes a resident of the State of California for purposes of voting by living there and intending to be a permanent resident.

But without a formal house address, how can an unsheltered homeless person identify where they are residing?

The California Voter Registration Form, line 6 provides the answer, “If you do not have a street address, describe where you live (Cross streets, Route, N, S, E, W).”

In other words, unsheltered homeless people become immediate residents of the State of California by living in the State and intending to permanently reside there. Their “residence,” their address, for voting purposes, is the street intersection or route nearest to where they live.

Of course, in order to receive voting materials, homeless people need to supply a mailing address (CA Voter Registration Form, lines 7 – 8), which can be any address or  P.O. Box where they can receive mail.  Homeless people often receive mail, including voting materials, through the cooperation of local social service agencies who let them receive mail at their address.

A further thought… My homeless friend, Maurice, informed me that the City of Santa Monica, CA, has a transient occupancy tax (TOT).  I was curious about his comment, so I researched the topic.  I found that the State of California Revenue and Taxation Code Section 7280 permits legislative bodies of cities and counties in California to convey a transient occupancy tax (TOT) based on the total amount paid for the rental of a hotel/motel rooms on any person who is not exempt.

In Santa Monica, the TOT is a 14 percent tax on the total amount paid for the rental of a hotel/motel room in the City.  Government employees on official business as well as person occupying the room for 31 or more consecutive days are exempt from this tax.

A question comes to mind:  if there is a “transient” occupancy tax upon persons, unless exempt, who rent hotel/motel rooms, does this, by definition, make these people,  “transients?”

Answer:  Visitors to Santa Monica, as well as elsewhere, might take offense if they knew that they were considered “transients” in the negative use of that word.

So, in the State of California, we really have only two kinds of people – residents and tourists.

It’s time to stop using the word, “transient,” to refer to homeless people.  How should we refer to people without homes?  Just that way… we can say, “people without homes, “homeless people,” “unhoused people” or any other descriptive language that is emotionally neutral, bias-free and respectful.

Homelessness Myth #6: Homeless People Sleep All The Time

Also published on The Huffington Post.

Last post, I wrote that we need to wake up to the issues of homelessness.  First, we need to be become aware, then we need to become educated. And through this education, our compassion will be re-awakened.  No longer should we sleepwalk through the issues of homelessness.

In this companion post, I asked some homeless people to share their feelings about sleep.  I made no suggestions on what they should or should not share.  I share their feelings with you.

The following people who have responded to my inquiry have demonstrated great courage, for which I thank each of them.

“Sleeping is kind of rough.  Sleeping on the streets you have to watch other people.  You have to be real careful of the weather and other people.  You could get kicked in the head.  Other people like to mess with the homeless.” – Joe

“For the moment, let’s just say riding around all night on the bus and trains keeps you out of jail.” – Maurice

“Problems I encounter – I have people stalking me for crimes that they have committed against me, including poisoning me, drugging me.  So, therefore, I do not have a place to sleep or sleep on a regular place or regular sleep times.  So, therefore, I cannot keep appointments or regular life.  Sleeping times are hard to get as well as keeping my health correct.” – Antonio

“Out of all the years my family and I were homeless, we slept in shelters and got enough sleep.  Except for one night when we slept in a car which was a horrible experience.” – Barbara

“As soon as you get camp set up and get into your blankets and fall asleep, it’s time to get up and pack up your stuff and start the day.” – Connie

I.  “Make yourself tired every day by making yourself busy doing something.”

II.  “Being stir-crazy is a box thing!  It leads to a constant insomnia.”- Gerod

“My experience with sleep as a homeless person… I have sleep problems anyway.  I have diabetes and asthma.  It affects my sleep pattern.

I’m always tired.

The other day I slept under the bridge because it was overcast and supposed to rain.

Before I woke up at 3:00 am, there was a car that crashed into a tree next to the trolley.  I didn’t hear a thing.  I slept right through it.

People near me said that the people in the car were drunk.  I don’t know.

When I woke up, they were towing the car away.” – Anonymous

The factors “that affect the sleeping habits of people sleeping on the streets are:

  • People on certain medications
  • Medical, physical conditions
  • Noise levels
  • Too much light
  • Harassment by pedestrians and/or people driving by
  • Other homeless people
  • Weather, especially if [a homeless person] is not protected from extreme weather conditions by tents, A.C., cold weather gear, enough clothes, umbrellas, etc.
  • Fear/paranoia of being robbed, mugged, raped, beat up, harassment by anyone you’re concerned about being bothered by
  • The hard cold/hot ground
  • Debris on the ground if [the homeless person] is unable to properly clean up
  • Vermin – bugs, rats, birds
  • Hunger or [being] full of caffeine
  • People nearby having conversations in voices loud enough to keep someone awake, although not intentionally
  • Having a good quiet spot, but cannot sleep there until real late because of business hours
  • People waking you up for blankets, cigarettes, looking for criminals or friends, [asking for] directions, giving food or other things
  • A person’s personality [being] too polite to end a conversation, anger slow to cool, etc.
  • Habits, like reading, insomnia, smoking, visiting friends, staying up at night and sleeping during the day

“Sleeping near noisy spots:  freeway, noisy businesses, hospital fire station, police station, high crime areas, high traffic streets, metered parking lots, skateboarding, teens using your location to extreme skate.”  – Bookwyrm