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.


Homelessness Myth #14: They Choose to Be Homeless

Also published on The Huffington Post

No one truly chooses to be homeless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 #10: Serving Is Tiring

Also published on The Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob McElroy, President, The Alpha Project

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

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

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

William Butler, M.A., M.Div

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


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

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

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

Former Big Brother in the Big Brothers of America Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Madden Lankford, author, Downtown USA

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

Susie Curtiss

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

Also published on The Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

Answer:  Virgin Mobile does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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