Pastor Steve’s Full Blog Posts
We want statistics, because we want to quantify “the problem”, which is homelessness. If we can box it, measure it, then we can reduce it or eradicate it. Were it so simple. Homelessness isn’t something we can distinctly measure and wipe off the map. So much of homelessness is an attitude, both of the homeless and of housed neighbors. And trying to measure homeless folks is like trying to count the drops of water in the ocean.
Here are some of the issues those who gather statistics have:
1. Homeless folks don’t want to be found
In many cities, homeless folks and camps are targets. Targets of the police, of housed neighbors, of people who take advantage of them, of highway workers and others. Many groups automatically see them as criminals, or at least as “undesirables.” Folks on the street who would like to live a peaceful life find that hiding is the best way to do it. If the police can’t find them, then the likelihood is that those who wish to count the homeless can’t find them, either.
2. Street numbers change
Not only do the numbers of homeless change from year to year, they change from month to month. Most of the homeless have family, friends or jobs that will help them get off the street. Sometimes the right friend just finds out, a family member’s heart is tugged just right, or a family just needs to save enough money. In the summer, friends and family feel less for those on the street than in the winter. And there are cycles of time when landlords evict their tenants, and times when they don’t. If certain government programs for the ill, the mentally ill or the poor are cut, then homelessness increases. On the other hand, if shelters or programs develop, homelessness might decrease. Or it might not. So a single count every two years is woefully inadequate to give us a picture of homelessness at any other time.
3. Who counts as homeless?
Finally, statistics are remarkably different depending on who is being counted. Recently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development posted statistics about Homelessness, counting only those who are on the street. The Point in Time count every other year counts people sleeping on the street, those in their cars and those in shelters. Others will count those forced to live in motels, on friend’s couches or in other overcrowded situations. Some will actually compare one group with another to try to show that they have almost eradicated homelessness. Utah, for example, was able to claim that they reduced homelessness by 91 percent by changing the definition of who is “chronically homeless”. So numbers might not make sense, especially compared from one agency to another.
We need the statistics in order to give us a general idea of the scope of the issues involved, or to determine trends. But exact counts are not possible, unfortunately.
To Whom It May Concern:
Tim and Sam are people who have struggled to improve their lives. And they have succeeded.
Tim struggled through his addiction with drugs and homelessness. In the midst of his lowest points, he was in jail and he failed in treatment programs. In the midst of this, he remained cheerful and encouraging to his friends, but that doesn’t mean that internally he wasn’t fighting with the two parts of himself—addiction and self-control.
Tim has now been living in my house for over a year and he’s been clean and sober for almost two. He has had a full time job working for a printer for nine months. And this change is due to many reasons, but the two most important is his deep and abiding love for Jesus and his deep and abiding love for Sam and their daughter, Paloma.
Sam struggled with severe depression and a resulting addiction to alcohol. She lost her husband, her four children, and her apartment. She and Tim met each other in the midst of this time, introduced by a homeless friend, and they fell in love. They became homeless together for a short period of time, and Sam discovered that she was pregnant with Tim’s child.
Sam moved in with friends, and as the baby’s birth drew close, moved into my house. She is fully supported by Tim and she supports Tim. And now that Paloma is with them, no hardship, no difficulty, nothing will cause them to go back to addiction. Sam now has contacts and visits with her other children regularly, and she cares for her new baby. She works part time for Anawim Christian Community, a church supporting the homeless community in East Multnomah County.
Why am I writing this? Because I am hoping that you will give them a chance. Yes, they have made some mistakes—perhaps a lot of mistakes—but that doesn’t change the fact that you will not meet a more compassionate, faithful couple than this one. They need a chance and they deserve one. Please be the person that gives them that chance to start a new life together.
Pastor of Anawim Christian Community
I wrote that letter six years ago. Tim is still working for the printer. They now have another child together, Elijah, who was a drummer as soon as he had some control over his arms. Paloma and Elijah are beautiful, happy, energetic kids. After they moved out of my place, they moved into a one-bedroom tiny home.
They stayed in that home for a year and then they moved into a three bedroom apartment, where they are now. Sam’s daughters, April and Eryn moved in with them. April eventually moved out and got married. Sam and Tim sport dreads now, and go to cool hippie concerts. They have way surpassed me in coolness.
In the end, if a community supports a homeless family, both the community and the family wins. It doesn’t mean everything will be perfect. I didn’t mention a lot of issues and problems along the way. It is support and love that makes life thrive.
God bless you guys. With all my love, Steve
Every other year, main metropolitan areas do a “Point in Time” count of the homeless. It always occurs near the end of January, and the idea is to physically count folks on the street, so the government knows how much to spend, to find out if certain strategies are working.
A month ago, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released a report saying that homelessness has gone down 31 percent since 2007. That’s quite a decrease! Perhaps we are solving the issues!
Before we take time to celebrate, let’s look at some facts. First of all, in 2007, there was a jump in homelessness because of the mortgage crisis, so perhaps those numbers were chosen to make the decrease seem more dramatic.
These numbers also don’t count the total homeless. They only count those who are currently living without any kind of shelter. So those in transitional houses, those staying with friends, those in motels, those in temporary shelters aren’t being counted. In fact, the number of folks in shelters and transitional homes have increased. And more people have moved into permanent low income homes than ever before. So the numbers might very well reflect this.
Also, while we are seeing a dramatic decrease of homelessness in small cities and rural areas, the large cities such as New York, Washington DC and Portland are seeing increases of homelessness. So while California as a whole has reduced their homeless issues, cities with housing prices increasing also have homelessness increasing. For instance, San Francisco has increased their homeless numbers by 22 percent.
This year’s count numbers are still to come in, so the final word isn’t out, but those of us in larger urban settings have a lot more work to do.
When we are working with homeless folks, there are times when there are… problems. Perhaps you will see someone using drugs in the bathroom, perhaps a fight will break out, perhaps someone will be drinking on the property. Some facilities will immediately call the police to deal with the situation. Generally, the folks who have been around longer will pick their fights. But which situations do we really need the police for?
First of all, always try to deal with a situation yourself. If you know someone is using drugs on the property, ask them to leave. If someone is drinking on the property, take the alcohol away. Give a warning, or set up a penalty.
In general, we don’t want to call the police. First, because the police should have other things to do, other emergencies to handle. We don’t want to be seen as a facility that NEEDS the police hanging around. That ruins the reputation of our facility. Also, if the police are called, they might think it is an emergency and deal with the issue stronger than is necessary. And if we call the police in situations other than a dire emergency, we might lose our reputation among the houseless community.
So when DO we call the police? First, if a violent situation is out of our control. If a fight breaks out, we might be able to break it up. But if violence is out of our control, or if the leaders are the target of violence, it is time to call the police.
I might also call the police if someone is banned from the facility or it is time to close, but they refuse to leave. They might need an extra nudge to get them off the property. In these cases, we might want to inform the officers that we are not looking to press charges, but only to have them taken off the property. The police will check for warrants, but not make an arrest otherwise.
When calling the police, I highly recommend using the non-emergency line. If we call 911, the police are prepared for the worst situation, hands on guns, because they don’t know what they are getting into. But if we call the non-emergency line, we can explain better what the situation is, and the police won’t rush, and they’ll be calmer and ready to deal with a non-emergency situation. Every police department has a non-emergency number, so I recommend finding out what it is, and put it on your phone.
In general, though, calling the police should be the last resort.
I posted on Facebook recently that homeless folks were just as worthy as other folks, just in a different situation. I received a rebuttal from another person, having met at least one homeless person. His response could be summarized thus:
All homeless folks use drugs.
Drug users are weak and thieves.
Therefore, these are less worthy than others.
Well, I know a number of homeless folks who do not use drugs, not addicted to anything, and I know a number of drug users (also homeless) who are not thieves. But there is a stereotype there that has some truth to it. Allow me to unpack a general trend of the homeless and addiction.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, approximately nine percent of people who become homeless do so because of addictions. This doesn’t mean that others aren’t addicts, but it wasn’t their addiction that caused their homelessness. So let’s just say that 15-20 percent of people become homeless with an addiction. What everyone agrees on is that most people aren’t addicts when they become homeless.
The far majority of them. Approximately 70 percent of all people who become homeless every year find housing in less than a year, most of them in a few months. Most of these people certainly didn’t get housing maintaining or increasing their addictions. A few did. But most of them were never addicted to begin with and some gave up or reduced their addictions to meet their goals.
What about the rest? Well, the people who are generally considered “homeless” are those who have been on the street for more than a year. These are the folks who have been without a decent night’s sleep for at least a year. These are the folks forced to move, with everything they own, sometimes more than once a day. These are the folks who tried to get work, to get into school, to find a place to live until they had given up hope for themselves. These are the folks who have had their possessions stolen. These are the people who have nothing left but regret.
So almost all of these folks who are chronically homeless are also sufferers of chronic stress. And since they have no tomorrow, they need to forget. And drugs or alcohol offer that way out.
Again, not everyone takes that way out. Not everyone wants to be seen as the wino, the bum on the corner. Or, I should say, some folks have enough self-respect left to care what people think about them, so they do all they can to avoid that most disgusting, most degrading of American occupations. The man openly drinking a 40 ounce outside a convenience store, who is shooting up in a public restroom are really the only ones who have no self-respect left to give in this country. They really don’t care, because they’ve lost everything.
This is why people who think that folks in this state need a few months to brush themselves off and get out there and struggle for their sobriety, their self-respect and their survival don’t really understand the state of the chronically homeless, especially those who are addicted. It took at least a year, possibly years, to drive a person into abject hopelessness. It will take some time to climb out. I think of the way out as stepping stones.
1. Self-respect This stage will only happen when a person receives respect that they didn’t necessarily deserve. When they see others respecting them by giving them kindness and opportunities for hope, they will think that maybe their view of themselves need to change, and they want to earn the respect they are receiving.
2. Better living When they see themselves as someone who wants to live, they will see the squalor they live in, and want to improve their state. That desire doesn’t do anything unless they also have a hand up, because one cannot jump out of the ditch of homelessness themselves. But they will accept that hand, because they see the necessity of it. They may accept a place in a village, a spot in a treatment center, a place in a shelter they trust, so they could get a better life.
3. Strength But most people who are chronically homeless will fail at their first attempts to improve their life. Some are out of practice, some are unlucky, some are too sensitive to disrespect, some have mental health issues and some have physical health issues. It will require inner strength for them to try again. Some have it, and some don’t.
4. Progress One step leads to another, even if there are missteps. Entering into treatment sometimes leads to housing and outpatient treatment and possibly a job. Entering a wet village can later lead to living in a less chaotic dry village, which can lead to a job and permanent housing. Entering into a shelter can lead to a part time job and then a full time job and housing. No one’s path is the same. And the first step of progress can, with strength, lead to the next one.
My point is, everyone is worthy. People are worthy. The person you see as a worthless drug addict on the corner is worthy, and we can have hope for her even if she does not have hope for herself. A wino doesn’t have to live that way. But they will unless two things happen. Someone gives them respect. And someone gives them a chance.