Pastor Steve’s Full Blog Posts
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.
This month I interview… myself (well, I talk for a while) about how sweeps kill and how I worked this last year to try to get the city to stop killing sweeps.
Anyway, here’s the podcast:
And here’s some articles confirming my actions this year:
Forgotten Realms: the beginning
Amanda Murphy-Reese and Steve have a conversation about events leading up to the moving of 500 homeless folks ordered by the city of Portland and the results of this on the homeless and advocates.
You can listen at the link below, or you can sign up for Steve’s podcast, Nowhere To Lay His Head on iTunes
Here are pictures of the Springwater corridor before the sweep.