Admiration List: David Raether

David Raether went from having a extremely well paying job as a comedic writer for television, to losing absolutely everything and spend a few years homeless (on-the-street-homeless). Why? Because he decided to take a year off of work to address problems in his family. The house was paid for, they had money in the bank, it was a perfectly reasonable financial decision and exactly what his family needed.

Unfortunately, in the United States, taking time off of work to make positive changes in your personal life is tantamount to professional suicide. At the end of his 12-month sabbatical, David Raether was unable to find work. Since he and his wife were committed to keeping their children enrolled in the best school system in the United States, their cost of living remained where it had been when he was pulling in 100s of thousands per year. Without an equally good paying job, their savings dried up and things went from bad to worse.

This is an important story to be told about poverty (in general) and homelessness (specifically) within the United States. The far majority of Poverty Survivors are good, hard working people who hit on hard times.

Drug addicts and criminals are neither exclusive to, nor most prevalent among, the poor – there are plenty of addicts and criminals (white collar and otherwise) among the upper classes. But that’s a topic for another day.

David Raether has my admiration for surviving homelessness, pulling himself out of that tragedy, and having the courage to talk about it.

Admiration List: Rex Hohlbein

Rex Hohlbein started allowing homeless people use his office as a place to hang out during the day. This grew into a small and semi-official drop-in-center service where people could come to get out of the weather or pick up needed supplies.

That alone is admirable. Yet, what really stood out to me was the way this project got started because Rex took the time to get to know individuals. He didn’t just set up a charity, he started building relationships with poverty survivors and the network of donations grew out of those relationships. That is truly worthy of admiration.

 

 

Mass Blindness: Why don’t American’s see the poverty in their own backyards?

The most common reasons for mass blindness are as follows:

  1. Prosperity theology – Wikipedia This highly flawed religious belief took root in this country before it became the USA. It never left. People still think that poverty survivors (rape victims, abuse victims, people struck by illness, etc.) are cursed by God because they are ‘bad people.’ It’s religion-sanctioned victim-blaming, and it’s long-term effects have been extremely destructive.
  2. Welfare queen – Wikipedia: A highly effective political marketing/propaganda campaign utilized by President Reagan which vilified all poverty survivors based on a fictitious character developed, loosely, out of one female African American criminal who was convicted of fraud. It is a well-established fact that this campaign was an attempted to garner the support of white voters by demonizing black people – and it worked.
    1. The Truth Behind The Lies Of The Original ‘Welfare Queen’
    2. The Real Story of Linda Taylor, America’s Original Welfare Queen
    3. Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” myth: How the Gipper kickstarted the war on the working poor
    4. The myth of the modern welfare queen
    5. Return of the ‘Welfare Queen’
  3. Deserving or undeserving poor: A European belief that was imported to the United States by European immigrants and became a permanent fixture within our culture and politics. It is a well-established fact that the hyper-examination of the relative morality of people surviving a life-threatening crisis is counterproductive to the efforts to reduce poverty, homelessness, and everything that goes with them. But the social belief remains and grant money, political favor, and individual donations are often tied to proof that poverty survivors deserve assistance.
    1. Deserving vs. undeserving poor — for the love of God, here we go again
    2. deserving-vs-undeserving-poor
  4. Performance Poverty: Thanks to the combined efforts of politicians, Hollywood and authors like Charles Dickens, people in the USA have come to expect a very specific ‘show’ when they look for proof of poverty. Some expect to be entertained, others want proof that their investment of money and/or empathetic emotion is ‘worth it’ and, therefore, want a proper performance.
    1. Comparison arguments: This is frequently accompanied by non-logical comparison arguments like:
      1. “Look at these photos of poor people in Africa! Poor people in the USA are FAT, so they CAN’T be poor…not really.” The photos shown are invariably images of people surviving war, plague and/or drought, thereby leaving them so devoid of resources that their ribs are showing through their chest. All reasonable discussions about the realities of poverty in the USA are then dismissed because those people don’t ‘look poor.’
      2. Example: What is the biggest slum in the U.S.? There are American’s who answered this question with ‘they don’t exist here,’ and then proceeded to post photos of ‘real slums’ in other countries. These answers are then debunked by other Americans who proceed to post photos of slums here in the USA.
    2. Slum tourism – Wikipedia: Upper-class Americans are known to make entertainment out of poverty by traveling to other countries and gawking at the poverty survivors in those areas. It’s…unethical…to say the least. It’s also NOT restricted to international travel. It happens here in the USA.
    3. Tiny Tim (A Christmas Carol) – Wikipedia Every Christmas season local theater’s put on yet another performance of a Christmas Carol. There are old movies shown on TV and sometimes a new version is released. ONCE AGAIN the world watches as the poor are stomped on by Scrooge and yet, one particularly saintly and sickly child keeps his faith in both God and man, showing great generosity in his ability to extend forgiveness even to Scrooge – a fact which proves to be the tipping point for massive spiritual transformation within the old wicked miser. HURRAY! The Noble savage, in the form of a handicapped child without access to health care, has given proper service to the power-holding upper class by successfully transforming the man’s soul just in time for his death of old age! Americans of all ages leave the theaters filled with Holiday Cheer and a destructively erroneous image of the ‘deserving poor’ in the form of Tiny Tim, as well as an even more destructive storyline concerning the proper interaction between rich and poor. (No, I am not a fan of this story.)
  5. Service Trips: church groups, schools, and community organizations have a frustratingly common habit of taking groups of people (children, in particular) on service trips. Instead of examining and addressing poverty in their own city/town/neighborhood, they pile into a bus or a caravan of cars and go to some magical ‘poverty land,’ like the Appalachian mountains, where they help the ‘real poor.’ Now, just to be clear, poverty survivors exist in large numbers in the Appalachian mountains – the poverty in this region is VERY real (America’s poorest white town and Why Poverty Persists In Appalachia). I object the service trip culture because it presents and solidifies through action the idea that poverty ONLY exists in the Appalachian mountains or other well-known poverty-stricken regions. This directly and significantly contributes to the collective blindness the general public has towards poverty in the USA. It even has this weird way of convincing poverty survivors themselves that their own poverty is, at least partially, a figment of their own imagination because they don’t live in one of the recognized ‘poor areas.’ For example:  I may be homeless, but at least I don’t live in the Appalachian mountains – really???

-Originally posted on Quora in answer to the question: Do Americans care about their poor people?

Service Project Ideas: Helping the Homeless

If you really want to use your service project to help the homeless, then consider doing the following:

  1. Make a List About YOU: Make a list of all of the key characteristics that describe you, right now, as a person. Try to make it as exhaustive as possible.
    1. What categories do you fit into? For example: race, gender, religion, sexual identity, family situation (e.g.: kids, no kids, married, single), education level, health status (e.g.: healthy, diabetes, food allergies, disabled, etc.)
    2. Identify those categories that you think are most important during homelessness. For example: Diabetes is potentially deadly without proper diet and/or medical care, adult shelters will not take anyone under age 21, and caring for children while homeless is extremely difficult.
  2. Imagine Yourself Homeless: Picture yourself facing some catastrophic financial or physical emergency that leaves you instantly homeless right now. What would you do? Where would you go?
  3. Research: Do a little research and identify those resources that you would attempt to utilize in that situation.
  4. Make Contact: Contact those organizations and tell them you are looking for:
    1. Volunteer work to complete a service project.
    2. Opportunities to meet and work with people who are currently homeless and similar to yourself in a few key ways. Example short lists:
      1. 21 years old, female, no children.
      2. Over 50 with diabetes
      3. 35 years old, male, single parent, 3 kids
      4. 26 years old, lesbian, 2 dogs
  5. Listen: Let the organization tell you what they need help with and then do your best to provide assistance.
  6. Reflect: After a few weeks of volunteer work, sit down and re-imagine yourself homeless. Based on what you now know, what would you do? What are the dangers and challenges other people, just like you, are facing? Are any of those things particularly surprising? What is your biggest fear?

All of this will provide some real insight into what it feels like to be homeless AND the many unique and often maddeningly difficult challenges people surviving homelessness are forced to face.

Follow up that experience by pursuing some tools to help you make a positive impact on poverty and homelessness in the future:

  1. Social Justice: Take a social justice workshop (if you can) and pay particular attention to the justice issues faced by poverty survivors (homeless included).
  2. Mentoring/Internship: If you complete the first part of this plan and decide that you really want to do more – contact the non-profit and ask for a mentor or an internship. Getting to know people who’ve built a career out of fighting poverty and homelessness is far more important and useful than any number of textbooks, news articles, books, workshops, etc.
  3. Emergency Plan: If you were facing a serious emergency that would place you into a homeless situation, what would you do. Take some time with this, really identify the financial and physical needs that would have to be addressed. How can you plan for the worst right now? How can you face a catastrophic financial emergency and get through it? What is your plan? Keeping yourself out of homelessness is important! It’s extremely difficult to survive homelessness, much less combat it while trying to survive. It’s also important to remember…ALWAYS remember!…that anyone can experience homelessness at any time. Poverty is an equal opportunity employer.

-Originally posted to Quora in answer to the question: What can I do as a service project to help out the homeless?

Reasons for Avoiding Homeless Shelters

There are many reasons why homeless people avoid using the local shelter. Some of the more commonly known reasons are a lack of sanitation, infestation with bugs or rodents, extremely dangerous people already using the shelter, problems with theft, enforced sobriety rules and being banned from the shelter for previous actions while staying there.

Here are a few more items to add to that list:

Social stigma: If a person has a vehicle or (even better) a camper they can use, then parking in some random parking lot for the night is more socially acceptable than sleeping at a shelter. Unfortunately, some shelter volunteers are there for the express purpose of identifying ‘those people’ and pointing them out to anyone and everyone who will listen. I’ve actually watched well respected and well connected ‘pillers-of-society’ do this…aggressively…on many (MANY!) occasions over the years.

Employment: If you’re serious about acquiring or maintaining employment, then staying at the shelter can be a really bad idea. People talk and word gets around. If your employer finds out you are staying at the shelter, he or she may decide to eliminate you due to the perceived risks associated with hiring a ‘homeless person.’ This is regardless of how long you’ve worked for that employer or how good your work has been and continues to be.

Abuse: Anyone running from an abusive relationship will be trying to find a safe place where they cannot be found. Shelters are not safe places for people running from a stalker, domestic violence, or similar threat of violence. It’s too easy to be found AND for the abuser to enter the premises of a shelter. If a bed in a battered women’s shelter is not available…or if the individual is male (men face abuse too)…then the standard adult shelter may be exceptionally unsafe.

Children: Even shelters that make accommodations for families with children can be exceptionally dangerous for kids and teens. Depending on the situation, the number of people using the facility (read: is it crowded?) and the way the shelter is managed, a parent may assess the situation and decide that it is simply too dangerous for the kids.

Discrimination: Shelters are often run by private non-profits and religious organizations. Therefore, some of these shelters feel they have the right to require anyone who uses their services to participate in their particular brand of religion. They also believe they have the right to deny assistance to anyone they consider to be ‘immoral’ – this includes people who are LGBT, devoted practitioners of other religions, members of races or ethnicities the group dislikes, and pretty much anything else. Sometimes a court case will be brought against a shelter for doing this sort of thing, but finding (paying) a lawyer is extremely difficult for all poverty survivors, even more so for homeless people.

Forced Adoption or Abortion: There are ‘shelters’ that ‘help’ pregnant women by providing care during the pregnancy with the aggressively enforced assumption that those women will give their children up for adoption (arranged by the shelter, through their network of lawyers and other adoption professionals, all of whom get a cut of the final sale…sorry…adoption). Sometimes these same shelters will do everything in their power to force women to abort babies that are difficult to adopt out (e.g.: they are not a popular racial mix). Bottom line? Word gets around and pregnant women who have found themselves homeless will go to extreme lengths to avoid these places and with good reason – even when other shelters refuse to provide services to pregnant women.

-Originally posted to Quora in answer to the question Why are homeless people still on the streets when there are shelters for them to go to?

Homeless Youth Shelters

Homeless Youth

There are youth shelters throughout the United States but there are far fewer of them than adult shelters and sometimes they don’t advertise their location for safety reasons. Often youth shelters are not included in resources listing. For example: I did a quick search for all shelters in Duluth, MN through Homeless Shelters | Find Homeless Shelters | Homeless Shelter Search and the local youth shelter was not listed, despite having a website and generally being as visible as a youth shelter can be. This means that children and youth find out about shelters through other homeless children and youth, or through the staff at the adult shelters.

Adult shelters will not take children without an accompanying adult and sometimes they will turn away families because they have children – other times they will turn away adults without children, it all depends on the shelter. So homeless kids without a guardian frequently sleep and survive on the street.

A few years back, I interviewed a few people at the Life House youth shelter in Duluth MN and they made some very interesting points about the unique challenges in securing funding for a youth shelter. They admitted that many children in Duluth were forced to sleep outside because the shelter simply did not have enough beds. But they also said the funding wasn’t JUST for beds. Homeless children need an adult support network, schooling, counseling, positive discipline tactics, stability and a litany of other things that can’t be found in an adult shelter or on the street. While the Life House provides all of these things, they have to PAY the adults to do them.

That particular town had an extensive network of services for children, including a very active foster care program and a crisis shelter (usually used by parents who need childcare while addressing an emergency) through Lutheran Social Services (http://www.lssmn.org) as well as several abuse-oriented shelters and programs. Yet, the local homeless service providers estimated that at least 25–30 kids were sleeping on the streets every night. Duluth MN is not a big city. It’s a small-to-medium sized market, at best.

Minneapolis is a city (not a BIG city like New York, but a city) and it has a significantly larger population of homeless youth. There are shelters: Youth Shelter Information But there’s never enough resources to meet the overwhelming need.

Here is where I see the BIGGEST problem in all of this: I have heard it said that a child generally lasts about 20 minutes before someone on the street snatches them. Pimps, child abusers and human traffickers of all kinds recognize a runaway or otherwise desperate child and lures them away with promises of food and shelter. 20 minutes!

I personally experienced being lured. I was 16 years old, traveling alone, reading a book in a Milwaukee bus station. Two pimps sat themselves down on either side of me and proceeded to play good-cop-bad-cop, trying to entice or force me out of my chair and into the street – with them. The fact that I knew a) exactly what was happening and b) how to get rid of them tells you something about the people in my life at that time. While I was street smart enough to recognize and avoid that situation, I also had someplace to go. I was hungry and completely out of money, but I had a bus ticket and a destination. I could skip a meal or two.

How long did it take them to find me? I don’t know when they identified me as a target because I’d been in the city a few hours, but when they approached me I’d been sitting at the bus station for about 20 minutes.

Place a child/youth who is naive or desperate in that situation and these guys can get away with pretty much anything. Having enough shelters with enough beds for every child in need of help is a life and death matter for homeless children.

Sadly, that’s not our current reality.

Originally posted on Quora in answer to the question: Where can homeless youth (under 18) find shelter in the USA?

Also see:

Data Analysis: Who Are The Homeless (2016)?

Trying to place ‘most of the homeless’ into different categories of deserving and undeserving poor is a common element in virtually every conversation or debate about homelessness, poverty and poverty survivors. The numbers are often sliced, diced and presented in a dozen different ways, making comparative analysis and logical conclusions difficult (at best).

This is my attempt to collect current data (available freely through the internet) and present the numbers in a reasonably easy-to-understand manner.

The primary question being answered: Who are the homeless?

Data Differences

I’ve included a list of links to key sources of data on Homelessness at the end of this post. All of these resources are academically respected and frequently cited in articles and other forms of research. Unfortunately, the data presented often contains inconsistencies that must be identified and addressed before completing a truly effective analysis or a clear presentation of high-level data. These inconsistencies do not negate the quality of the data or the effectiveness of the research, they are simply the natural outcome of a data-collection survey that (literally) examines millions of people.

For the purposes of this post, I have decided to focus on presenting the data contained within a single data source: HUD Exchange.

Step 1: Analysis of Data Collection Techniques

It’s important to begin the analysis by getting an understanding of the methods used during collection. An examination of the HUD Point in Time (PIT) Count Implementation Tools provides the following key details:

Data Collection Personnel consist of average people (volunteers), professionals in the ‘Helping Services’ (e.g.: homeless shelter workers), formerly homeless people and currently homeless people. According to the Tips For Including People Experiencing Homelessness (PDF) reference sheet, formerly and currently homeless are employed as Subject Matter Experts (SME) and may or may not be paid for their assistance.

Pre-Selected Data Categories outlined in the PIT Count Planning Worksheet (PDF) are detailed, extensive and specific. The data that collection personnel are expecting to find and, therefore, seeking out is clearly defined. The data outlined in the Sub-population Crosswalk (PDF) survey instrument is limited and specific. The data collection personnel are expecting to find and, therefore, seeking out is both clearly defined and restrictive, presenting the possibility of missed data points (e.g.: people not included in the count because they are not ‘real’ homeless) or inflated/inaccurate data points (e.g.: placing people in non-applicable categories for the sole purpose of including the data somewhere). The data points contained within the Sub-population Crosswalk (PDF) survey instrument are as follows:

  • Chronically Homeless Individuals or Families (based on family head of household)
  • Veteran
  • Adults with a Serious Mental Illness
  • Adults with a Substance Use Disorder
  • Adults with HIV/AIDS
  • Victims of Domestic Violence

Database Affected Data Points are a possibility due to the nature of the data contained with the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), as outlined in the Sheltered PIT Count and HMIS Data Element Crosswalk (PDF) guide. Based on the categories and subcategories of data contained within the database, the expectations surrounding the situations of all homeless are clearly defined. This presents the possibility of inaccurate or inflated data points resulting from workers trying to find a way to enter data into the database.

Flexibility of Toolkit in Data Collection suggests that more extensive and (potentially) accurate data is being collected than may (or may not) be found within the databases. The Point In Time (PIT) Survey Tools (HTML) include forms that specifically address situations where the individuals conducting the survey are unable to talk to the individuals being counted and the answers include ‘unsure’ or ‘unknown.’ In other words, a data point may consist of a family that is found sleeping outside, but the collector is unable to access the location or communicate with the individuals in question (e.g.: does not want to wake them up, cannot speak their language, etc.) so it is not possible to verify whether the family is truly homeless or dealing with some other situation.

Inherent Data Collection Problems are centered around evaluating the entirety of a poverty survivors situation through distant observation or a single face-to-face interaction. Accurately identifying an age or race can be extremely difficult under these circumstances. Correctly evaluating mental health and assessing whether or not an individuation meets the ‘chronically homeless’ definition are nearly impossible.

Inherent Data Collection Strengths are in the total count of human bodies. The PIT count provides a total number of people who are living on the street or in shelters during a specific period of time. While exact ages are difficult to pinpoint, total numbers of individuals falling within per-defined age ranges are reasonably reliable. Total numbers of family groups and children, teens, adults and the elderly who are trying to survive the streets alone are also reasonably reliable. Therefore, the strength is in the reasonable reliability of the high-level total counts.

Step 2: General Examination of Raw Data

Positive: The HUD data is clear and easy to decipher. It provides total counts for high-level categories, divided by state and geographic region.

Negative: The revisions tab lists changes to historic data that have occurred since 2007 (earliest available data). The changes listed are significant. However, the changes are also limited to select portions of historic data and do not indicate that equally significant changes will be made throughout all bodies of data.

Step 3: Data Analysis

Based on my analysis of the data collection methods, I focused on the strongest data points available.

Percentages: All percentages are a comparison to the total number of homeless people in the United States during the 2016 PIT count. Because the totals change, depending on the data being presented, the specific totals used to generate the percentages are included at the top of each chart followed by 100%.

Children and Youth: The data provided by HUD does not provide a high-level total count of all children and/or youth included in the PIT count. There are several subcategories focusing on children and youth and I have summed these categories to create a rough total, but I suspect this number represents BOTH overlap in data categories and a a significantly deflated total. Without knowing the total number of children and youth that are included in the total number of people ‘In Families’ it’s impossible to calculate the total number of children and youth.

Total Homeless, 2016
Count Percentage
Total Homeless, 2016 549,928 100.00%
Sheltered Homeless, 2016 373,571 67.93%
Unsheltered Homeless, 2016 176,357 32.07%

 

Sheltered Homeless, 2016
Count Percentage
Sheltered Homeless, 2016 373,571 100.00%
Sheltered Homeless Individuals, 2016 198,008 53.00%
Sheltered Homeless People in Families, 2016 175,563 47.00%

 

Unsheltered Homeless, 2016
Count Percentage
Unsheltered Homeless, 2016 176,357 100.00%
Unsheltered Homeless Individuals, 2016 157,204 89.14%
Unsheltered Homeless People in Families, 2016 19,153 10.86%

 

Families Vs Individuals, 2016
Count Percentage
Total Homeless, 2016 549,928 100.00%
Homeless Individuals, 2016 355,212 64.59%
Homeless People in Families, 2016 194,716 35.41%

 

Homeless Subcategories, 2016
Count Percentage
Total Homeless, 2016 549,928 100.00%
Total Subcategories 248,419 45.17%
Total Youth and Children 104,474 19.00%
Homeless Unaccompanied Youth (Under 25), 2016 35,686 6.49%
Homeless Unaccompanied Children (Under 18), 2016 3,824 0.70%
Homeless Unaccompanied Young Adults (Age 18-24), 2016 31,862 5.79%
Parenting Youth (Under 25), 2016 9,892 1.80%
Parenting Youth Under 18, 2016 92 0.02%
Parenting Youth Age 18-24, 2016 9,800 1.78%
Children of Parenting Youth, 2016 13,318 2.42%
Homeless Veterans, 2016 39,471 7.18%
Chronically Homeless, 2016 86,132 15.66%

Data Sources

Data Provided by Homeless Services Providers (smaller scale)

 

Invisible Threads

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What I loved most was my new friends sitting around the big dining room table, laughing and joking and having fun just being together. I thought about how, when I got older, I wanted to have a family too, and sit around the big dinner table with all my kids and laugh and talk and have a lot of special Christmases together.

An Invisible Thread Christmas Story, written by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski and illustrated by Barry Root. Based on the true story An Invisible Thread.

Rent Takes 80 Percent

Quote

Wordery.com

A black woman whose hearing had just concluded stepped back into the room, holding her child’s hand. Her head was wrapped, and she had kept on her heavy blue winter coat. She continued down the middle aisle of Room 400, walking by an anemic white man with homemade tattoos, a white woman in a wheelchair wearing pajama pants and Crocs, a blind black man with a limp hat on his lap, a Hispanic man wearing work boots and a shirt that read PRAY FOR US—all waiting for their eviction cases. Tenants in eviction court were generally poor, and almost all of them (92 percent) had missed rent payments. The majority spent at least half their household income on rent. One-third devoted at least 80 percent to it. Of the tenants who did come to court and were evicted, only 1 in 6 had another place lined up: shelters or the apartments of friends or family. A few resigned themselves to the streets. Most simply did not know where they would go.

 

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Financial Inequality, Mass Incarceration and Homelessness

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Image Source: Wordery.com

People who are not poor and who are not dependent upon public assistance for housing need not fear that, if their son, daughter, caregiver, or relative is caught with some marijuana at school or shoplifts from a drugstore, they will find themselves suddenly evicted—homeless. But for countless poor people—particularly racial minorities who disproportionately rely on public assistance—that possibility looms large. As a result, many families are reluctant to allow their relatives—particularly those who are recently released from prison—to stay with them, even temporarily.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander