Welcome to Life Lines, where people can submit written poems, thoughts, essays, stories, and notes by the homeless, for the homeless, or about homelessness.
Please feel free to submit entries using the Contact Form below on the right.
Please note that, as a public website, we cannot guarantee to publish all entries, and publication is at the discretion of the Homeless Solutions Board of Directors.
Our Hidden Populations-By Richard Gartrell
In every city, large or small, north or south, east or west, urban or rural, wealthy or poor, there exists a hidden population. They are often overlooked, neglected, despised, and forgotten. The desire is for them to go away, go somewhere else and not mar the illusive images our cities may value. Yet they are present, visible yet invisible, humans seeking to carve out what they can for a life that reeks of hopelessness, hunger and hardship. No one wants the homeless to walk their streets, congregate in their parks, find warmth in their libraries, beg at corners for food, or sleep on their streets. In fact, criminalizing being homeless seems to be on the rise among U.S. cities. Regardless, they are our poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised. They are our cities’ hidden populations.
Some homeless are seen as “transitional,” entering homelessness because of a catastrophic event, loss of employment and/or housing, which has made them homeless until they can stabilize their lives. Those called “episodic homeless” shuttle in and out of homelessness because they’re unable to maintain stable employment or have suffered from adverse medical problems or substance abuse. The “chronic homeless” are more often referred to as “hard core.” They’re unemployable, suffering from a variety of addictions and have few, if any, resources. They suffer from poor choices that have eroded their self-esteem and self-confidence.
Labels like these identify some of the categories into which we group homeless but does not grasp the magnitude of the problem. Labels pigeon hole humans into classifications which some feel makes it easier to explain their situations. In reality it dehumanizes a situation that exposes a need for human sensitivity and our caring response to human needs.
Statistics do almost the same as labels. In fact, statistics are often contradictory.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states approximately 3.5 million were homeless in 2007. In that report, 1.35 million were children. Using the 2007 study as the benchmark, the Housing and Urban Development governmental agency in their 2013 data showed a “6.8 percent decline in homelessness among individuals, a 3.7 percent decline of homeless families, a 13.1 percent decline of the unsheltered homeless population, and a 19.3 percent decline in persons experiencing chronic homelessness.” However, the report readily admits obtaining accurate numbers was difficult in identifying adolescents, teens, and runaways. Many youth, like the chronic homeless, are not easily identifiable or willing to be counted. In addition, various agencies use different research techniques and methods that make comparing data even more difficult. In their 2013 study, HUD estimated over 57,000 were veterans, 33% youth under age 24, 48% individuals and families living without shelter. During the same time period, Green Doors reported 643,067 homeless on any given night in America, with a third families, a quarter suffering from many forms of mental illness, 17% chronic homeless, 13% fleeing domestic violence and 12% veterans. The disparity of numbers is not consoling.
There is some recognition that homelessness is increasing across the country due to the addition of those at-risk, including people with disabilities, veterans, working poor, those recently released from prisons, and emancipated young adults from the foster care system.
The complexity of identifying solutions that address the breadth of homelessness is now a challenging reality. It’s not just looking at the poor or the chronic homeless, but solutions and delivery systems for the diversity of needed services to all those desperately fighting the odds.
The poor or those near or below the poverty level with limited coping skills and resources to make ends meet struggle to retain a roof over their heads, food on their table and a quality to their lives. In many cases, there needs to be double income and insufficient financial resources limits their ability to additionally pay for food, childcare, health care, transportation and education. These families usually are one-step away from homelessness should their rent increase or they suffer a major illness.
Many factors account for an increase in poverty including low paying jobs, only part-time jobs or seasonal availability; lack of new or better employment opportunities; decline in public assistance; lack of affordable housing; health care; domestic violence; mental illness and addiction. The “no win” loop is a disaster for those caught in it. The solutions to poverty are not quick answers, and in fact, are long-term and may never be fully resolved. But caring for those with less is a responsibility that cannot be neglected.
Many of the homeless, sheltered or unsheltered, are an extension of the situation the poor live with. Children are among those sad realities, discards of dysfunctional families. In Lincoln City, Oregon, 27% of the district’s school children are considered homeless who lack a fixed, regular and nighttime residence as defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act. They may be doubled up, sharing housing, couch surfing, living in cars, parks, RVs, tent camping, motels or transitional housing.
Veterans are another growing homeless population. Found in shelters and on the street, many have returned from combat suffering from post traumatic stress and lack the knowledge to navigate “the system” to obtain deserved medical attention. They have their own addictions and mental health problems, but without hope they give up and resort to being on the street, fighting a different battle they are totally unprepared for. Sadly they served their country but it is not serving them.
There are those with major addictions who made poor choices, the consequences resulting in chronic homelessness. They cannot find a job since they have few skills, may not be employable (cannot pass drug screening tests), lack respectable looking clothes, have poor interviewing skills, poor health and poor personal hygiene. The chronic homeless, it is reported, though smaller in proportion to other homeless groups, consumes a significantly larger, disproportionate share of services. Chilling realities surround these homeless who live in unsettling situations, exposed to the elements and violence. The chronic homeless, those without hope, self-esteem or self-confidence, those standing around seeking help, sleeping on the streets are unfortunately the only images people have of homelessness. They turn away from them and sadly all those who might be homeless and in need of assistance.
The homeless are human, whether families, with or without children, youth or children alone, veterans, or the chronic homeless, they reach beyond any labels or statistics. Finding those all encompassing solutions remains a challenge, physically and financially.
“Ten Year” plans to end homelessness have been implemented in many cities across the nation. In some cases there’s been legitimate progress, usually focused around the establishment of “affordable housing.” It’s a small piece of a very large puzzle. One report said there is still a need for 7 million affordable housing units for the poor. Affordable housing is an attempt to address having reasonable rental rates for those who cannot afford market prices and who struggle needing two incomes to pay rent and survive. It also suggests housing prices where low income individuals can negotiate a mortgage, but does not address, per se, how to shelter those with little or no income. Getting the homeless under a roof is a step in the right direction and one that can provide hope among our hidden populations.
Second, there is a need for workforce housing, supporting those employed in minimum wage jobs, usually found within the service industry (motel housekeepers, waitresses, maintenance). Very few businesses have built such housing and without it, employees are forced to live some distance from where they are employed. Then they have to incur the costs and time needed to travel to and from work, most likely using public transportation, making another demand on already limited resources. Mitigating this for low income employees is essential.
Third, job skill training can teach new job skills, improve proficiency levels of existing job skills, and increase opportunities for better jobs. Program assistance also helps with interviewing skills, resume writing, how to find jobs and/or jobs that provide advancement, and how to “dress for success”. This kind of a program requires a “job placement” coordinator who helps support those being trained by lining up employment opportunities. In other words, train them and hire them.
Fourth, more coordinated and efficient delivery of social services to those at or below poverty levels, providing housing assistance and foster care for homeless children, helping veterans find housing and medical attention, and providing rehabilitative support for those needing and willingly seeking relief from their addictions. Usually the “list” of social service agencies and what they offer is overwhelming for someone barely surviving, and who needs more immediate attention. A volunteer group coordinating such information and offering a single resource location (one-stop shopping) at which these desperate individuals and groups can obtain needed services and referrals is a strong step in the right direction.
Fifth, creatively marrying shelter housing with on-site social services, getting bureaucratic governmental services out of their distant offices and placed in-house to assist clients is an overwhelming need. This kind of service efficiency is warranted in light of the decreasing funding from governmental sources. A private model is the “gospel missions” who work with the chronic homeless, giving them a place to sleep, warm food, assigned responsibilities, expectations and behavioral boundaries (no drugs or alcohol), job training and rehabilitative support. Some even have on-site volunteer driven medical and/or dental care and legal assistance, the latter to assist with “luggage” the homeless may have and need resolved for them to move forward with their lives.
Sixth, many cities have seasonal “warming shelters” staffed by volunteers which house the homeless who cannot gain access to an established shelter when weather become inclement (dangerously cold). Such facilities have restrictions but offer short-term relief during dangerous weather conditions. Other cities have opened lobbies of large office buildings during freezing weather to give the homeless cover and warmth.
Seventh, creative shelters for the homeless, even if temporary, are emerging in some cities including “tent cities” (with portable bathroom facilities) monitored closely. Others have identified locations for motorhomes and trailers, yurts or villages of smaller shelter units. These are temporary solutions to a human concern and one way of providing shelter for those without it. But no one step will be totally adequate in meeting the diverse and almost imposing challenge. When a city, for example, closes their public restrooms, it only exacerbates the problems, not solve them for those living on the street.
Lastly, there is a learning curve for our communities. An image of homeless sleeping on the street or panhandling for money and food does not tell the whole story. Bringing the issues and complexity to the level of community awareness is a major step in reaching viable solutions for all those classified as homeless. Having media telling the stories and city councils leading community in awareness is crucial. Presentations before civic and service clubs extend those communications and can help in changing the perceptions of homelessness, generate collaborations, and pool physical and financial resources. Ignoring the homeless and their needs is not healthy or responsible.
Homelessness, in all its shades, is a social reality, regardless of the size, location or economic character of the community. It has been ignored for decades and though some attention has been paid in recent years, it continues to grow. Our cities are shockingly realizing the hidden populations will not just fade away. Costs continue to grow for cities in addressing the blatant needs. The hidden populations are part of the character of our cities and they rely on others to help them navigate what can be very impersonal, indifferent, and insolent. The warmth of giving hearts can certainly make another human life just a bit more bearable when there is less talk and more strategic and creative effort to feed, clothes, and shelter the least desirables among us, our hidden populations.
Lincoln City Homeless Solutions does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, color, familial status, disability, marital status, or source of income.