WHY HOMELESS SHELTERS ARE NOT THE ANSWER

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American Coalition of the Homeless

HOMELESS PEOPLE HELPING EACH OTHER

We are the Homeless

By David Breedlove

WHY HOMELESS SHELTERS ARE NOT THE ANSWER

There are about two million people in New York City that are homeless at any given time (the official HUD count is 75,303) living in squats, abandoned buildings, hovels, under bridges or in parks, I know, I was once one of those “East Village Others”.  There are 60,410 beds in homeless shelters in NYC according to HUD.

Shelters are a joke:

This is one example of the big-city homeless plight; multiply that by an equal number or more in Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, (which by the way are the largest growing populations of homeless in America) and you can see why homeless shelters are such a joke.

Some statistics:

I found these statistics on the internet and I don’t intend to encumber this article with a whole bunch of quotes and references, if you don’t believe it you can hunt down statistics for yourself; but HUD, the department of Housing and Urban Development recently offered to pay millions of dollars to cities across America to count the number of homeless in their cities.  The result of these (way underestimated) findings provided HUD with a reason to focus on more “permanent” housing for the homeless populations in many places, (such as cheap motels and defunct hotels) shutting down temporary shelters and church basements and putting even more people back out on the streets with no place to go except under a billion-dollar bridge or a patch of woods behind Walmart.

What would you do?

Now this might sound like a serious dilemma, but what would you rather do and where would you want to live if you were homeless?  Where would you go?  Would you prefer sleeping in a cot next to strangers, many who are sick with any and all kinds of diseases that neglected people catch and pass around or would you rather sleep out in the open air in a shelter you make yourself.  I think the answer is quite obvious.

The sweep:

Unfortunately, the bed in the shelter is legal, camping out is usually not.  You get busted, told to pack up and leave, or like the recent “homeless sweeps” in many cities all your possessions are “swept away” while you are gone…there goes your ID, your medicine, your little radio, your sleeping bag and everything you’ve got, while you are hauled off to a “facility for the homeless”.  There are laws that protect you if you are a legal resident, but these same laws go against you the moment you become homeless.

Reason to organize:

This is one of the reasons we organized the homeless of NYC back in 1967 when I found myself a homeless illegal “draft dodger” in East Village.  Of course, most of you are too young to remember the time when young men in this country were summarily rounded up (drafted) to stop bullets in southeast Asia.

Some history:

When I first started organizing the street people it was called “Diggers Underground” then later, in San Francisco for the “Summer of Love” we began calling it the “Poor People’s Coalition”, then in Eugene Oregon I got incorporated for the first time, that was 1975, incorporated as “Love Family”, but that name got trumped (no pun intended) by a group of commune dwellers in Seattle, so as to avoid confusion we just sort of merged into what we called the Yonderfamily.  About eight hundred of us back then traveled in buses and vans camping in “Peace” villages and followed the harvest doing farm labor and contract tree planting and forestry work just to enjoy the life of camping out in the woods. Now many years later and three more incorporations and name changes we are simply the American Coalition of the Homeless.

Homeless but not helpless

Give me a jungle and I am home; put me in a shelter and I am then really homeless.  One of the main reasons that I prefer the jungle to a shelter is the same reason the cops don’t like it.  It gives us a sense of community, a togetherness you can’t find in shelters, and the cops don’t like organized hippies and bums.  Also, many if not most shelters only let you come in at supper time, hear a sermon and go to bed in a barracks-like environment, men here, women over there in some other place, and kids???  Well, you won’t get them back!  In the jungle, the kids are free to play and enjoy their young lives in creek beds and woods.  The internet tells me that the largest growing number of residents in the camps and jungles are families with children.  Why?  It is easy to answer, they want to stay together and not be separated.

How about a drink?

What if you like a cold beer or a cup of wine before retiring?  No way—you can’t have any alcohol in those churchy places or even a cigarette, and you are locked in for the night after a certain hour; forget it too in any government run shelter.  What if you have lots of stuff?  The number of things you can bring with you to these places is very limited.  If you are one of those few lucky enough to land a HUD motel room you are much better off, especially if you have school-age children, but still keep your grab-bag handy because now social services will intrude into every function of your and your children’s lives.

Living in your car:

If you have a car and legal to drive consider yourself very lucky, but don’t make the mistake that many have made of seeking out a nice, quiet, shadowy place to sleep.  The cops will wake you and make you leave, or take you in if you have no insurance or any outstanding tickets or warrants.  The best place, believe it or not, is in the middle of an all-night super center parking lot and right under the bright overhead lights.  You can go in and “Shop” at any time, use the restroom, clean up, and if you are right under the light it is not glaring into your window.  Just don’t stay in the same place more than twice if you work there.

Work:

Nighttime work is another thing that few homeless people think of.  You won’t have the competition of everybody and his dog hanging a sign at every intersection.  The parking lot is an excellent place to work.  Say you need gas money or hold a sigh that says “NEED GAS, OIL…” and always underline oil, this works anywhere at night, in parking lots and rest stops on the freeway, but don’t hang in the same place too long.  After you get paid go your way.

Into the woods:

Cops don’t like to go very far into the woods, mostly they prefer to sit in their cars so if you want to camp out, don’t do it in any place that you can drive to or be seen by a car.  Go deep into the woods, hide your camp, stay quiet and you can camp in relative comfort as long as you are undetected.  There is safety in numbers of course, but when it comes to camping, get away from the crowd and find an isolated place.  If there is a bust, you will hear the main camp get busted and have enough time to get your grab bag and ease on out the back trail.  Always know ahead of time which way to go.

Dumpster diving:

Quickly and quietly get a few things and leave.  Don’t stock up, don’t take more than you can eat right away, save some for the poor folks who arrive next. If you need more come back later.  Don’t make lots of noise, don’t make a mess; keep it clean and quick.  Don’t goof around and by all means, do not sleep in the dumpster; you might get dumped.  You might die.

Although diving is legal this is one place where the poor are discriminated against all the time.  In 1988 the supreme court declared that anything in the dumpster is the property of anyone who takes it out of the dumpster.  The reason they did this did not have anything to do with compassion for the poor, but to allow the cops to pillage through someone’s trash without a warrant.  But even though local laws to the contrary cannot be enforced they can still illegally harass you.  Store managers and cops do not know and don’t really care that dumpster diving laws are not legal and in most instances, do not exist at all; they will come up with something else, say, trespassing, or disturbing the peace or even “resisting” which is a pet euphemism for arguing with a cop.  Don’t argue, just leave.

If the dumpster has a sign it is better to obey it.  If it is locked leave it alone, you can then get charged with breaking and entering even though it is only a trash can.  If it is up close to the back door, on the back porch or platform or loading dock you might be wise to leave it alone.

Squatting:

If you are in a squat, abandoned building, empty house, or inside any without permission from the owner it is illegal at this time although we are working on this as a legal issue to get some leniency for some things which are now illegal.  It is called “occupancy trespassing” because whatever it is, it belongs to someone.  However, if it belongs to you then you might be safe from prosecution even though they can still kick you out.  This is the way it is done.  There are municipal laws against living in a sub-standard dwelling that is not fixed up to code even if you own it.

Sometimes it is easier than you might think to actually get permission from someone to occupy, then it is not illegal.  Make a deal with the owner or person in authority to clean it up, fix it up, or just stay there for a while.  But even if you have permission it is still much better to have a rent agreement in writing with a signature to show.  Remember that paperwork of any kind is better than say-so.  It is easy to find the registered owner of any real property; just go to the clerk at the courthouse with the address or legal description and she will be glad to help you.

Keep it small, keep it quiet:

One time in Key West I was living in a squat and quite nicely until it became overcrowded and a nuisance to the neighbors.  When I was there only with my wife we were just another couple living in a run-down apartment.  Nobody knew we were squatting, but when other people started moving in and too many people coming and going then we had to leave. On Rockland Key we found an abandoned trailer and moved in.  After a while here came the cops.  they told us to leave saying the owners did not want anyone living there so we left and found out who owned the place.  The owner said she never told the cops we couldn’t stay there.  She said she was glad to have someone look after the place and gave us a letter saying so; so we moved back in.  Soon there were more than two dozen homeless living and camping around the place and the cops came back—right after we had gone.  The moral?  Don’t draw a crowd, it will get you run off.

Homeless Shelters:

The alternatives to public homeless shelters are many and varied; there is absolutely no reason to stay in one of those places more than long enough to find where you really belong. But one of the best places to find help is in one of those places.  Remember that they do the best they can in a nearly always thankless position and many homeless shelters exist because of the benevolence of one or more who are really giving all they can to help.

People who run these shelters do so many times out of the kindness of their hearts, never making a dime for their efforts and even sometimes supporting it all themselves.  The people they serve don’t want to be there and for that reason alone will complain about the services they receive.  The services are nearly always second-rate because there is never enough to go around for anything more than the bare necessities. The people who serve the poor are risking life and health to do a job with little appreciation.  They are subject to contagious disease, head lice, hepatitis, jaundice, flu, filth and whatever insanity happens to come in; and they will even wash your dirty clothes, give you a bath and a place to sleep.

The people in the community, the property owners, business managers, and others do not like the homeless shelter either and many times will discriminate against them as much as they will discriminate against the homeless people who receive help there.

Law enforcement agencies and housing inspectors are always up their butt making what they do or not do answerable to some official somewhere, and the shelter is always subject to being shut down or fined for one neglect or another.

So next time you need a place to get warm, clean and rested just remember what they have to go through to provide the paltry services that they do give.

 

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Counting the Homeless

David Breedlove
American Coalition of the Homeless

 

Friends;
I saw on TV that the City stands to get a lot of money to count the number of Homeless who are living on the streets and under the bridges and in abandoned property and “jungles”.  So just how are you going to count them? The answer sounds very simple to me; an answer so simple that it probably won’t be done, but if it could be done, it would solve two problems with one solution; it would give the City a recognizable and verifiable number of homeless people to report so the city can get the money offered to them, and it would provide the homeless with some means other than panhandling. What I am suggesting is for the City to give a small stipend from the forty-five million dollars they are seeking to give to any homeless person who will verify that they are homeless and sign up.
Jesus once told a rich man to sell all that he has and give to the poor, but the rich man could not do that; because riches usually come from greed. Not that all rich people are greedy, many are giving of their means to help the poor, but there are many who can’t—just as many rich who can’t give up their riches as there are poor bums who can’t get or keep anything.  Those who can’t give of their means are in a worse condition than the poor, because their illness is incurable and by helping them with more money you are only adding to their misery. Their need to identify themselves with wealth and success precludes any ability to give.

I am a homeless person who moved into the empty home abandoned by my late father when he passed away.  I have walked the streets of Springfield and the surrounding area and was a resident of the jungle in Lebanon forty years ago; therefore, I do know some things about the homeless, but what I don’t know is how an organization who sets up a program for homeless can be advertising on public TV and claim that it costs an estimated $30,000 per year for each homeless person.

I dare you to tell me where you get this information and how you know this and who gathered the statistics when the city admittedly has no idea how many homeless are walking the streets at any given time.  I am sure this kitchen might know how many come to them for assistance but I know the majority of homeless do not seek and do not want this assistance. Although it is a wonderful gesture to give a bum a sandwich and anyone can appreciate a gift of food; remember that we are homeless, not foodless.  We can get food stamps but they don’t give out stamps you can use at a motel or a rental unit.  We can get food but we have no place to put it.
The American coalition of the Homeless is not a Coalition to end Homelessness; we are the Homeless.  We are the poor.  Jesus said the poor you will always have with you.  I know that we cannot end homelessness.  As long as there are haves and have-nots you will have homelessness, therefore it goes without saying that you cannot end homelessness, but if you recognize the need and are willing to help support the homeless; have time, land or a home that you are willing to donate or share with those who are homeless you can do good for someone on an individual basis but please don’t say you are working to end homelessness, even Jesus Christ could not do that.  He was  homeless and had not where to lay his head.  He and his disciples camped with the homeless on a hill outside the east gate of Jerusalem.

Many arrive and seek only a place to hide in the woods.  I understand their condition because I came here in the same condition seeking to hide from a cruel world.  I became homeless after having been divorced and isolated from my friends and family.  Only my son stayed with me through it all.
I was diagnosed with “reclusive schizoid syndrome” a type of organic brain syndrome under the class of schizophrenia that causes one to avoid public places because of a fear or inability to exhibit appropriate social behavior.  People with this condition are many times anti-social, do not function well in society and often resort to insulting behavior or invite needless violence. They become unemployable and are oftentimes deserted by their friends and family and are compelled into self-inflicted isolation.  With help from the Mental Health people and then later at a Day treatment center, my condition improved somewhat, but I still prefer to stay out of the public and send out for what I need.  You won’t see people like me standing in the street holding a sign. “panhandling” or begging for a hand-out.  As a result of my own experience with this disease I opened my home and a hundred acres to others with the same or similar condition; then some of my friends assisted in incorporating as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit charity for that purpose.
I am not talking about the people temporarily down on their luck, who can be helped by shelters and assistance to get back on their feet and rejoin the society at large. Perhaps these are the people you are referring to as “homeless” and, I don’t know, I wouldn’t really call them homeless but perhaps they can be counted, given a room and presto, no longer homeless!  But how do you count the down-and-out homeless?  There are the people who can find or rent a place to stay for a month and stay there until the landlord throws them out for not paying.  Then they will repeat the process somewhere else to some other house owner who either by graciousness, pity, or stupidity lets them take advantage of his or her kindness.  I know these people well, having been there myself.

Some of us are so sick that we would rather starve than to leave and get help, food, or even food stamps. The food kitchens play an important part in the lives of truly hungry people, but some of us exhibit all the symptoms described above and prefer to remain in isolation. There are many of us who are manic-depressive and have been to the mental hospitals and other places;  but will miss appointments frequently due to not feeling well enough to go anywhere.
We prefer not to go into a store or supermarket and will rather go around back and get what we need from the dumpster to avoid public encounters. Dumpsters provide a valuable service that many times goes unnoticed and unappreciated by many who depend on this source so let me here and now thank those grocery store owners and employees who keep a clean and well-supplied dumpster.

We are also many times physically ill as a result of depression and the neglecting of our personal needs. Many of us have been to the hospitals so many times that we are refused to be admitted again, and then to some other hospital for the same reason. Springfield is a “ghetto of hospitals” and medical services of all kinds.  Many of us are in Springfield because of the excellent service it provides for those of us who need it.  Many chronic homeless people are in there for kidney failure and dehydration, exposure, or some other need, but many of us will use any excuse just to find a place with a caring person for a while.
Although I have been homeless for long periods of time I have only been in a shelter when entering an unknown city or to avoid incarceration or for some other reason could not find a suitable place in a jungle or under a bridge or a camp in the woods.  These barracks-type shelters are not the first choice, but the last choice for most of the homeless people I have encountered and if you are a couple, a man with a woman, forget it, you are summarily separated, and kids? Well leave it to say they got places for them too, but you may never see your children again.

Building more shelters cannot be the answer–not the answer for someone who suffers from schizophrenia (more commonly called chronic homelessness) or is paranoid of people and close quarters, or one who is afraid of forced confinement, incarceration, or one who has a family, or one who is dependent on alcohol.

I raised my five children camping in the woods or traveling in an old bus or travel trailer from place to place.  I am one of the oldest homeless anywhere but now I have an old house to live in.  I am past seventy years old and became homeless when I was ten.  My father was an officer, discharged in 1946 from O’ Riley General Hospital. He bought a home on the G.I. Bill but due to unfortunate circumstances lost it and we moved into a used travel trailer in 1956.  I was raised a traveler, and my children were raised as travelers.  I now live east of Springfield in the house abandoned by my late father when he died; the trailer we grew up in is parked here and my brother and his wife who are older than me live in the trailer and I feel very fortunate to have this house that most people would call unlivable.

People have come to Springfield to get help for the simplest of needs, here to this town because it is a “ghetto of hospitals.” like I mentioned.  Many of these people are now a part of our community and doing as well as can be expected, and many who came here in need have left here to join other communities as “healed” although we call it graduation, and some are not at all functional enough for “graduation” to a self-supporting lifestyle. Some are life-long residents of the homeless camps and will never leave as long as there is not a better place to go.
It is my sincere request that the City will help the homeless with the things that we need. Many of us are in need of professional psychotherapy much more than housing or a job that we neither desire nor can cope with. Many will be happy just to be left alone in a little homemade shack by the railroad track like the song says, or bring it up to date, a camp by the freeway such as the one that I have called home for many years.
How much money did the city make by cleaning out the homeless who have lived there in our “jungle?” Or is that what costs $30,000?  Perhaps you never even heard of this event as very probably it was not published in the newspaper—nothing anybody would be interested in reading. If an equal number of public funds were spent vnot kicking people out of their camps but providing a place, a woodland community, a jungle by the tracks–if the city would spend some of that supposed estimated $30,000 per homeless person per year to buy or annex a piece of woods where homeless people can go and build their own private shelters; would that be asking too much? Oh! You say; who would control them to prevent crime? Who is doing that now?  The way it is now there is no protection; instead we have to hide from the very people employed to protect you!

Who is protecting us now? Who is interested in our medical, educational, vocational, and other needs besides “homeless shelters”?  We are.  We are the Homeless and we survive by the kindness of others.  So just what is this city willing to do to “help” the homeless?  Are they going to help the homeless?  Really?, or help the programs that homeless people neither need nor want that do not really help the homeless?

These are serious questions that should be addressed and well explained—not that if we can only count the actual number of homeless in Springfield we can get money for it from HUD, or maybe even guess how it cost an estimated $30,000 per person like the TV add by “the kitchen” to give the homeless a sandwich for only half that amount!

Where does the money go? Has there been any feasibility study? Has there been any actual investigation in what the homeless people actually cost?  Is there any consideration or notice of how much money is made from the homeless?  It is my opinion that it does not cost very much, not nearly as much as the money received in grants, fines, and many other kinds of “plunder buckets” received and claimed to “end” the homeless but never actually used for or given to really benefit the actual homeless people.

What would they want to use our money for? Have we even been asked? They have not asked me;  I am an expert in what the homeless people need and want.  They have not asked the coalition of the homeless what we, the homeless, would like donations and grants to go for and if this money is really there to help us why have we not been notified or even asked?
Is anybody really interested in what the homeless really need and want; or is this going to be another one of those plunder buckets that are never seen by any of the people it is intended to help?  Who is investigating?
Don’t just count us, count us in.  Many are crippled, feel useless, and are rejected by their own families. Many have obnoxious or crude habits or are just confused. Many of us would be happy to have the roof of an empty building over our heads where the cops won’t run us off.

We would like to feel protected. You want the police to protect you in your own home, and we want the same protection–protection from the gunfire and violence that many of us experience as we huddle under a plastic tarp or sheet of plywood through the long, terrifying night hiding from cops and robbers alike. We want protection from the daily discrimination of the more affluent who are offended by “panhandlers”, or the property owners who want us gone, and business people, and shoppers who are disturbed at the very sight of these worn out grubby “bums.”  Do they really think that offering a panhandler a day-labor job will end panhandling?  No more than offering a job to a rich person will end their plundering.

Sometimes I think nobody really wants to help the homeless as much as they want to get rid of us.  To “end homelessness” as they call it is to end our very way of life, to make us live in a house or put us away in a shelter or some dilapidated hotel room along with all the social restrictions and rules and programs to “end homelessness” in much the same way as this same mentality sought to end the native American’s way of life.

We can be at home camped out in a wayside campground or a place in the woods, protected by the police rather than rounded up like so many rats.  We need a home in our own locality where we can go and feel as free and safe as you are in your home, or at least some place to focus on when we say; “I want to go home now.” When you are tired and weary you want to go home. We are tired and weary as we walk among you—all of us—You can see it in our faces, every one of us if you ever bother to look us in the eye.  You won’t see anyone of us who is not tired and weary in the extreme. It is because we have no place to call home because we are rounded up and driven from our homes and humble shelters in abandoned places throughout your city.

The City will do well, and save money, to provide housing for the homeless, real housing would be nice, a program to rebuild and reoccupy the many sub-standard homes the county gets stuck with would be very nice, and become a source of revenue for the city; or if that can’t be done because of zoning restrictions, even just a piece of woods by the river designated and set aside—and protected—for, and only for, homeless to build their own camps.

This is what the Ocala National Forest once used to do for the homeless people displaced from Orlando, and other places.  I say used to, back when I was one of the homeless who lived there. The campgrounds made by and for the homeless that have not been entirely shut down are now “pay” campgrounds where one must buy a permit and limited camping for only two weeks before moving on.  Many places provided by money for the homeless are available to all but the homeless. President Abraham Lincoln set aside places for the homeless, he called “National forests”.

The beautiful camp at Buck Lake that I once called home, along with a dozen or so other families of displaced people, is now closed, chained, and growing up in palmetto and alligators again.  Too many homeless people were actually living there making it untenable for the people who wanted to leave their home in the city and enjoy a weekend in the National Forest or the hunters to run their dogs to chase and kill wild game.

We are the American Coalition of the Homeless, we are incorporated by the State of Missouri as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit charity.  We are fully able to represent ourselves, but please don’t belittle us by some stupid and unrealistic figure like each one of us cost thirty thousand dollars per year to support.  This does not help us, it is demeaning and unrealistic and cannot be backed by any sort of statistic. We know it is not possible to estimate how much money is made from us, not to mention if we cost the city anything at all.

I do know that law enforcement do not serve and protect the homeless but they make plenty of money from us.  City housing programs make money from us.  The Department of Urban Development pays the city plenty to estimate how many of us there are without even asking us, and food kitchens and other service organizations use us to get contributions to feed us as if we really need to be fed.

All we are asking is for you to take a realistic look at the displaced people you call homeless and if you want to make a donation do so with our thanks and gratitude to any number of organizations with their hands out for your money.  If you donate directly to us we promise not to use it to feed the homeless or to stick them out of sight in a room lined with cots or to support any of the various plunder buckets now in existence.  You will be donating directly to us to help us in what we need to survive.  Maybe a box of tampons, a place to get a hot shower, or a good tent, camping equipment, blankets, a kerosene heater, but above all to acquire legally a place in the woods to put a camp or even a house you no longer can keep fixed up to the satisfaction of the building inspectors that we can fix up through public support for real affordable housing for a homeless family.  There are so many things that we can really do to help ourselves with your donations made payable directly to us.  Make a tax deductible check the old fashioned way, mail it to the American Coalition of the Homeless at 2110 Ledge Rock Rd., Grovespring, MO. 65662