Counting the Homeless

David Breedlove
American Coalition of the Homeless


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



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