Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why Hasn't Poverty Been Eliminated?

  1. Poverty is personal. There are many factors that are the causes of poverty: war, disease, lack of clean water, inadequate housing, insufficient land. We don’t actually have enough information on most poor households to know what makes them poor to create a plan which accurately will eliminate poverty. Ending poverty begins with listening to the poor and then dealing with their issues.
  2. Poverty is social. Many people will figure out a way to live with what resources they have, but people who see them bring them down. There are people in slums or people who are homeless who are content with their lives. But others see them as disgusting or living in squalor, and that brings them down.
  3. Lack of will and organization. There would have to be a determined, coordinated effort by tens of thousands of organizations to make the end of poverty happen. This requires a surrender of organization’s personal goals to make it happen. No one really wants to do that. They’d rather see their ideals happen.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What Should I Do About Homeless In My Neighborhood?

Tim, nicest guy ever
When someone sees a group of homeless folks in the local park or a couple living in a van on their street, people are trying to figure out how to get rid of them.  Because, they figure, they don't belong there.  

Perhaps that's true.  Or maybe it's not.  Folks on the street are, more often than not, citizens of our town, of our neighborhood.  They just don't have a place they own.  So local public property is the only place they have.

What if we don't like them in our neighborhood?  We need to deal with them, and ourselves. But calling the police is a bad idea.  First, because we should really be calling the police for criminal activity, that is what they are trained for.  Also because it puts them in the uncomfortable situation of being someone else's babysitter.  If someone is trespassing on your personal property, then you can call the police.  But no matter how much I wish I could, it's not right for me to call someone for parking on the street in front of my house.  Even so, no one should be calling the police because homeless folks are on public property.

Here are some things that I did about the homeless in my neighborhood.
  1. I invited homeless folks to my house, to eat dinner with my family. I listened to them to understand their perspective and their lives. While some disturbed me, others became my friends.
  2. Talking to the city about giving space for them to be. Perhaps I don’t want some of these folks sleeping in my neighborhood (if they were noisy at night or whatever), but they have molecules so they have to be somewhere. So I spoke to city hall and the mayor and worked with them to create a piece of unused property that they could stay, even if only temporarily. I helped a homeless camp organize and establish rules for their camp. They were able to live peacefully for months there.
  3. Some of the folks, after I got to know them well and could trust them, I invited into my house to live with me and my family. I established rules and work for them to do and they lived with us for a while until they could get another place set up. This option isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t for every person who lives on the street, but if one gets the right “match” it can work out well.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Preparing for the Destination

"Before beginning a long and arduous journey the prudent traveler checks her maps, clocks and address-book entries and makes certain that her clothes will suit the weather she plans to encounter.  If the trip includes crossing national boundaries, she examines her travel documents for their validity and, to the best of her ability, furnishes her wallet with the appropriate currency for her destination.  This traveler urges us toward sober deliberation and stolid concentration.

"The second traveler is less careful, not so meticulous in planning the trip and, as a result, will encounter delays, disruptions and even despair. When disappointments mount to intolerable proportions, this traveler may even give up and return home, defeated.  We learn from this example to either prepare well or stay at home.

"It is the third, the desperate traveler who teaches us the most profound lesson and affords us the most exquisite thrills.  She touches us with her boldness and vulnerability, for her sole perpetration is the fierce determination to leave wherever she is and her only certain destination is somewhere other than where she has been."

-Maya Angelou

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Save Addicts

Bill Thompson is an ambulance driver and EMT in Illinois.  He is also a big-hearted man who I am proud to know.  And he wrote something that has been dear to my heart for a long time:

"The longer I spend in this field the more I realize I have to be a champion for addicts. Seems like every day lately I overhear, or take part in, a conversation that centers around addiction.
"The points being offered are usually the same, 1) Addicts aren't as good as the rest of us, 2) They choose to be addicts, and 3) Why is it our responsibility to save them?
"All three are points that make me want to punch a hole in a wall.
"1) Addicts are the same as everyone else. They are people, and I guarantee all of us are surrounded by recovered, or active, addicts and we have no idea. If anything, if we choose to turn our backs on those suffering from addiction then we aren't as good as they are.
"2) No one chooses to be an addict. The science bears this out, but beyond that, if you really think someone chooses to lose control and alienate those who care about them, I don't know how best to respond to that
"3) We can't save addicts. We can keep them alive, we can help them. That's the most we can do, and we do it because we are human beings. The person addicted to heroin is still a person, and it's my responsibility as a human being to help my fellow man, when I am able.
"Very few of you will read this, but this is a topic I care more about every day, and I'm not backing down."

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sweeps Don't Work

A "sweep" is a tool of a Western city to continually move their homeless from place to place, in order to make sure they know that they are not welcome in the city and to invite them to leave to another place.  Recently a friend of mine asked a police officer involved in the sweep where the homeless should go.  He said a national forest fifty miles away from the city.

Why sweeps don't work:

1. You can't use a stick to motivate someone who is beaten regularly

2. Homeless folks have molecules. If you move them from one space, they will have to take up another.

3. If neighbors complain about the homeless being under the freeway, they would like them worse on the sidewalk in front of their house.

4. To move homeless folks around means that they are more difficult for service agencies to find them, to help them and so to get them off the street.

5. 40 percent of homeless folks work, and forcing them to move on a regular basis threatens their ability to hold down a job.

Can you think of any more? 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Tent Living

To deny people the opportunity to live in a tent is to deny an ancient way of life. A healthy city allows for a variety ways of life, a variety of means of survival, according to a person's means.

Monday, May 29, 2017


“I will always be on the side of those who have nothing and who are not even allowed to enjoy the nothing they have in peace.” 
—Federico García Lorca

The Time Had Come

"Quietly they pack up their few belongings. Not saying a word to each other or those forcing them to go.
"The 'cleaners' are threatening to take an old persons walker. An old mans cart. A back pack because they are on the sidewalk next to my house and the sidewalk was posted. They threatened me with the cops. I moved my home and he told me to move it again he is going to cause me problems.

"Silently the homeless move down the road. Small groups and single people breaking off going in different directions. No communication. Just a sense of loss. A sense of defeat and anger. Shoulders slumped and heads down. They keep walking trying to just remember why they even bothered to wake this morning. Each one lost in their own thoughts their own devastation. Finally they look up and see how far they have come only to realize that even as far as they have come they will only have a few hours rest if that. They set down their heavy loads and Finally look at one another realizing that not a one of them can keep moving. The time had come for them to make their stand. It was time to stand and fight. No more flight."

-L. Karen Burch, living in an RV on the streets of Portland, watching her friends in tents be forced to move, even though their spaces were clean and on public sidewalks

Monday, February 6, 2017

Homelessness and Drug Addiction

If you see a bunny, you may be addicted.
I posted on Facebook recently that homeless folks were just as worthy as other folks, just in a different situation. I received a rebuttal from another person, having met at least one homeless person. His response could be summarized thus:
All homeless folks use drugs.
Drug users are weak and thieves.
Therefore, these are less worthy than others.
Well, I know a number of homeless folks who do not use drugs, not addicted to anything, and I know a number of drug users (also homeless) who are not thieves. But there is a stereotype there that has some truth to it. Allow me to unpack a general trend of the homeless and addiction.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, approximately nine percent of people who become homeless do so because of addictions. This doesn’t mean that others aren’t addicts, but it wasn’t their addiction that caused their homelessness. So let’s just say that 15-20 percent of people become homeless with an addiction. What everyone agrees on is that most people aren’t addicts when they become homeless.
The far majority of them. Approximately 70 percent of all people who become homeless every year find housing in less than a year, most of them in a few months. Most of these people certainly didn’t get housing maintaining or increasing their addictions. A few did. But most of them were never addicted to begin with and some gave up or reduced their addictions to meet their goals.
What about the rest? Well, the people who are generally considered “homeless” are those who have been on the street for more than a year. These are the folks who have been without a decent night’s sleep for at least a year. These are the folks forced to move, with everything they own, sometimes more than once a day. These are the folks who tried to get work, to get into school, to find a place to live until they had given up hope for themselves. These are the folks who have had their possessions stolen. These are the people who have nothing left but regret.
So almost all of these folks who are chronically homeless are also sufferers of chronic stress. And since they have no tomorrow, they need to forget. And drugs or alcohol offer that way out.
Again, not everyone takes that way out. Not everyone wants to be seen as the wino, the bum on the corner. Or, I should say, some folks have enough self-respect left to care what people think about them, so they do all they can to avoid that most disgusting, most degrading of American occupations. The man openly drinking a 40 ounce outside a convenience store, who is shooting up in a public restroom are really the only ones who have no self-respect left to give in this country. They really don’t care, because they’ve lost everything.
This is why people who think that folks in this state need a few months to brush themselves off and get out there and struggle for their sobriety, their self-respect and their survival don’t really understand the state of the chronically homeless, especially those who are addicted. It took at least a year, possibly years, to drive a person into abject hopelessness. It will take some time to climb out. I think of the way out as stepping stones.
1. Self-respect This stage will only happen when a person receives respect that they didn’t necessarily deserve. When they see others respecting them by giving them kindness and opportunities for hope, they will think that maybe their view of themselves need to change, and they want to earn the respect they are receiving.
2. Better living When they see themselves as someone who wants to live, they will see the squalor they live in, and want to improve their state. That desire doesn’t do anything unless they also have a hand up, because one cannot jump out of the ditch of homelessness themselves. But they will accept that hand, because they see the necessity of it. They may accept a place in a village, a spot in a treatment center, a place in a shelter they trust, so they could get a better life.
3. Strength But most people who are chronically homeless will fail at their first attempts to improve their life. Some are out of practice, some are unlucky, some are too sensitive to disrespect, some have mental health issues and some have physical health issues. It will require inner strength for them to try again. Some have it, and some don’t.
4. Progress One step leads to another, even if there are missteps. Entering into treatment sometimes leads to housing and outpatient treatment and possibly a job. Entering a wet village can later lead to living in a less chaotic dry village, which can lead to a job and permanent housing. Entering into a shelter can lead to a part time job and then a full time job and housing. No one’s path is the same. And the first step of progress can, with strength, lead to the next one.
My point is, everyone is worthy. People are worthy. The person you see as a worthless drug addict on the corner is worthy, and we can have hope for her even if she does not have hope for herself. A wino doesn’t have to live that way. But they will unless two things happen. Someone gives them respect. And someone gives them a chance.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Karen on the Street: Slow Motion

Living on the streets, time slows down. 

You lose track of days and weeks at a time. Time becomes what you can get done in a day. 

Get up, get ready, sometimes you take time for breakfast sometimes you don't cereal and milk are easy if you have it... Or you take time and cook... 

Then you start traveling either to a job you have that day or appointments or hunting down what you need to survive food and such... 

Getting money at some point to get the things you needs... Propane, gas, cigs, etc.. etc.. Charging things.... 

On top of that if you have animals you have their needs also. Some people say the homeless shouldn't have animals but our animals are sometimes the only thing that keeps you going. They depend on you to survive. 

Then you have your times where time hurries by where you can't seem to get anything done and there is so much to do. 

I know these things happen when you live in a house too but they really are different. Remember frontier days. Sometimes it takes a toll on a person and what they are trying to do to go forward. For every one step forward something takes you about ten steps back from where you were. 

You take it in stride or you break to the streets and go off the deep end. Each person is different in how they handle it.

-Karen Burch

Why Statistics about Homeless Folks are Tricky

In my classes and posts I quote a lot of statistics about homeless folks, and most of them are only worth the paper they are printed on.  (Get it?  They aren't printed on paper... ).

We want statistics, because we want to quantify "the problem", which is homelessness. If we can box it, measure it, then we can reduce it or eradicate it.  Were it so simple.  Homelessness isn't something we can distinctly measure and wipe off the map.  So much of homelessness is an attitude, both of the homeless and of housed neighbors.  And trying to measure homeless folks is like trying to count the drops of water in the ocean.

Here are some of the issues those who gather statistics have:

1. Homeless folks don't want to be found
In many cities, homeless folks and camps are targets.  Targets of the police, of housed neighbors, of people who take advantage of them, of highway workers and others.  Many groups automatically see them as criminals, or at least as "undesirables."  Folks on the street who would like to live a peaceful life find that hiding is the best way to do it.  If the police can't find them, then the likelihood is that those who wish to count the homeless can't find them, either.

2. Street numbers change
Not only do the numbers of homeless change from year to year, they change from month to month.  Most of the homeless have family, friends or jobs that will help them get off the street.  Sometimes the right friend just finds out, a family member's heart is tugged just right, or a family just needs to save enough money.  In the summer, friends and family feel less for those on the street than in the winter.  And there are cycles of time when landlords evict their tenants, and times when they don't.  If certain government programs for the ill, the mentally ill or the poor are cut, then homelessness increases. On the other hand, if shelters or programs develop, homelessness might decrease.  Or it might not.  So a single count every two years is woefully inadequate to give us a picture of homelessness at any other time.

3. Who counts as homeless?
Finally, statistics are remarkably different depending on who is being counted.  Recently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development posted statistics about Homelessness, counting only those who are on the street.  The Point in Time count every other year counts people sleeping on the street, those in their cars and those in shelters.  Others will count those forced to live in motels, on friend's couches or in other overcrowded situations.   Some will actually compare one group with another to try to show that they have almost eradicated homelessness.  Utah, for example, was able to claim that they reduced homelessness by 91 percent by changing the definition of who is "chronically homeless".   So numbers might not make sense, especially compared from one agency to another.

We need the statistics in order to give us a general idea of the scope of the issues involved, or to determine trends.  But exact counts are not possible, unfortunately.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

"Get a Job"

A homeless person is holding a sign, begging for change.  A man in an SUV drives by and shouts out, "Lazy bum!  Get a job!"

Little does the man in the SUV know that he is playing a role with medieval origins.

The concept that the poor are lazy is a very old one.  In the middle ages, the world was divided primarily between lords and serfs.  Lords owned all the land, serfs rented a portion in order to make their living.  If they didn't make enough money from their produce that year, their land was taken from them and they were destitute.

Even so, serfs didn't work very hard.  They were often considered "lazy" by their lords, who would randomly go and beat them in order to make them work. Of course, they had no incentive to work hard.  Their life wasn't going to improve, no matter what they did.  They would sometimes take the biblical advice to get drunk in order to forget their harsh lives. This only infuriated their masters more.

The feudal system slowly broke down during the industrial age, and serfs left their forefather's land in order to make a better life in cities.  However, they found much the same system, divided into hours when they used to have years.  They were still disrespected for a lack of work because they showed up late, because they took rest in the midst of their labors.

Many were fired from their jobs and they would loiter outside, trying to sell what little resources they had. This meant that they had a serious issue:  they did not have "real" work because they did not have an employer, a lord, or a master to tell them what to do with their time.  All they did was survive, which wasn't good enough in a land with lords.

In London, many of these "loiterers" were gathered up en mass and sent to North America to work on plantations or as servants.  Some were offered the opportunity to have a lesser pick of lands themselves, but by the early eighteenth century, that opportunity dried up unless one dared the savage lands of the West.   Those who remained had to find a lord or scrape up a living on their own.  Those who didn't obtain a master, or didn't become successful through entrepreneurship were called "lazy" and often shamed in public.

All along, these people were granted insufficient incentive and high shame no matter what they did.

The one today, who tells the man on the street "get a job" is enacting the role of the upper class, telling one of the poor class to obtain a master.  Because survival is insufficient a goal for those in a land of masters and servants. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Karen on the Street: Forced to Move

Who do I chew up and spit out for this one? 

TP Produce is making our campmates move out of the edge of the parking lot. I have no place to put 4 tents across the street only have room to keep 2 partly dry. 

Had to have been a complaint or the police calling the owners again. The stupidity and selfishness of people who can't go about their daily lives without causing someone with enough shyt on their plate some more. 

Here you're at work, lets tell you to move your tent. 
You're sleeping.. get up move your tent. 

They aren't blocking parking, they aren't messing with the trucks, 

WAIT.. WAIT.. Maybe it is seeing us out here cleaning up the garbage YOU throw down 

or maybe it's the fact we have chased away taggers serveral times from your trucks... 

No wait... 

The fact you are trying to live your life on public display to be judged convinced and imprisoned on the streets...

to have mistakes that aren't yours shoved in your face you are punished for someone else's misconception of who or what I am. 

So now Larry and Kenney and Kristy and our uncle's tent all have to move. Larry is the most challenging to move. He is someone that only 3 people can really handle he resects us and knows we will not take his crap. Kenny is scared change is hard everytime you do it and go away from comfort zones you withdraw a little more from the human race. Kirsty well I have no problems telling her to move. 😉 We will place her at the end of the line on the other side. 

We will work it out. We always do. Worst part of it all is now we have everyone has high tension. Just another day of people being uncaring, unfeeling, judgmental bigots

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Voice from the Street: Karen Burch

Karen with her husband, Paul in their home: their van
Karen Burch lives in her van.  She is threatened by the police, by others who pass through her neighborhood.  But she endures.  And she writes.

Karen is an articulate homeless writer who communicates the reality on the street, and how folks on the street support each other to survive.  Check out some of what she has recently written:

Sometimes I wish I could do more for some of the people out here. Like the young man who just joined our camp. He fits what we look for in family and campmates/housemates. Doesn't want drama wants to get where he wants to go at a pace he can handle. He's a veteran he deserves better then the streets. Our family member Gypsy Wanderer wants to work and hopefully will be called here soon as the weather is better. If not then he is going to start his disability (which he should be on). Paul and I never seem to make it to anything we need to do when it comes to that stuff something always comes up. Doing better at some of it making him take time. The need for a stable neighborhood for all of us is becoming paramount things like last night make feeling safe and truly able to sleep a difficulty when we all have PTSD and other issues.


One thing you have to have out here is a phone if you are trying to get off the streets or just making a living out here. Paul and I try to keep our phone on. Most of our friends out here and our family use our phone to get jobs. We us it for work and to let everyone know we are still alive and kicking. To many times our phones end up being the last thing paid because of more pressing needs at those times it becomes even more difficult to earn the money to pay it. Sometimes others help from the camp but again without the phone it is hard to get work. This time family helped to keep the phone on. We love you very much (you know who you are).


It isn't all bad living on the streets there are things that rarely happen now a days when you live in a house. First you are more connected to the people in your community (if you can stay in the area). Businesses and homeless alike see you everyday and get to know you as you get to know them. There is a stronger bond between neighbors out here. People more willing to help then a neighbor who lives in a house. We have patched up animals and people. We have helped when a fire happens pulling dogs and people out. We pull together when the police start harassing us. More so then those in a housed community. Some of the people I have met out here have touched my heart and every time they get cut loose about something I would like to hurt someone. Peoples past are just that the PAST. Who you are now standing in front of me showing me who you are now and where and who you want to be in the future counts a hell of a lot more than someones freaking past. We all make mistakes and pay for them no need to be punished forever. Not one of us is perfect we have no right to judge someone unless they prove they deserve to be judged. Never assume anything. That assumption could lead you to hate when there isn't a need for hate. These are things forgotten when it comes to the homeless.


Something I learned quick on the streets. DON'T lose who you are and don't lose your will and drive to accomplish what you want. It may take time to get there but at least you don't lose yourself and become what they accuse you of being. Losing yourself is far worse then anything else that could happen to you out here. You become what they say you are because they beat you down and run you down till you are to tired to fight. Unfortunately it sometimes backfires and instead of caving and becoming some of us stand up taller and start fighting back. I have rights. My house is my van. My HOME is my husband and our animals. I AM a CITIZEN of this CITY and of this COUNTRY.


I hate the terms houseless homeless. They are labels. We. Are. Still. Your. Friends, Your. Family, or Your Neighbor. Just because I lost a building with 4 walls doesn't mean I lost my home. That saying home is where the heart is. Its the truth. My HOUSE is our van. It works for us. Why is everything in this country a label. We are all equal.


So we have been getting lucky and getting little cook stoves. Some need work but we are sending them out. A way for people to start cooking at home. Its a good start for those that hate having to schedule their day around eating along with everything else. Showers, laundry, etc.etc.etc. It is something Paul and I have always tried to find a way to cook at home much healthier for us. That and we just like to cook. We cooked over campfires and barrels and many other things. Lol Although doing it the old way takes hours but it makes it fun. Another little step for some people and some camps. A way to start making things a little easier.


So our missing family member came home. I had been calling shelters and hospitals to find him. No hospital would tell me if he was there. Come to find out he had been in the hospital for 6 days and a hotel for 2. That is always a problem people disappear all the time and you don't know what happens to them. If they go out of your neighborhood "your stomping ground" you lose track of them. People don't know them like they would in your area. So until they come home you wonder where they are. If they are alright. IF they are coming back. When people go missing for to long Paul and I go looking put out the word in places where they go often.  They all come check in with "mama Karen". They know at least someone out here cares what happens to them because most don't have someone who would care. These are people out here. They are not garbage no matter what their problems they are people they are family. We are all just trying to survive. 


No matter what your name or how well known once you are on the streets or seen as a person who lives on the streets you become faceless. You become a label. Homeless.


Have you ever had your good nature always get the better of you? Sometimes I can't seem to stop myself from helping people no matter what they have done. Lol I know I am going to kick myself for this in the next couple of days. I really hate drama and it just landed on my door step needing a place for a tent so it won't flood and they can go work. Someone just slap me it will be quicker then a week of drama. Rofl


There are people who come out here and help because they honestly want to help. Then you have groups that come out to help because it's a school or sunday school "project". God told me to feed and cloth the poor (sorry Steve Kimes some do it for the wrong reason under the lords name.) They stand here and pray over you tell you have sinned but come now the lord will save you. God isn't going to give me a house unless I make the effort. It's not just the system though its the mentality of people NONE of us deserve to be put out like garbage and forgotten then told it is our fault. You beat the people down. At some point we are going to rise up.

If you'd like to read more about Karen, please follow her on Facebook, Karen Burch

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Ideas on Feeding Homeless Folks

On Quora, the question was asked, "How do I feed the homeless?"

Let me give you a couple suggestions that I’ve tried:

1. Find one homeless person and invite them out to dinner. Ask them questions, listen to them. Next time, take a different person out or the same person. But get to know them.
2. Invite a homeless person to your home to have dinner with your family. If they seem okay, invite them again.
3. Go to an organization in your area that serves the homeless. Learn what they do and why they do it. Ask a lot of questions. Then, if you feel ready for the next step, find an area of need that they aren’t meeting and see if you can meet it.
4. Find someone who knows the local homeless and ask them to help you set up a meal for the homeless in your area. Put up fliers and serve a meal in a central area for the homeless. If it works out well, come back the next week.
5. Keep sandwiches or well-wrapped food in your car and hand them out to beggars or at camps you see by the road.

Don't be pushy, don't give more than you came to give, be attentive to them as a human being.

Try not to replicate what is already being done in your area.  Join, don't replace.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Hope for Homeless Families

Cindy Hines has been involved in helping the poor her whole life.  In this podcast, Steve talks to her about her life of helping the poor, the importance of the Catholic Worker movement and her latest project, RVs for Families.

You can connect to Nowhere To Lay His Head podcast on iTunes, or you can listen to the interview with Cindy Hines here.