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.