“The Fabric of America”-The Truth About Homeless Shelters

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By: Jennifer Lawson-Zepeda

I’ve been reading some ridiculous perceptions that the homeless have some sort of freedom and this makes me sick to my stomach.  There actually are a group of people who romanticize homelessness.  They discuss it like it is a trip to some Floridian beach where you set up your tent and barbecue grill and beach chair; then, sit back and observe the setting sun and green flash along the skyline.I can’t tell you how sick this makes me, because it does everything to minimize the condition of homelessness. What I recall from my days of homelessness was about as oppressive and enslaving as some of the poverty conditions I’ve seen in other areas of the world.

I recall a strong sense of exhaustion from simply trying to survive; two sore arms from carting my worldly goods around in a carry-on suitcase every single place I went; and two of the worst weeks of sickness I’ve ever suffered through in my life.

Not only did I come down with the flu during my days in the winter shelter and living for two weeks on the streets; but I was so sick I passed out in one emergency shelter.  The diagnosis when I was treated at the hospital included:

  • diarrhea
  • syncope
  • bronchitis
  • a middle ear infection

…All at the same time.  And since I had no place to use the restroom or sleep during the day to get well, I laid on the lawn in front of the Glendale library, begging God to just take my life and end that misery.At night, I was forced to stand in line for two hours just to get a cot in the winter shelter so I could collapse on an army cot and freeze all night (until someone took pity on me and found extra blankets for me). After being forced out of the Glendale Adventist Hospital for not having insurance at 2 a.m. and not knowing where I was since I had been taken there by firemen; I was left to wander around alone and try to find somewhere safe to lay my head without blankets in the cold weather.  I was so disoriented that I walked around the hospital three times before I figured it out and wandered down the street for a mile to a church to pass out under it’s eaves alone.  I never would have been released in that disoriented state had I not been homeless; or had I been accompanied by someone that knew me.  And it was because someone found me that I’m probably alive today; because I’ve never been that sick in my life.

Does that sound like a Floridian vacation plan to you?

I slept on the cold hard pavement of a church for two weeks, not in a tent under the lovely stars and ocean winds.  I ate foods I couldn’t even identify after being starved for four months, just to get some nutrition and keep alive.  I had no money and was denied general relief because I had returned from El Salvador and had to be in the country for fourteen days before I qualified for that.  They called it a residency requirement, even though I had been in El Salvador on a tourist visa.  Even then, it took months for me to receive my first cash aid; because the case worker was playing power tripping games and sending me on goose chases to get four different bank statements, including statements from accounts closed ten years prior.  So I didn’t have those cocktail dollars to sit back and sip margaritas.

Nor did I have time to witness beautiful sunsets, since I had to be in line to enter shelters for two hours before 6:00 p.m. in order to get a cot.  And once I checked in, there was no leaving, even if I HAD the energy to cart my luggage to one more place that day…which I didn’t.  You see, taking your possessions through every type of metal detector and search to qualify for programs to help you takes a great deal out of you.  And toting a 50 pound bag behind you everywhere is not fun either.  And at 6:00 a.m. I was forced back into the cold to sit in the darkness until dawn broke, because the winter shelter closed at that hour.  I sat in the cold until 9:00 a.m. when the library opened and went in there to warm up before the sun came out and I could lie on the lawn as if I was reading a book.

Those were some of the hardest days of my life, because simply trying to exist without a home when you are ill takes vast energy reserves that you really don’t have when you are homeless.  The exhaustion of it all is still a nightmare for me.

So, who ever romanticizes being homeless — oppressed and persecuted by shallow shelter workers each day or case workers with major inferiority complexes to exist, is sick in my mind.  Even more sick than I was when I was homeless.

Declasse or Privileged Freedoms? You Tell Me!

I’ve been writing many blogs that represent homeless interests and trying to give people an idea of what it is like to live in this oppressed state.I want to address the other side of homelessness, now. The people who remain homeless to shirk social responsibility; because to deny these people exist is dishonest.  So this post is about:
  • Deadbeat dads
  • People who sponge off government aid
  • Young people who prefer not to work
  • Alcoholics
  • Drug addicts
  • Criminals and con artists

All of the people who make it tough for those who genuinely find a time in life where they are down on their luck and need help.Recently, I read a young man’s statements in a homeless forum where he was bragging that he was about to abandon his wife and two kids.  He was choosing to take up some “adventure” of homelessness, and in his warped mind he thought he would be living some life of survival and freedom.  He had the typical profile of selfish young men who abandon their kids: living with his wife’s parents; she was supporting him while he sat around all day conjuring up some Walter Mitty dream of a violent revolution against the U.S.  In short, he blamed the people of the U.S. for his poor decision making and life’s losses and now wanted to abandon his offspring and prove what a real loser he was.Unfortunately, there ARE people like this in homeless shelters.  They are the men who call all women “bitches and ho’s” to empower themselves; and who buck up at the first opportunity they can to prove how tough they are until a man takes up their challenge.  Then, they back off and apologize and become suddenly quiet until they can confront a woman.  They are abusive.  They are the lowest form of scum on this earth.  They are the scrubs that nurse off the social tit of society.

Then, there are the young people who drop out of high school around their junior year, partying their lives away and realizing in their twenties that their personal resume represents them on more on the level of a mentally challenged person than a potential employee.

Many of them have had a litter of kids by the time they’ve reached twenty one; and later had them taken away for abusing them.  They have five “baby-daddies” and are pregnant again.  They are “baby-daddies” who are impregnating another bimbo.  They spend all day in movie houses instead of employment centers; sometimes carting their offspring along to pass time.  They spend all their food stamps at hamburger stands or taco huts, instead of planning their meals to feed the kids healthy foods.  They may attend parenting classes, but they are so focused on themselves that they interrupt the sessions with a flurry of cellular calls instead of listening and learning how to raise their offspring.

In addition, there are the under thirty and thirty-ish adults who have spent their entire adult life smoking pot and other drugs, seeking drugs, selling stolen cell phones to fund it and hanging with others of like minds.  They are chronically homeless because their families have tossed them out long ago for their selfish and disrespectful behavior; and they’ve opted to live up to the loser label.  They will tell you they are “spare changing” and you see them on the streets in that pride-less state, begging for change instead of begging for a job.  They know every trick to get every free meal and every government benefit that exists.

Many of them are also the career criminals and con artists that pay twenty-five cents on the bus, explaining they have no more to pay when they have twenty bucks in their pockets.  They will talk fast to con you out of money.  They are the people who will connect themselves to the opposite gender to suck their financial well dry.  The women will offer oral sex for a pack of cigarettes and consider themselves marital material.  And many degenerate into the drunks and druggies that become chronically homeless.

So there!  I’ve called them what they are.

But the reason I did this is because they ARE NOT the majority of homeless people today. They ARE the most visible though. 

The shelters I stayed in had an assortment of life’s losers…there is no doubt.  I slept beside a crackhead one night that spent all night stroking himself.  I slept beside hardened gang bangers.  I slept beside women so tough from abuse that you didn’t even look their way; or they might have knocked you out.  All kinds of people who screwed up their lives and had a chip on their shoulder to prove it!

But I also slept next to many middle aged men and women who had once been middle-class people like your neighbors.  Ex-home owners.  Past secretaries, cement pourers, construction workers, hospital workers, assembly workers, accountants…you name it.  And they were trying as hard as they could to recover their lives.  They were not the ones that received the opportunities to do so, though.  They were overlooked and left to fend for their selves.  Maybe homeless shelters have the attitude that only the toughest survive.  I know society does.  And I know that to overcome homelessness, you have to adopt this attitude for yourself.

I hope reading this will bring reality to the condition of homelessness.  What you think exists in these shelters DOES exist.  And these people are shameless.

But there are so many people who may have been your neighbors in shelters today in the U.S. that we should be questioning when we decided to accept this spiral in lifestyles for middle class people.  And it is one of the reasons to support the OCCUPY movements across the U.S. and throughout the world.  The average Joe is now homeless, not out of failing in life, but because the wealthy have capitalized on controlling the masses by keeping them in the hardest conditions to survive.

Body Counts and Federal Grants

Why do you have to sign in each time you register for help when you are homeless?  The answer isn’t as simple as it seems.  The simple answer is that it verifies that different people are being helped through homeless services so the facility can qualify for federal and local city grant monies.But is that accurate?  Not if you consider the services offered and who they go to and who they don’t.

Let’s take your average Joe who becomes homeless after years of unemployment who doesn’t have a substance abuse problem as an example.  And let’s compare that to a person who has suffered years of substance abuse issues.

We’ll name the average unemployed guy, Joe; and call the woman with ten years of substance abuse issues, Kate.

Joe signs into a transitional shelter reading the informational sheet that if he uses any substance during his stay it will be grounds for removal.  So does Kate.

Joe has a history of responsible tenancy until he was evicted recently for non payment of rent.  Kate has been kicked out of several apartments for creating a disturbance due to her alcoholism.

Joe is expected to save his money towards a down payment on an apartment and follow the rules of the shelter; so that he can get his life back on track.  Kate comes into the shelter time and time again, so drunk she can barely function; sometimes, she is even brought to the shelter by the local sheriff.  She spends every penny she makes and saves nothing towards the deposit or rent on an apartment.  She is forgiven for breaking the rules because she is a special project of one of the Directors who is trying to gain additional grant monies for placing chronically homeless people in shelter.

Joe spends 60 days in the transitional shelter busting his butt and trying to find work to get himself off of general relief.  Kate busts her butt seeking another bottle to dull her feelings of inadequacy in life.  After 60 days living as a model client in the program of the shelter, Joe is told he has to move to another transitional shelter because his time is up and he hasn’t found a job or apartment.  After 60 days and a long history of breaking every rule in the shelter, Kate’s time is extended and she is told she is about to get a voucher for HUD housing that Joe is not offered.  Joe is caught with alcohol on his breath and is thrown out of the shelter.  Kate is allowed to continue showing up obviously drunk and is allowed to remain.

How does this happen, you ask?

Because placing Kate is a special project.  Her case will keep the body count that the shelter is helping much higher than placing Joe.  Kate will be placed in a Section 8 HUD Housing apartment and most likely fail to maintain it, much as she has done throughout her history of substance abuse; because she is not treated for the condition that causes her problems.  Joe will most likely succeed in maintaining his residency and the apartment will remain occupied and he will have an opportunity to get back on his feet and stop one more person from being homeless.  Kate’s tenancy will end much as it has in the past; and the apartment will open up again for another special project placement.  Kate’s situation offers a body count for placement and opens the apartment up for another body count for placement when she fails.  After all, it’s not the shelter’s fault that she has substance abuse issues and they can say they tried to help her, right?  Joe’s case only offers one body count for placement; because he isn’t a problematic person..

And such is the way shelters handle these “special projects” where they really don’t help the person accomplish the task of gaining a stable life condition.  But it does provide more funding for the shelter who claims they are helping a number of homeless people.  In shelters, those signatures and body counts are everything.  They are used for advertising on web sites…citing hard placement cases that the shelter has overcome; as applications for special grant funding; and for an array of reasons.  Joe’s case is simply one homeless person that most likely will recover his life.  It isn’t a sexy marketing tool for shelters.  It doesn’t qualify for higher funding for having many complexities.

Now the question is…why aren’t grant funding investigators looking into how many people succeed in remaining housed AFTER they are placed and figuring those numbers into success metrics?

And there you have the profit and loss of housing homeless people and why many shelters seem to operate in a biased fashion when dealing with various homeless people.  Why doesn’t the general public know this?  Guess!

For more, check out Jennifer Lawson-Zepeda’s blog at http://lawsonzepeda.blogspot.com/

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