Innovative Ways People Are Helping The Homeless
There’s been a lot of uproar on the issue of homelessness recently. Matters like this always come out of the woodwork a little more during an election year, and incidents like the clearing of San Francisco’s tent city before Super Bowl weekend have a way of getting people fired up.
There are a lot of things that can be done to help the homeless population. From advocating for them, to providing them with much needed supplies, the list goes on and on. But sometimes, their needs aren’t as simple as most imagine. Check out some of the more positive things that are going on around the country:
Changing The Stigma
One of the most valuable things anyone can do for any downtrodden group is take a closer look, and make a public effort to change misconceptions. A 2015 SAGE Open Study surveyed the lifestyles and goals of male homeless shelter residents. Kelly Schwend and Maureen Cluskey, both professors at Bradley University, and Michael Cordell, a researcher for several universities, found that “the group had a strong sense of responsibility for their own actions, a desire to learn, and were motivated to make a meaningful contribution. Goals focused on obtaining employment and securing housing.” This study shows that, contrary to popular belief, not all homeless are lazy drunks who have no intention of bettering their situations.
These days we hear a lot about how housing is the best solution to homelessness, and it’s been asserted that permanent housing is actually a cheaper and more effective model than our current one. Dr. Thomas Chalmers McLaughlin from The University of New England hosted a webinar to discuss the real cost of homelessness. He opens up a discussion about the do something vs. do nothing advocates, and uses real, research-based methods to point out the strengths and flaws of each. These professors are not only using their knowledge and skill to challenge the status quo in an attempt to make the current world a better place.
Areas where the homeless commonly gather, or areas where large numbers set up camp, often get a bad reputation for being strewn with trash. I think that this is because people assume that the homeless are dirty, or lazy, or just don’t care. In all reality, they don’t make any more refuse than we do. The only reason our homes and public areas aren’t littered with garbage is that someone pays for trash receptacles and pick-up services. Homeless populations outside of shelters rarely have access to trash pick-up. Often times, businesses in the area that have dumpsters will lock them up to keep others from using them, which compounds the problem.
Refuse management is an often overlooked need. Norm Voss of Prince William County, Virginia saw this need and organized a cleanup effort that removed ten tons of garbage from an area that had needed it for too long. Employees of the Emmaus Women’s shelter in LaGrange, Georgia also saw a similar need in an encampment that had sprawled unknowingly. They organized a similar cleanup effort, and said they’d come back and do it again when needed. In both of these instances, individuals saw a need rather than a reason to hop on a soapbox, and they filled that need.
Getting Out Of The Cold
There are too many tragic instances of homeless individuals being hospitalized or even dying from exposure to extreme temperatures. There are times where it’s just not safe to sleep outside, and The Department of Human Services in Washington DC understands this. There isn’t always room in shelters, and even when there is, individuals dealing with mental illness or developmental disabilities might not be able to find them. Instead of keeping its fingers crossed and hoping that kind strangers will offer directions or transportation to a safe place, DC’s DHS provided its residents with The Hypothermia/Hyperthermia Hotline. This is a number that can be called 24-7 by individuals in need to locate a nearby shelter. If a DC resident spots an individual they feel is in imminent danger that may not be able to get themselves to help, they can also call the hotline and a service will come pick up the person. Services like this are invaluable tools for the entire community, and they save lives.
More Than Just Necessities
It’s true: food, clean water, and warmth are very basic necessities that every human needs to survive. Making sure everyone, even the homeless, has access to these things is the least we can do. Offering the bare minimum is fine: it keeps people alive. But why just keep people alive when we can help them thrive? There are so many talented people out there whose skills can enrich the lives of others, and San Francisco’s Blue Bear School of Music is full of them. Their Little Bears Program sends musicians to local community centers and shelters to offer music education to underprivileged and homeless children. Music helps with cognitive and emotional development, and it’s also just fun to learn about and participate in, especially for the youngsters.
The number of homeless children in the US is startling, and this is a tragedy that can be approached in so many ways. Giving every child a safe home is unfortunately not an option given our current state of affairs, but Kendra Stitt Robins, founder of Project Night Night, understands that there are small things that can be done. Losing a home is an incredibly tumultuous event for a child to experience, and it can cause emotional trauma. Project Night Night provides homeless children with a security blanket, a stuffed animal, and an age-appropriate book. Not only do they promote literacy, they provide some of the small comforts of home, which is an invaluable way to help maintain a child’s well-being in a time of upheaval.
Showers For Those In Need
San Francisco’s own Lava Mae provides “radical hospitality” to those in need. This nonprofit has outfitted a fleet of busses with showers and donated toiletries that travels the city daily. Founder Doniece Sandoval recognized the city’s desperate need for facilities for the homeless, and she understood that static locations were not the answer. Not only are the busses easier to maintain on her own terms, they also allow her to take these services to the areas and people who need them most.
Laundry For The Homeless
Another often-overlooked need is access to laundry facilities. Shelter residents may or may not have access to washers and dryers, and those outside of them are at the mercy of whatever resources come their way. It’s common for homeless individuals to throw away clothing because they have no way to launder it. Beyond that, access to showers and soap only goes so far to help an individual prepare for something like a job interview if their clothes are dirty.
An LA-area group called Laundry Love gets together and takes over a laundromat for a night, providing quarters and laundry soap for individuals who don’t have access to them. Dignity On Wheels of Palo Alto, California takes mobile facilities to another level. Their specially designed vehicles provide shower facilities as well as washers and dryers, and the mobility aspect allows them to move around to where they are needed.
Flip ‘Em The Bird
The Man, that is. Sometimes, especially in the aftermath of disastrous legislation or action, the best thing you can do is give a giant middle finger to the establishment. There’s definitely something to be said for standing up for those who are repressed and underserved.
In Early December 2015, Boise, Idaho’s city council called a special session and decided to clear out Cooper Court, a tent city that had been set up in the area for months, right before some big wig investors were set to visit a nearby development. Occupy Boise and ACLU-Idaho organized a protest literally overnight. People showed up and stood right in the face of the police as they were stripping homeless residents of their only belongings and vacating them from their safe haven.
A similar effort happened in San Francisco before Super Bowl weekend, and city residents made sure their voices were heard by setting up their own tent city right next to Super Bowl City. Bay area residents took their solidarity to another level and proceeded to recycle Super Bowl City and turn it into homes for the homeless.
Sometimes you have to get a little creative to get your point across. Back in 2012, a group of cheeky individuals moved their living room furniture into a Bank of America lobby to protest the shady loan practices that led to so many losing their homes to foreclosure. In response to Airbnb’s expensive and insensitive ad campaign to stop a bill that would regulate their business and purportedly keep them from worsening the homeless crisis, protesters filled up Airbnb’s atrium with tiny protest signs attached to balloons.
Solidarity couldn’t quite save the day in any of these cases, but it did create waves that are still reverberating through both cities. It created inspiration, both for the victims and their activists, which is an incredibly valuable thing.