Monday, March 9, 2009

Mile Stone

I'm coming up on one year off the streets and into this little transitional housing apartment. It has not been easy keeping it.

When first getting off the streets and out of shelters, there is a certain exuberance homeless people feel. So many of the things most people take for granted, like having one's own shower and toilet and stove and storage and privacy, are viewed as great luxuries by the formerly homeless.

But, after some adjustment time, the shock of changed environment hits. For years I was constantly surrounded by other people. Homeless people, mind you. And not always the best company, but still, there was always activity, a conversation whenever one wanted. I was never alone, even if I felt lonely. Yet, now in my own little place I was completely isolated. And the desire to be around people again was strong. It is not uncommon for recently housed people to revisit shelters for this very reason. The transition is too fast, to extreme, and is difficult to handle. And this was the first hurdle I had to deal with here.

Then there was the need to come up with some kind of rent payment. Funny, but one of the qualifications for getting this place was that I was unemployed, (as well as homeless). And yet I had to agree to come up with money and pay rent from the very beginning. Thankfully some readers responded to this need, and I was able to pay rent, for a while from their donations. But, still I was living month to month on this. And was having to get food and other necessities with donated money as well. And it seemed for a while, for being behind on rent, that I should have been evicted. I even received a couple eviction notices. When I'd come home at night I was fully expecting the locks to be changed on the door. For a while, I didn't know from day to day whether or not I'd be homeless again. And I almost just said "screw it" and went back to the shelter, just to avoid this particular agony. But I held on anyway. New arrangements have been made, and my living situation is more secure now than it's ever been, in this place.

I have also had a great variety of neighbors here. I really don't socialize with them. But that doesn't prevent having encounters with them either. Most of them are 'normal' enough, but some can be rather bothersome. Also, I was told that before I moved into this apartment that the previous tenant sold dope here. And for a fairly long time I was receiving a great number of visitors late at night and early in the morning. There would be a knock at the door at 3am or so, but I wouldn't answer. Eventually, that all subsided and I rarely get a visit like that anymore. It was unnerving all the same. And my first neighbor next door was still dealing. And I had to deal with all that traffic, until he moved out.

Another of my goals set, and as part of the conditions for staying in this program, was to get into treatment/therapy. My case manager kept saying, "I just think it would be good for you." ha ha. Well, for the past year she's been working to get me into some treatment. And I've not be very cooperative in that regard. But just last week, I started up sessions again. And this time I have a good therapist, so the likelihood of my sticking with it is fairly good.

And now Spring is coming upon us. Finally, relief from the cold weather is here. What a blessing that always is; to be able to go outside without jacket and knit cap and several layers of clothing, to not feel the sting of cold air and wind, more and more sunshine is available, one's senses feel a sense of renewedness (if that is even a word). I am much more relaxed and happy and grateful this time of year.

I feel like I've finally achieved something being here, that I've made a breakthrough of sorts, that I've put some real and measurable distance between myself and homelessness. So things are really looking good for me now, and I really feel like things will continue to progress and get better for me.

Thanks for coming around this ol blog. I'm still not going to be blogging regularly again for a while, if ever. Just so you know.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

This Is All Very True

The Federal government puts on a good show..all style and no substance. Local governments create "homelessness commissions" where city leads talk about homelessness yet only sit around with their thumbs up their butts. And homelessness goes unchanged...and many people suffer for the lack of action.

Today, people all across the U.S. read similar headlines in their local papers: "City of receives $X million dollars to combat homelessness."

Yup, this is that wonderful time of the year when the Department of Housing and Urban Development distributes Continuum of Care funds to communities throughout the country. But don't let the headlines fool you. The ceremonial awarding of cash and bold newspaper headlines is, more or less, just a carefully orchestrated political stunt.

As Brian at the Coalition for the Homeless in Cleveland points out, this major flow of cash from the government into homeless services is, in many communities, simply renewing existing programs across the U.S.:

This dates back to the Clinton administration when they combined all the homeless money given to states and localities into one release of dollars to maximize news coverage. Clinton did it right by releasing the money right around a big, tug-on-the-heart-strings-holiday of either Christmas or Thanksgiving. It was difficult for the Bush administration to manage the release of the HUD grant around a good holiday, because the federal budget was not regularly passed by the October 1 deadline. Bush was often relegated to second tier-tug-at-your-heart holidays like MLK Day or President's Day for his homeless press release. Obama released the funds yesterday with a $1.6 billion headline provided to local and state jurisdictions.

That's not to say that receiving a federal homeless grant is not a reason for celebration. Anyone who's ever completed a government grant application knows that you need the endurance of a marathoner combined with the patience of a preschool teacher.

The reason these headlines are so misleading, as Brian points out, is because the grant monies awarded do not include any kinds of adjustments, such as cost of living, salaries, or additional strains on services:

The shelters do not get a cost of living increase or money to serve new populations (like foreclosure victims). They get the same amount of money that they asked for when they were originally funded. While utility prices, food prices, health benefits, and salaries have all gone up over the years, the shelters must figure out how to make up the shortfall because the federal government does not pay for any cost of living increases.

So when you open your papers this week and read headlines like this one in LA, this one in West Virginia, or this one in Washington State, be sure you know what's really going on behind those fancy headlines. Don't let the pomp and circumstance of level funding fool you.