Tag Archives: Homeless

Joy is the Greatest Blessing of All

When I tell people that I lived in a homeless shelter, the knee-jerk reaction is almost always an immediate “I’m sorry!” And tell them “Why? I’m not”, which usually puts them in just enough shock so as to listen.

Living in the shelter, I regard as one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. I had nothing, they had nothing. And yet I had friends who had my back and not because they could get something from me, or get somewhere because of me, etc.

To experience that much honesty is so overwhelming and it has changed me forever. It was then that I stopped caring about doing what other people wanted or working for other people’s attention or acceptance (emotionally abusive marriage aside) because I could see the price tag of one’s actions.  It is for those reasons that I found a way to reach out and help others, it is my motivation to not only feel but also share those feelings.

I am blessed to have 5 best friends along with Kid. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these relationships are honest and that we want nothing from or for each other but love and happiness. I know of no other blessings in life that are more valuable than these.

 

These last 7 years have been harder than I can put into words, but there is still the blessing of the friendships I have, the support they have given me, and after wading through the muck finding myself again and realizing my own self-worth. There is no greater blessing.

It is my personal belief that happiness is fleeting, joy is forever.  It marks your heart, it warms you in a cold world.  Happiness is a pay raise or going to a concert or having dinner with friends.  Joy is the love you feel from others, it is the love you have for your children, your family of friends, etc.  It is the feeling that “I’m going to be okay” in a devastating situation.  Joy is the permanent marks on your heart and soul that heals you, that warms you to the core, that keeps you going and can make you smile in a room by yourself when you think about and feel those moments all over again because they are permanently attached to your soul.

Joy is the permanent marks on your heart and soul that heals you, that warms you to the core, that keeps you going and can make you smile in a room by yourself when you think about and feel those moments all over again because they are permanently attached to your soul.

It is the feeling that “I’m going to be okay” in a devastating situation. It’s a person of faith’s feeling the love and serenity of their God.  Joy is the permanent marks on your heart and soul that heals you, that warms you to the core, that keeps you going and can make you smile in a room by yourself when you think about and feel those moments.

Maggie 

Dedicated to Matthew, Cheri, Dani, Steph, Bonna & Kid.  I wouldn’t be here today without all of you.

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Think You Know Who They Are?

You might want to take another look…

 

 

Homelessness does not discriminate. If you can help, please do. If you think you’re safe, check again and make sure.

 

{{{hugs}}}

Maggie

Water, Water Everywhere and Not A Drop to Drink

“It’s easier to get free wi-fi than it is to get free water and people act like there’s nothing wrong with the world”. – Fidel Littlelight
Homeless - bottle of wather
Rick Wood gives food and water to a homeless man near his tent under an overpass near downtown Birmingham, Saturday, March 29, 2014. (abc3340.com)

Water has turned into a huge commodity. As a former retailer I can tell you that water is one of the most profit bearing items in a store.  I used to be able to get cases of water for less than $2 each (making the cost of each bottle roughly 9¢ a piece) and the suggested retail price was 99¢.  That’s a heck of a margin huh?  

In fact, have you seen a water fountain recently? Probably not.  Usually only in schools and hospitals anymore, with an occasional sighting at an office building (leftovers from days gone by).  They’re getting harder to find, aren’t they? Now imagine you’re homeless.  Where do you get a drink of water?

I understand that even if it’s within your means, many people are not comfortable handing cash to the person with the sign at the intersection and I don’t disagree.  Sadly there are scammers out there and there is no way to determine who is legit and who just figure it’s a great way to make a buck.

Shortly after I stopped living in a shelter I was back living with my parents.  My mom needed to go for a therapy appointment due to an injury, so I dropped her off and used her truck to go grocery shopping.  When I got back, there was a man in the parking lot begging for money from everyone he could find talking about how he, his wife and child were now living on the streets and hungry.  When he approached me, I let him know that I had no money but that I had just gotten done grocery shopping and walked him to the back of the truck asking if he had the means to cook and started pulling out groceries for him.  He thanked me and turned down my offering of food, then proceeded to go skittering off to the fast food drive thru next door to return to his quest for cash.

Please do not take what I’ve said as a reason to never help someone with a sign.  There are many, many needy people who need our help and cities and municipalities are really aiming to put the homeless population out of sight and out of mind.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to read my piece on the homelessness – Insights into the Dark  – I would ask you to check it out when you have a chance.

16-oz-water

 

I’d like to take this opportunity to challenge everyone who reads this to buy a case of bottled water. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just whatever you can find at the best price, and keep it in a cooler with a little ice. As you’re driving around town doing errands and you see someone with a sign, sleeping on a piece of cardboard or a park bench or under an overpass – offer them a bottle of water.  It’s a small kindness that goes an incredibly long way.

I think a case of water at Wal-Mart is around $3.50 and at CVS you can catch it on sale for $2.  While you may not be willing to hand someone cash, offering them a bottle of water that cost you 9¢-15¢, that would cost them a dollar or more at the nearest shop is a huge help.  Can you think of any other way to help that many people for under four dollars? 

It’s a frugal way to help and it’s a great way to help your fellow-man.  Thanks for listening.  

{{{hugs}}}

Maggie

No More Invisible People

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know I’m very passionate about homelessness.

Several of my previous blog posts have touched on the subject, but Insights into the Dark  and Water, Water Everywhere got in-depth on this issue.  Having spent time on the streets and in a shelter for a thankfully only a brief time, was enough to permanently open my eyes and my heart to a situation that will never go away but can be lessened with compassion, understanding and organization.

Once again I found myself getting very angry seeing news reports out of London where the current trend is putting  spikes in areas where homeless people may seek shelter.

A picture shows short metal spikes designed to stop homeless people sleeping outside the entrance of a residential building in south London on June 10, 2014 (AFP Photo/Carl Court)
A picture shows short metal spikes designed to stop homeless people sleeping outside the entrance of a residential building in south London on June 10, 2014 (AFP Photo/Carl Court)

Their mayor has distanced himself from the issue so as to not appear anti-homeless people and not anger voters at the same time.

It’s bad enough that legislators and law enforcement want to keep the homeless out of sight, but because most folks have been seeing this for so long, they don’t even notice anymore.  It’s not that they’ve turned an intentional blind eye but now we’re so conditioned that we have to force ourselves to look.

Research has shown that it’s cheaper to house the homeless than allow them to stay on the streets.  The Orlando Sentinel published an article recently where their research into the situation found that it costs Florida taxpayers $31,000 per person between criminalization and hospitalization.  It’s calculated that it costs $21,000 MORE per person for these people to be homeless than housed!  Incredible!  It’s not often that fiscal responsibility and social responsibility wind up on the same side of the argument, so why aren’t we fixing this?

The most chronically homeless are the mentally ill which are why hospitalization is chronically incurred.  It’s been this way since the 80’s with President Reagan’s  budget changes in mental health funding.  There’s plenty of articles out there if you want to read more about it, here’s one from Salon that rather in-depth entitled Ronald Reagan’s Shameful Legacy.  It gives a really comprehensive look at the timeline of events.

When the mentally ill are on the streets, un-medicated, unsupervised, their condition worsens to an alarming level.  People who could live fairly normal lives with a little guidance and supervision wind up on the streets and stay there as their conditions and lives deteriorate.

Thanks to the collapse of the housing market we have more empty homes in this country since it’s inception with entire communities becoming virtual ghost towns.   I recently read this article about how Detroit is selling off abandoned properties at lower prices than used cars, just to get people in them and get their communities going again.

I was delighted today however to read this uplifting article about a group called 100,000 homes.  They are a grassroots group that are working with various communities to house the homeless.  Their four-year campaign to complete the goal of housing 100,000 homeless people was not only reached but exceeded!  101,628 people were housed and they’re just getting started.

Check out 100,000 Homes website to find out what’s going on in your area and what you can do to help or to get help for someone you care about.  It’s these groups that gather and give us hope.  The problem isn’t too far gone and it’s not too overwhelming.

The majority of family, friends and neighbors live paycheck to paycheck and it’s estimated that 75% of our citizens maintain little or no savings.  The loss of a job, a series of extra expenses like medical bills and car repairs can throw someone into a spiral that they can’t get out of alone.

So I’m asking…  Please look.  Please help.  Everyone out there is someone’s son or daughter, Aunt or Uncle, Mom or Dad.  Help their family as you would hope someone would help yours.  Even if it’s the courtesy and respect of eye contact.

 

{{{hugs}}}

Maggie

Update:  Just as I was getting ready to publish this, I was blessed and overjoyed to find this amazing bit of news.  This is the best news I’ve heard in a long, long time! Watch the video below & enjoy!

Our Future Needs Help

Homeless child at soup kitchen, Her family was living out of a car.
Homeless child at soup kitchen, Her family was living out of a car. Taken June 2008

I was reading an article entitled  “The 10 Worst States for Student Homelessness“.  It is a very well written and enlightening piece that encourage you to take the time to read.  In it, it offers a link to the Dept of Ed’s report citing the actual statistics per state for the 2009-2010, 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years.  Numbers are not complete for the current school year since it has not completed.

California tops out at 21.3% of their students are homeless!  New York comes in 2nd at 8.3% and Texas at 8.1%. This is positively horrifying!  These numbers are a representation of the total students statewide.  The majority of the homeless are in urban areas.  So what are the percentages in those inner city classrooms?

How can we expect children to succeed with so much working against them?  How can teachers teach effectively when children are worried about where their next meal is coming from, do they have a safe place to go after school and where they will sleep tonight?

It’s hard enough to maintain employment when you are homeless,  I know first hand.  If you haven’t read my post “Insights Into the Dark” please check it out.

Personally I’d really love to see the statistics of absenteeism rates for homeless vs housed students.  I know how hard it was for kids in the shelter that I stayed at to attend school, but at least they had somewhere to be picked up and dropped off from.  Unfortunately it was in the middle of the bus route so everyone knew exactly where they lived.

Imagine the family that is rotating between friends and relatives, a night or two in each place; or the family who is staying in their car or worse yet outdoors.

Here’s a video from an episode of Ellen that is from September 2011.  It’s about an amazing lady named Sherrie Gahn who is the principal of an elementary school in Las Vegas.  Well instead of me telling you, watch it and we’ll talk more…

Gave you chills right?  I know it did for me and a lot of other people.  It’s pretty overwhelming.  Sherrie Gahn is working miracles and thankfully she got some huge help.  In fact, after this show aired, Justin Bieber personally donated $100,000 to the school.  That being said, that’s just one elementary school.

You heard her numbers… 85% on free or reduced lunch, a large portion of them are homeless, even though the statistics for the state of Nevada list the reported homeless students at 0.9 %.   Less than one percent, yet that much poverty.

So what is it like for kids and teachers in LA, living in a state that reports it has approximately 53,000 members of their students are homeless?  Or New York with over eight thousand students that are homeless?  And that’s just homeless.  That doesn’t consider those living in poverty that have managed to retain a roof over their heads.

As a parent, I know how much I was required to provide for my child when she was in school.  I don’t think there’s a school around that doesn’t rely on at least 2 or more fundraisers to help them make ends meet each year.  None of those fundraisers are even designed to cover the out of pocket costs being covered by teachers.  For the schools dealing with this much poverty, where does the fundraising come from?  Certainly not parents.  So the schools do without, putting an added financial burden on already stretched parents.  How many children would you guess have all the tools they need to succeed?  I’m going to guess not enough.

According to the Food Research and Action Center, approximately 19.6 million children received free or reduced lunches in the 2011-2012 school year.  During that same school year there were a total of 952,281 homeless students (reported).  So the homeless only (roughly) represent half of the children living at or below poverty incomes.  As you can see, there many, many children that need help.

While it’s easy to throw up our hands, note that it’s an overwhelming problem or just simply say not my kid/not my problem, the fact is… it is your problem, and mine, and everyone else’s.  You see these kids are going to be adults that need to become teachers, lawyers, doctors, and everything else we need to make our society function.   They will be taking care of you and me as time marches on.  As the song says, our children are our future.  We need to take care of them now so they can take care of us later.

Please consider participating in a local supply drive or even creating one.  Talk to your local schools, churches, community centers or even your employer to find out who they help and when so that you may participate.  My employer does school supply drives twice a year in addition to food drives, clothing drives, etc.

You can also contact one of the following organizations to help as well.  If you are in need please contact the same resources for assistance.

The Kids in Need Foundation
This foundation distributes supplies to 2.4 million students annually. While they do not donate directly, through a national network of Resource Centers, teachers can get free supplies for their students in need.  The foundation also distributed items through community backpack and supplies giveaway programs throughout the country.  For communities without its Resource Centers, community organizations often provide supplies to local students by conducting backpack giveaways through the foundation.  Go to http://www.kinf.org/ for more information on applying to receive support for a school, or to donate.
 Boys & Girls Club of America
Boys & Girls Clubs of America host a national supply drive, called Tools for Back-to-School, through an online play-to-give game and in-store support at retailers across the nation. These supplies, as well as supplies donated by their partners, Disney, Michaels, and Staples, are delivered directly to local Boys & Girls Clubs. Families can contact their local Boys & Girls Club for more information on back-to-school support. To find your local club visit http://www.greatfutures.org and click Find A Club.
 AdoptAClassroom.org
AdoptAClassroom.org is a national, nonprofit organization whose goal is to make sure that all children have access to a quality education. They start by supporting classroom teachers, and since 1998 have raised over $18 million for classrooms across the country. Through this program, teachers are able to make purchases to enrich their classrooms, and students benefit. To support a classroom, visithttp://www.adoptaclassroom.org.
 The Give with Target Program
The retail chain will donate $5 million to schools across the country to help ensure that students and teachers have the supplies they need to start the new year. From now through September 21, guests can cast their vote for a school of their choice by visiting Target’s Facebook page. Once a school has received 25 votes, Target will donate $1 per vote, with a (maximum donation of $10,000 per school). The cash donation will provide schools with undesignated funds to purchase the materials their students and teachers need most. For more info, visit http://givewith.target.com/.

As always friends, thanks for listening and letting me share.

{{{hugs}}}
Maggie

Insights into the Dark – Be Part of the Light

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view”  ~ Harper Lee, American Author

I was beside myself today when I saw a news story today about a lawmaker in Hawaii and his “remedy” for solving the homeless situation.  If you haven’t seen the story, here it is.  I had to say my piece, so here it is.  Do with it what you will.

**WARNING**  This post is a bit graphic and not of my usual lighter fare.  It is my story just the same and I feel the need to tell it.

out-on-the-streets-935764-m

For those of you who were alive, aware and observant back in the late 80’s-early 90’s, please bear with me as I rehash some not so pleasant American history.  For those of you who weren’t, here’s what happened.  Due to an economic crisis (not discussing the politics of it, just discussing the issue), there was homelessness explosion, the likes of which had not been seen in this country since the Great Depression.

People were not only living in shelters (which didn’t accommodate the suddenly increased homeless population) but they were also living on the streets, in doorways, in parks, in their cars (if they still had one), living under bridges, just to name a few.  Much more so than there is now, however the homeless population in this country has greatly increased in the past few years and is not showing a decline anytime soon unfortunately.

Americans also lacked a lot of empathy for the folks that found themselves as part of this booming demographic. Imagine any negative expletive you can think of and it was probably not only said to homeless people, but also by homeless people who were overwhelmed and consumed by their dilemma.  Nothing like being kicked when you’re down.

I was acutely aware of this situation because for a brief time, I was one of them.

beggar-518003-m

My husband hit me;  when I left he threatened to stalk and kill me.  I didn’t know where to go that he wouldn’t be able to find me nor did I want to put any friends or family in harms way.  A male friend was leaving for Colorado and offered to take me along with him if I was willing to drive.  I had a car, he didn’t.  It was a knee-jerk plan, but it was all I had and I was trying to stay safe.

We moved in with his Brother, who was stationed at Fort Carson, along with his Sister-in-law and their two young children, just off post.  My friend (a mechanic) couldn’t find work and I could only find a part time job as a waitress.  We were selling off what we could to help out as best as we could.  Then the landlord threatened to evict everyone including their kids (20 months & 9 months old) if we didn’t leave since we weren’t on the lease.  We left immediately.

After that we would visit sparingly; just long enough to take showers or do a load of laundry.  We went to apply for food stamps and was told we couldn’t get benefits without a mailing address (I put down my license plate number).  We were asked many questions and I was told that we looked “too clean” to be living in a car, so we would have to wait for emergency assistance.  I was going out that day looking for a second job, that’s why I looked so clean.

-is-the-single-largest-homeless-encampment-in-the-united-states

When your worldly “wealth” is contained in a car, a tent, a backpack or a shopping cart… well, I can tell you, it’s not anyone’s idea of a good time.  I now found myself living with (and being the sole support) of a guy I was really wanting to distance myself from and living in my car in the mountains of Colorado in the beginning of November.  I will say the view was breathtaking but the cold was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.  I had taken what I could grab and left most of it behind to get away from my husband, and now I’d sold most of what was left.  There was no money to buy food most days, forget camping equipment.  The snow was starting to fall and it was cold.  We were driving into town to clean up at the gas station.

We were visiting his family one evening trying to warm up when we saw something on the news about the local shelter filling up because of the cold.   We went back to the car and up into the mountains.  The next day we headed straight for a coffee shop to find the yellow pages so we could find out where it was.

We got to the shelter in the evening after I finished my shift… just before lock down.  No admittance after 9 pm without a pass.  It was a warehouse divided in two; one side for women and families, the other side for single men. No stalls in the restrooms, just a row of toilets and showers that were open and across from the door, much like the showers in gym class.  Some of the men would stand outside the bathroom door trying to see what they could.

On the nights that I wasn’t working, we all hung out in the common room.  We played cards, mostly spades, although there were a couple of Canasta tables set up and one pinochle table set up for the old timers.  There was a very gifted tattoo artist that would offer his services for cash or cigarettes; he had a homemade tattoo gun and used the oil rag from his car to wipe the blood away as he worked.  We watched the news every night and saw stories of homeless people on the streets being beaten up for sport and some that had even been set on fire.  These stories were becoming more and more frequent as time went on.  While we weren’t in the best situation, we were thankful that we hadn’t dealt with that.

From time to time, someone would come around with a truck and talk of work in Texas or Oklahoma.  They would load guys up in a truck and take them for a “guaranteed” week’s work for $300 plus room and board and a return trip back.  We would never see those guys again.  We would speculate if they moved on, stayed there working or if they had suffered some horrible fate.  We tried not to think about that.

We became a bit of a family, most of us at least, and we looked out for each other.  Tried to at least.  There was a couple there with a daughter about 6.  I remember originally thinking that the man was her father; it turned out that he was her husband.  He had suffered a stroke and it aged him terribly and left him incapable of working.  She had always been a housewife and after his stroke, the medical bills left them in financial ruin.  They were waiting to get Social Security disability, but you have to be off work for a year before you can even apply. She had few skills but managed to get a job a McDonald’s.  She liked it well enough and everyone took turns keeping an eye on her husband and daughter for her when she was at work.  She didn’t come back one night even though she had a pass.  We found out two days later that while she was walking home from work she had been jumped – beaten, raped and robbed.  They got her paycheck and her wallet so she was unidentifiable.  It wasn’t until she was finally able to talk to detectives that they were able to alert her husband and daughter.  A church put them up in an apartment while she healed and they were finally able to get assistance since they were out of the shelter.

The shelter falsely reported to the state that they were serving “three hots & a cot”, meaning three hot meals and a bed for the night.  Instead it was cold cereal & coffee for breakfast, no lunch, and dinner was epicurean delights like cheese sandwiches, tuna sandwiches, cottage cheese or spam salad sandwiches (yes it was gross, even if you like spam).  A large can of peanut butter and another large can of grape jelly sat out at all times, along with loaves of stale bread, for those who needed to pack lunches or those who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) eat what was being served.

There was a soup kitchen that served lunch until they ran out of food, so you had to line up early.  It wasn’t the most tasty, but it was food.  Some days, we just had bread & butter and coffee because the “soup” was inedible.  My last meal ever at the soup kitchen was cream of corned beef, lima bean and elbow macaroni soup.  It’s a meal that will burn in my memory till I die.

On the few nights that I worked past curfew, I had to have a pass ahead of time to be admitted by the security guard after hours or I would have had to sleep in my car.   A few of the guards were a bit “hands on” with the women, so we tried to pair up as much as we could to keep from getting cornered alone.

Due to the false reports to the state about meals provided, if you lived in the shelter you could not receive food stamps.  As a result, many people chose to live outdoors.. mostly under bridges, just so they could eat decent food.  I was later approached, along with several others, to submit depositions regarding the conditions.  From my understanding, there were numerous charges that resulted.

At the time that this all took place I was 20 years old.   I averaged about 140 pounds in my normal life prior to this “adventure” and was fairly athletic.  I first moved into the shelter in late November.  I steadily lost weight and in January caught pneumonia.  In the midst of all this, I met a fairly descent guy who vowed to take care of me and get me back to my family.  When I walked into my parents home in late February I was feeling much better and had put some weight back on.  I was 93 pounds.  I should mention that I’m 5’7″.

I’m not asking for sympathy or empathy.  I offer my story as insight.  A window into a world that you may be unfamiliar with.  Some have fared better, many have fared much worse.  While this wasn’t a great experience, it was an amazing teacher.  It was also a gift of honesty that most people are never rewarded with.  I knew with all my heart that my friends liked me just for me, not because of what I could do for them or what they could get from me.  I had nothing other than friendship to give and that’s all they could offer in return.  To this day I smile when I think of those few months for that very gift.  There are people that go a lifetime and never experience the honesty of the relationships I enjoyed.  I consider myself blessed.

Remember that mine is not an exception to the rule… there are no rules when it comes to being homeless.  It doesn’t matter how you get there, just that you’re there and it’s so hard to come back from it.

Fast forward to today.  It was only a few short months ago when the governor of Hawaii came up with the offer for one way plane tickets to the mainland to deport the homeless from his state.  Today the story becomes exponentially heartless with the story I referred to at the beginning of this post.  It highlights a lawmaker whose answer to remedying the homeless population is by taking away their shopping carts.  Let me say that again… taking away their shopping carts.  Those that can be returned to stores are being returned and those that can’t he’s smashing with a sledgehammer.

I’ll let you have a minute.  I know I needed one.

Hawaii, if you’re unfamiliar, has low unemployment yet high poverty and homelessness.  Take a look here to get a taste of Hawaii’s homeless problem.  I assure you, it’s only paradise for the tourists.  Most people are working two and three jobs, just to live paycheck to paycheck due to the high cost of living.  I was blessed to visit there in 2004 and the number of homeless people sleeping on the beaches was heart breaking.  At that time of our visit, the cost of a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread was $5.00.  Everything is shipped over from the mainland and the costs are astronomical.

This is what homeless in Hawaii looks like
This is what homeless in Hawaii looks like

I was one of nine people in our party and we rented a house for the week to save costs over hotels and so that we could cook our meals rather than eating out constantly.  The first night we arrived we went to the grocery store and bought enough supplies for dinner that night, breakfast the next morning and a case of beer.  The total came to $180.  The next day my daughter and I drove to the other side of the island.  We found the “poor areas” and did our shopping there.  I purchased food for the remainder of the week.  What was left at the end of the week we took to the beach to feed the homeless living there.

How is vandalism, much less the targeted vandalism of a group that are already so down on their luck going to eradicate their situation?  How does this solve anything?  And what kind of message is this guy sending?  That it’s okay to take from those who have almost nothing left??

Now I know that there are many people that have given homeless people a “bad reputation”.  Sure there are the scam artists and swindlers out there, but those types of people reside in all levels of society… even on Wall Street.

I ask you to take a moment of pause to think of what you would do if you found yourself in a similar situation.  Human beings still deserve dignity, respect, kindness and caring.  Help if you can, and if you can’t, just being kind about it and aware helps.  I hope that everyone reading this can either help those that need it or get the help you may need… especially approaching this holiday season.  Teach your children compassion instead of condemnation and empathy rather than contempt.

Lastly, regardless of your political views or affiliations please pass the message on that our fellow man should not be treated this way.  We’re in this together after all.

Thanks for hearing me out.

{{hugs}}

Maggie