Jumat, 11 Januari 2013

Out in the Cold

I started this blog a year ago, when I first volunteered with the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, and the 100K Homes Task Force. Next Wednesday, I'll again participate in the Point in Time count of persons experiencing homelessness, on a team that will try to find unsheltered persons -- that means we'll be looking in the woods, and under overpasses, and in parking lots. 

Today, it's cold and we've had freezing rain and sleet since this morning. I came home early, put an extra pair of socks on, and have been hanging out in my bed with my laptop. I've tried to get my dogs to lie on my feet because they just won't warm up. But Sox and Jasper are by my side, snoozing away. Flash the cat is here, too, either attacking my cold feet or trying to sit on my laptop.

I love my house with its open and airy spaces--except on days like today. Those open and airy spaces are hard to warm up.

But I am very grateful for my house, and my pets and my family. I have these things, and my life is good.

I've thought about the people I've met this year who are homeless. We've been able to house some, and to get them connected to mental health and medical care. But still, there are some stories of human misery, and our ability to get people into warm spaces of their own is limited. We are currently working with a man who's lived in a storage unit for more than a year; one who is living in an apartment that is being renovated with unfinished walls and no heat; and one who was living in a crawlspace until he was forced to leave. There was a woman in an abandoned house, using cement to try to fix a dental problem.

Why are they out there? Extreme poverty--many are disabled,and may not receive disability income. They may have medical conditions, psychiatric conditions, intellectual disabilities, or traumatic brain injuries. Many abuse substances -- some have been drinking for years, and burned every bridge they crossed. Or they've just had bad luck.

One of the saddest things to me is what happens to people who are mentally ill and homeless. Often, they have a hard time in shelter settings, and may be asked to leave, or even be banned from the shelter property. They may behave in ways that are hard for shelter staff to handle, or they may break a rule, and suffer the consequences. On nights like these, when it's bitter cold, where do they go?

Federal housing policy is promoting a Housing First model -- that means providing housing with no strings attached. What they've found is that if people are stably housed, they have a base to start working on the other things in their lives. Unfortunately, affordable housing stock and rental subsidies don't meet the growing need.

On these cold wintry days, think about the people that we don't want to see -- imagine that you are in that situation, and think of the things you can do to make our world a more compassionate place.

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