Helping in Solidarity

First of all, sorry for being away for a while. I got so caught up in work and volunteering that I even neglected my friends and family for a while. But something happened a few days ago that made me sit down and find the time to write a new post.

I was volunteering at a solidarity event where free meals were given to the homeless. There were many other volunteers, some I knew and others that I saw for the first time. Jenny, a young and idealist student, was one of those unfamiliar faces. She was very friendly and very eager to help out. It was clear that she was just one of those people that leaves a great first impression. When we started handing out the meals, an older homeless lady was so grateful that she wanted to shake Jenny’s hand. However, Jenny seemed reluctant and pulled back. “Sorry, I am not a fan of touching”, she said apologetically. The rest of us were confused and didn’t know what to say. The old lady simply smiled and thanked Jenny again, calmly saying: “I understand”. I swear if she got angry or visibly offended it would have been easier. But it was the gracefulness and calmness with which she handled the situation that left a particularly bitter sting – she was grateful, even though she was treated with disrespect.

Jenny felt visibly uncomfortable and felt like she owed the other volunteers an explanation. She told us that while she likes helping the needy, she felt that the lady “smelled bad” and that she doesn’t have to touch them.

Of course, Jenny forgets that as volunteers, we are privileged. If I didn’t have my solar water heater (that helps out a lot after a long and draining day – see Tankless Center for more) and if I spent days without showering, I would also “smell bad”. So would Jenny. And so would any other human being. This is the most important thing to remember if you ever decide to volunteer for the homeless – they are also human beings like me, like you, like any of us. They also have feelings like us, feelings that can easily get hurt even from well-intentioned and idealist people.

So the first thing to learn when deciding to volunteer is to help in solidarity. We may never be able to fully understand the harshness of living in the streets and having no roof over our heads, but trying to at least put ourselves in the other person’s shoes can help us come a step closer.

Ultimately, helping the homeless is not just about giving material support like food or clothes, but also emotional support. Of course, people end up homeless for all sorts of reasons, and should not be thought of as a homogenous group. However, one thing that homeless people share is that they are no stranger to the feeling of being an outcast. They experience what it’s like to be shunned and rejected just for looking a certain way on a daily basis. Many of those that throw a few coins even avoid looking them in the eye. So next time you are handing out those warm soups, consider also extending a few warm words and why not, even a handshake if it seems appropriate.

Creative Solutions

We often forget people and situations that need our attention. It is because our lives are complete and we lack for little. This is not the case with the homeless and people who experience an extreme level of poverty. Thus it is a welcome sight to see a homeless help drive. It shows that there are people who care. If enough do similar actions we will help resolve the problem but it will take considerable time. I praise those who organize fundraising events to donate money to those in need. I also laud those who give of their time and money to help on their own. We need such drives to spread like wild fire around the country. In the long run, a lot of little things can add up to a lot. We need a national program to make it work. Communities can join hands in the name of stopping homelessness which exists in every corner of the United States and no doubt abroad. It will take a ring leader who is in political office. The best resolution would have it come from the President who takes it on as a cause.

Local help drives are frequent in my area and I support them all. I look to see what is happening and what is donated. During the last fundraiser/drive someone donated a group of pool floats for adults. I believe it was a pool supply company and they had extras on hand. These are the inflated items that are used to relax on the water and they can be the size of an average adult. The organizer of the drive asked me what on earth he could do with these objects. I suppose we could sell them and use the money for something useful he said. What do you think? Since I was asked, I offered my opinion. I thought about it for a while and came up with the idea of using these comfortable inflatables as temporary beds in shelters. He said, oh that’s a creative solution. They would have more value than the little money we would make selling them.

He knew that shelters are always short of beds and the number of people who stay in them varies greatly. These floats could be pulled out at the last minute and inflated for quick use. No one would be turned away or have to sleep on a park bench or the sidewalk. Maybe every time we have a help drive we could make a wish list of items to donate that could be of some use in imaginable ways. I am thinking of thermoses, utensils, towels, sheets and bed covers, soap and toothpaste, and more. Whatever a human being needs to live would be appropriate. If people don’t willingly donate, we can ask the manufacturing companies. They are always game, but we forget to ask. Food products are typical items we seek as well. Canned good drives are conducted by schools and churches so let’s keep them going.

Whatever it Takes

You read or hear about homeless families but most people turn away from this cruel reality because they can’t imagine living outside and they have no solutions for the problem. Every city has its share of these people and it is heart breaking. There are makeshift shelters under freeway overpasses and in the parks that house the homeless. It is a shocking sight. When some homeless roam the cities, they are shooed away by local authorities for disturbing the citizens as they beg for help. You have to open your mind and heart to the problem and support legislation that will fund more public shelters.

I hear about one homeless family in particular that was a particularly sad case. The father had lost his job and did not qualify for aid. He also lost his health insurance and of course the family home. Over time, the situation deteriorated as they had no family to help out. No one lived in the state who could take them in. The mother tried to get jobs cleaning houses but these were few and far between. What little money she made went for meagre meals. The parents had to be resourceful in buying day old food at the market. Meanwhile the father had created a tent to protect the family from the elements. He used some cardboard boxes as the base and an above ground pool pool liner in place of a true canvas tarp. There was an abandoned house two blocks away from their intended shelter and the pool was empty. The yard was neglected and the pool was useless. Taking the liner was an act of genius as it saved the family from sleeping in the rain.

This is one of the most extraordinary stories of homelessness that I have heard in a long time. The kids did not attend school and the father spent the day looking for odd jobs. He didn’t know how to apply for government funds and he became slowly more depressed every day. It got so bad that he went to a free clinic and they gave him some advice. There was a vintage store around the block where he could get proper attire to apply for a job, similar to the one he had that let him go. With a better appearance, he was able to secure something at a modest salary. His mood became immediately elated. He could wait to take down the pool liner and free the family from the makeshift shelter. He was able to rent a modest apartment and they all had to share two rooms. No matter. He was on his way back up the corporate ladder and worked hard to get the mental strength to carry on. Living on the streets takes its toll and it requires time to make the shift to a new life. It turned out fine in the end some months later, so I was told. I like a story with a happy ending.

Thinking Outside the Box

Sue was a middle aged woman I met in a homeless camp near the beach. The denizens of this makeshift place liked to be near boardwalks so they had access to inexpensive food, free outdoor shower facilities, and handouts from locals. The beach is ideal in the summer because of the moderate temperature but Sue complained that she had to move elsewhere in the winter for better weather protection. Her group traveled sometimes as a pack so they could look after one another and make sure everyone was safe from random vandalism and harm. Often, the homeless like to be near shelters in the off season so they have a place to stay and grab a hot meal. Most of the time they prefer their independence and the freedom allowed by places such as the beach. There are bathrooms nearby, access to water fountains, and a general pleasant environment for striking up a temporary home. In the summer, a blanket or tarp often is enough to ward off the occasional rain. The temperatures don’t dip that much at night. I do worry about them when fall approaches and winter threatens.

You can only pile on so many blankets and plastic covers. You see the debris of all kinds of things that are cast off by society. The homeless make use of everything. They are lucky to get a decent mattress and something resembling a tent. One thing I thought of in this regard would be to get some beach tents donated to help supplement would these people can find in scavenging the garbage. As a result I approached a local rental shop and asked for some of the older, used items as a giveaway. A tent is indeed a luxury in any shantytown. People make them with cardboard boxes and newspapers but they are not long lasting and cannot withstand the elements. Beach tents are made of canvas and are perfectly suitable substitutes. They would make perfect temporary homes, however modest and imperfect. If they are in good condition, they can be folded up and moved to other locations.

Beach tents are just a couple of feet in diameter for the most part, but they come in all sizes. The question if, if donated, how would these tents be fairly distributed. How would you prevent theft or misappropriation? I guess these are peripheral problems. The point is to get the shelter in the first place and make sure it is put to good use. These tents are seen everywhere in beach towns along the shore, but they disappear at night when the sunbathers make their exit to go back home. The problem is that you need many of them to cover the number of homeless denizens and it isn’t easy to procure them in volume, except maybe at the end of the summer season when they are no longer needed. When it comes to the homeless, you have to be practical and creative as you address basic living needs of these nomad residents.

Beating the Heat

Living on the streets is unimaginable. Those who care pretend to know, but we don’t really. You can witness it, read or hear about it, and condemn it, but it isn’t the same as experiencing the worst that life has to offer. Being homeless is to face despair and deprivation on the basest level. It is to live less than a half-life that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy.

Volunteers and city officials work hard to ameliorate the prevailing conditions as best they can, but it is unending. Nevertheless, you plug onward. Sometimes they can’t make more than a dent in progress, which becomes more than frustrating. They toil to provide food and clean water, some shelter and other basics for personal use. It is particularly bad during harsh weather. That can mean extreme and icy cold or by contrast blistering heat. Neither is tolerable while you are on the street and exposed to the elements, such as they may be.

An example of the kind of attention it takes to keep the homeless afloat on a subsistence level is to bring much-needed supplies appropriate to the time of year. These are usually donated by kindly souls or are purchased by charitable organizations. One such item that seemed to make a real difference recently was a small portable icemaker. It was so hot that week and brows were literally pouring with sweat. Losing water is dangerous, as you know, and most of the time you can replenish it with bottled water if available. But you also have to address body temperature. The homeless wear whatever clothing is on hand, and it is not always lightweight in summer or heavy and concealing in winter. Everything happens at random it seems on the street.

The icemaker was such a real godsend. People were surprised by the gesture and then openly thankful. They shared it and made sure that all in the “camp” had some ice through the day. It was a wonderful respite for the high temperatures. Volunteers continued to circulate it for a couple of days until the end of the heatwave. It provided a kind of relief that was unimaginable in that situation. Only a fan would have been the equivalent and there was no place to plug one or more in. The icemaker was battery operated, portable, and therefore extremely utile.

Those who don’t live near the homeless have no idea of the suffering that goes on. They assume it is always a matter of lack of food, but there is so much more to making life bearable. Food is fortunately available at public shelters, and we have all encountered those who beg in better neighborhoods for a handout. Continued efforts, however, have to be made to supply the homeless with other necessities of life. So if you have a working portable icemaker, and can spare the ice for your evening round of drinks, by all means donated it to a very worthy cause. We really take things for granted in our affluent society; but now it is time to give back.

Inflatable Solutions

The homeless are my concern: where they roost, what they eat, and their healthcare. It is a complex social issue with limited resources available. Fortunately, there are shelters as a stop-gap measure. During peak season, the winter months, we think mostly about how many beds we have open. If we run out, we have to have a creative solution. We stumbled across the air mattress and things will never be the same. We can offer our services to many more than expected.

An inflatable bed beats the ground by a long shot. It beats even a real mattress if it has lost its spring. The homeless have been known to grab one from a dumpster and drag it to their tented domain. If only they knew that the local shelter had better. As a matter of fact, I wish they had better, too. A great project would be to replace worn beds with inflatable alternatives that are cost effective and comfortable.

You don’t have to go crazy and get a plush high rise (pillowtop style) version and some fancy bamboo sheets for it. You can get the basic model without added bounce for sleeping satisfaction. They make this inflatable bed very well and they compete favorably with the coil/inner spring kind. Wouldn’t that be a scene: an array of such twin beds lined in a row, durable and inviting. If a shelter already has a number of good beds, keep then and add to the mix during an overflow. This way the refuge can accommodate more people up to a certain pre-set and legal capacity.

In a shelter, the quality of the material used is important. It has to last. Vinyl is a good option, especially if it is puncture proof. Some beds are wrapped in flocking. And don’t think you can’t tuck in sheets on the side of an inflatable bed. You can. The shelter denizen will never know the bed is full of air. (Keep those pumps handy and nearby!) During slow times, such as summer when the homeless like to roam about in nice weather, you can deflate the mattresses and store them.

The main accessory for the portable bed is an external pump. The bed itself has an air valve for easy inflation within under two minutes. In spite of the thickness of the vinyl and the overall weight at about ten to twenty pounds, they are not hard to move around. Getting a budget bed at a discount makes the whole enterprise laudable. You can buy a few “in bulk” for good savings. As a non-profit shelter, you may get a few donations of older styles thrown in.

This kind of option makes running a shelter a bit simpler as you don’t have to scramble when the homeless come calling. The inflatable beds are pretty comfortable as I have tried them out. They aren’t the lap of luxury, but who expects it. They are practical and expedient, and in the right price range. If you let your local businesses know of your project, they should jump on the bandwagon and add some new ones to the stable of existing beds.

Challenges of Clean

Everything is a challenge to the homeless. Everything is bleak to the poor. The simplest daily tasks are a burden to perform. The will has been shattered by life. You see a beaten down look on startled faces. You see pain in glazed over eyes. Searching for food and clean water is a chore; maintaining any semblance of personal cleanliness is pure strife.

It is like going through the motions most of the time, standing in front of a giant canister vacuum cleaner that sucks the joy out of life. You don’t want to feel sorry for the homeless. You say they are the victims of their own actions. You want to blame them for laziness, lack of will, and poor habits. They can’t work, raise families, or even provide the rudiments of a living. They are to be despised.

Think again about the real nature of poverty. It is about deprivation, lack of resources, internal and external, and hopelessness. It is a mental and a physical state all at the same time. People who chose to live in a car or on the street cannot cope, they cannot face each day. They are wallowing in the underbelly of the world due to some unknown circumstance. Helping them is a gift that should not be denied.

Few programs exist now that can obliterate the stigma of the homeless. There are halfway houses and places to crash, but the rules are too strict sometimes. The mental set of a drained brain cannot comply. If it could, the person would be normal and able to rejoin the path of life. The homeless are different, a breed apart. They do not make the same decisions and you or I. They are working against all odds.

When you see a homeless person, do you turn away? Do you mutter something under your breath or do you lend a helping hand. It isn’t about giving money and, yes, there is the concern about drug use. It is about changing perceptions of the problem and not burying it under the collective rug.

Community groups have assisted the homeless in many ways. They fundraise for one thing. In another vein, they work in food kitchens, collect leftovers and donated items, and in general they patrol the neighborhood. They work with youth groups to impart a sense of responsibility at a very young age. Girl Scouts of America, the Boy Scouts, and other groups provide meals on holidays and warm clothing. They collect cast off items that are sellable and apply the profits toward improving the life of the homeless.

There is often not much you can really do. The homeless move about if they are approached too often. They are leery and timid. They do not interact well and they are often poor at verbal communication. It depends how long they have been on the streets and to what degree they are deprived. Please keep an open mind.

Who Were the Homeless People Before They Were Homeless?

If I ask you what a homeless person looks like, I am sure you have an image in your head that represents them. One way or another I bet it involves them being disheveled and tired, maybe dirty or lost. I’ll bet many of us have a really good description that includes the statement, “Not like me.”

It’s easier to not notice the problem of homelessness in America by thinking the homeless are nothing like us, that they are separate from us and we could never, ever be among the group of people living on the streets or moving from shelter to shelter. We can remove ourselves from responsibility by refusing to believe we can relate to these people in any way.

Did you ever stop to wonder, who were these people before they were homeless? Did you know they were people just like you, and me. They had lives and jobs and families. Maybe a house and a career.

Did you ever wonder what the elderly lady down on the corner did before she was homeless? She was a teacher and lost her pension during the recession. Or what about the middle age man over there? He is an Army Veteran, as are over 40% of the male homeless population, veterans of the armed forces.

The little girl on the playground? She used to live a comfortable, secure middle-class life in a house with her mom and dad. Except her dad lost his job and her mom got sick and when they couldn’t keep up on the house payment, the bank foreclosed.

The young man walking around talking to himself has a mental illness and no place to receive treatment. With the right meds and a stable place to live, he might get better but most likely he will remain homeless and his illness will go unchecked.

The young woman at the shelter was visiting and got stranded here. Everything she had was stolen from her and she has no way to get back to her home. She used to be a student teacher and had big plans for her future. She still does, she just doesn’t know how she will rise above her current circumstances yet.

The mother with her 2 children? She is a widow and trying to make ends meet all on her own. With no help with her children and unable to afford housing even working two jobs, she packed the kids up and lives with them out of her car, relying on odd jobs and the kindness of strangers to keep them fed.

The older guy sitting against the wall has a drinking problem, the end result of a work injury that causes him so much pain he drinks to function at all. He doesn’t want to be homeless.

Homeless people are discriminated against more than any single race or religion because they represent all of them. Homelessness itself does not discriminate. They are mistreated and looked down upon, or not even seen. They are just like you and me. They are human.

They don’t want to be homeless, just like you don’t.

Think Being a Homeless Adult is Tough – Here is What it Does to the Kids

Homeless Adult

When you think of starving, homeless kids, poorly dressed for the weather and living in squalor, do you think of the commercials asking for aid for the children of third world countries, believing that there is nothing so terrible happening in our own country that equals this sad plight?

It’s hard to believe there are children living here whose situation is as dire as those we see on TV, yet it is estimated that nearly 1 in 45, maybe as high as 1 in 30, children are homeless. While many people do become homeless through lack of planning and sudden change in circumstances such as job loss, children almost always are truly homeless through no fault of their own and suffer greatly for it.

There is, of course, a percentage of these kids who ran away from home or are otherwise unaccompanied, but they are still children and the cause is often still beyond anything they can control, such as mental illness or violence in the home.

Many times families with kids are more able to find room in the shelters, but that doesn’t always work out. Children can experience reprieve from the hunger and exposure during school hours, yet still suffer greatly for being homeless.

  • They are sick more often with ear infections and tummy aches.
  • They are more likely to be exposed to violence at a very young age.
  • They are more likely to suffer emotional and behavioral problems
  • They are more likely to have asthma
  • They are more likely to suffer nutritional deficiencies and go hungry
  • They are more likely to have poor attendance and change schools a lot
  • They are more likely to not attend school, the only place they are truly accounted for.
  • They are more likely to have delayed development
  • They are more likely to suffer depression and anxiety

As they grow older and remain homeless, they are more likely to be exposed to risky sexual behavior and have a higher chance of picking up STDs and being exposed to addictive substances.

These are just some of the effects homeless children experience. All children deserve a roof over their head and food to eat and security of home and family while they grow up. How they are affected by the lack of these things is detrimental to their well being.

The plight of children in third world countries is sad and real, but the plight of homeless children here in this country is just as real and even sadder in that so many choose to ignore it.

Statistically Speaking: The Bottom Line on Poverty

Blaine Harden

The poverty line, or poverty threshold, is the minimum amount of money deemed necessary to meet the basic needs of an individual or family and is adjusted yearly to reflect higher cost of living. It typically is half of what a family in the United States actually needs to provide for itself.

In recent years the threshold has not been adjusted as high as the rise in the cost of living and one result is more people living in a state of financial crisis that could theoretically push them over the edge to homelessness.

Once an individual or family falls at or below the threshold, they are considered living in poverty and then qualify for government programs designed to offset poverty. Economists suggest without these programs in place, the poverty level, which hovers around 15% (after assistance) would be nearly double that.

Poverty is also the worry of living paycheck to paycheck, wondering if there will be enough to cover the bills, and if not what will be sacrificed to make ends meet. The constant fear of something big happening, like the car breaking down, or sickness or injury that will have bills piling up.

According to either definition, there are approximately 92 million people currently living in poverty in the United States. Over half of the population will know poverty during their lifetime. Poverty rates have increased at twice the rate of US population and poverty among the elderly has increased by 20%

The US is the 17th country, of 19, with major income disparity and poverty and also has the highest poverty rate of any country in the developed world.

In 2014, the number of people receiving federal government assistance in the form of the 3 major programs, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), Supplemental Security Income and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (food stamps) hit an all-time high of 23.1% and in the year 2013, there were actually more people receiving welfare than there were full-time workers.

The numbers are disheartening for solving the problem of poverty in America. Yet we look at what is spent in Foreign Aid vs. what is spent on federal aid to our nation and wonder why our citizens receive less help from the federal government. Case in point, the city of Detroit receives less federal aid from the US Government than 32 other foreign countries.

Something needs to change in big ways to change these numbers. That’s the bottom line really.

10 Reasons for Homelessness- It Could Happen to Anyone


Many times, we see homeless people when we are walking or driving around town. You might think as you watch them, it could never happen to you. You think this because you have a house and a family, a job. You don’t drink or use drugs, so you will never be so irresponsible as to become homeless. Or maybe you think the homeless sitting out on the street corners waiting for help from any passer by are lazy and could be looking for a job instead of panhandling.

These are all misconceptions of homelessness and part of the reason more is not being done to fix the problem is because so many of us feel we have nothing to do with the problem. We cannot relate.

It is not as hard as one would think to become homeless. Homelessness can happen to almost anyone and is not a statement of character or work ethic or even value as a human being, of any person.

There is a myriad of reasons for homelessness. These 10 might surprise you and make you think twice about the way you look at the homeless next time you drive by them.

Divorce – In the event of a divorce, one of the parties may become homeless through no fault of their own, having to move out of the shared home with nowhere to go.

Medical Bills – In the case of a serious accident or lengthy illness, mounting medical bills may drain resources and put the individual or family into poverty increasing their risk for homelessness

Lack of Housing Options – High rent costs and lack of availability make homelessness a real possibility. Moving out of one rental without another lined up, or being evicted for any number of reasons with nowhere to go is a sure way to end up homeless

Mental Illness – Mental illness does not discriminate among rich or poor, race or age. Those currently mentally ill risk behaviors and actions that may threaten their stability and cause loss of income and housing. Further, mental illness may strike at any time, threatening the all that a person worked for.

Addiction – A common misconception that all homeless people are addicts or drunks, addiction is a very real reason they become homeless. Looking for their next drink or fix, they use resources for such, instead of paying bills. Sometimes they have exhausted all other options of treatment of family and friends helping out.

Job Loss – No matter how secure one feels in their job, no matter how good they are at it and responsible with their job requirements, the reality is the bottom could fall out at any time in almost any industry, resulting in layoffs. If no preparations, such as savings or backup plan are made and another job is not immediately found, the downward spiral can be quick to homelessness.

Poverty – Simply living at or below the poverty line typically means living paycheck to paycheck. All it takes is an unexpected auto repair; an illness causing missed work or extra doctor bills to divert money used for housing and end up in eviction or foreclosure.

Natural Disaster or Fire – many times homeowners do not realize their homeowners insurance may not cover them in the event of natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, without an extra rider and can end up homeless in the blink of an eye.

Roommates not paying their part – Sharing housing with roommates requires trust. If your roommate does not come through with their part of the money, for whatever reason, then unless you can continuously make up the difference, you risk eviction the same as they do.

Domestic Violence – Domestic violence can force the victim to flee to shelters or the streets, often without anything but the clothes on their back. The perpetrator may go to jail and when they are released not be able to go back to the house.

As much as we would like to think we are not like any of the homeless people we see, or that it could never happen to us, any of the reasons above, could happen to anyone really. You may not be part of the homeless problem today but you could be tomorrow. Think about it.


How Can You Help?

Poverty and homelessness are very real, growing problems in this country. They will not go away without awareness and a concerted effort to help those in need, as well as some changes on the government level.

We would like to say they aren’t issues here. Poverty exists in third world countries, not ones as developed and rich as the United States. Many believe homelessness can never happen to them without really understanding why it happens.

It might be a long time, if ever, before we are able to ease the levels of poverty and thusly, homelessness but by becoming involved we can make changes in the way they are seen and help those in need.

What can you do? Start with compassion and the recognition that anyone could be poor or homeless with not much of a turn of fortune. Give freely of anything you can, including your time, to improve the quality of life of those in need or without homes.

Carry around care packages in your car to distribute to the homeless you see on the side of the road asking for help. These can be as simple as a lunch bag filled with snacks and a bottle of water, to jackets or blankets too in colder climates.

Volunteer at local shelters and donate food items and clothes and toys, for the children, to them.

Organize a food drive to keep the shelters and food banks stocked. Enlist the help of local businesses in providing services and goods to the homeless, such as food, babysitting, haircuts and medical screenings.

Children shouldn’t have to do without ever but especially during the holidays. Organize a toy drive or wish tree to help give the underprivileged and homeless children a nicer holiday or a children’s party with holiday characters.

Donate glasses, clothes, bedding, and any other useful items to shelters and charities. These items, which are seemingly so disposable to those who have plenty, can be reused and should be put to good use.

Educate your children on the truths and effects of poverty and the teach them to have compassion for those in need. With awareness comes change.

Most of all, remember those affected by poverty and especially homelessness are human beings. Treat them with dignity and remember, you don’t know why they are homeless, don’t judge. Just help