Up Close and Personal

Forty days and forty nights in another woman’s shoes can put a blister on your heel that makes you want to sit down and never walk again. She’s too tired to sleep and too broken to know where to start picking up the pieces, but she keeps moving because to do otherwise would be deadly. This is not fiction. It is reality. Here at home, on our watch, an urban, suburban, rural, cross-cultural, multi-generational population across America is experiencing homelessness at an alarming rate.

In just one day in 2015, over 31,500 adults and children fleeing domestic violence found refuge in a domestic violence emergency shelter or transitional housing program.

  • That same day, domestic violence programs were unable to meet over 12,197 requests for services because of a lack of funding, staffing, or other resources.
  • Sixty-three percent (7,728) of unmet requests were for housing. Emergency shelter and transitional housing continue to be the most urgent unmet needs for domestic violence survivors.

Source: National Network to End Domestic Violence. (2016). Domestic Violence Counts 2015-A 24-hour census of domestic violence shelters and servicesWashington, DC.

This is unconscionable. This is unacceptable. This is my job. Each day for the last forty days, I have been trying to wrap my head around all of the moving parts of the juggernaut that seems to have bumfuzzled us to the tune of billions of dollars over the span of decades. Non-profit agencies and faith-based organizations dedicated to serving the needs of individuals and families in chronic crisis are tasked with stretching every dollar with Herculean strength while gently tip-toeing through a public health minefield.

Slogans and good intentions are not enough to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring in our communities. We need better tools, clearly defined and manageable objectives, and money. Lots of money. 

Stewardship is a word that gets a lot of air time in the non-profit sector, where the line of people in need of assistance is longer than the cue for Space Mountain. Grant makers, government grants in particular, require non-profits to disperse cash on hand up front and submit supporting documentation for review and approval before being reimbursed. This is one reason why those who donate faithfully to the charity of their choice are highly valued by direct service providers. WE LOVE SMALL DONATIONS MOST OF ALL should be stamped on the letterhead of every non-profit that relies on individual donors to keep the lights on.

These are the things one thinks about at 2a.m. when revenue generation is part of their job description. Staff development, board engagement, community involvement, partner agency collaboration, and that overarching performance measurement – a single success story duplicated client after client, program after program, year after budget-wrenching year – make up the sum total of my thoughts these days. It is an honor and privilege to serve. I leave you with this:

In 2014, Family Violence Prevention and Services grantees reported 196,467 unmet requests for shelter—a 13% increase over those reported in 2010. This represents a count of the number of unmet requests for shelter due to programs being at capacity.

Source: Family Violence Prevention & Services Program, Family & Youth Services Bureau. (2015). Domestic Violence Services Provided by State and Tribal Grantees. Washington, DC.

The need for safe housing and the economic resources to maintain safe housing are two of the most pressing concerns among abused women who are planning to or have recently left abusers.

Source: Clough, A., Draughon, J. E., Njie-Carr, V., Rollins, C., & Glass, N. (2014).

Having housing made everything else possible”: Affordable, safe and stable housing for women survivors of violence. Qualitative Social Work, 13(5), 671-688.

P.S. If you support an agency that serves individuals and families experiencing or at risk of homelessness, thank you. We cannot succeed without you.

 

 

In Stark Contrast

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I suppose I left my heart, at least part of it, in San Francisco. Either that or I picked up a transmission from somebody else’s muse, because sometime around 1:45 a.m. this morning I awoke from a bizarre dream. Across the city, people were walking down long tunnels, slamming doors behind them as someone shouted, “Watching the judge! Leave me alone.” From all directions, people were slamming doors and shouting. I don’t know where they were going, but they woke me and ended up following me downstairs to the sofa. I tried to get their images out of my mind. I couldn’t get back to sleep until I’d written this:

Reality Show

Look at the wasps and the japs with their smart phone apps
The  metrosexual and über intellectual loving their beautiful lives
Gathering rust instead of gathering dust
I guess that gets them through the day

Watching The Judge
Leave me alone

Look at the prince and the punk with their urban funk
The freaks and geeks chasing wiki leaks to plan out the rest of their lives
Following info wherever the wind blows
I guess that gets them through the day

Watching The Judge
Leave me alone

Look at the tourist and the local purist with their antibacterial dreams
The neurotic and psychotic scoring prozac until the end of their prosaic lives
Better coping through sedation
I guess that gets them through the day

Watching The Judge
Leave me alone

They all come together in bold mosaic right in front of my eyes
They never notice I’m watching them, witnessing their pathetic lies
How they judge themselves and they judge each other, they don’t see me here
I am invisible, nothing to them, only an irrational fear

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*****

I’ve seen people living in doorways and public spaces from New York to Denver, St. Louis to Seattle, Chicago to Dallas and this year, from D.C. to San Francisco.

I’ve seen the cardboard signs that say Homeless Vet Need Help God Bless. I saw one that said, This is an experiment in human kindness and watched the man holding it hock a big loogie and spit it onto the sidewalk. A woman carrying a Fendi bag lifted her Ferragamo to step over it, but her labradoodle walked right through it. I’ve seen the news reports and heard the urban legends of the money-making scam that is panhandling AND I’ve seen some things that made me doubt my own eyes. One morning we walked to Market Street to take a cable car out to the Embarcadero.

As an aside, if you go to San Francisco planning to have an authentic cable car experience, build an extra day into your visit because that is how long you will stand in cueing lines to ride one. Public transit does not operate as advertised. We took the advice of our hotel concierge and purchased the three-day pass at $22 per person. Readers here know what comes next. MOTHER OF ALL RIP OFFS. It does not matter what time you plan to ride; you are gonna wait and wait and wait some more. The line was so long at the pick up on Market Street that we walked all the way up to Nob Hill. We only saw one cable car go by in the time it took us to walk all that way. It was a long way. Sure, we needed the exercise.

You’ve no doubt heard stories about people walking up hill both ways. Well, I am convinced that all started in San Francisco. To the bay and back to our hotel was up hill both ways. Passengers, actually would-be passengers, waited hours to board while operators sat on the nostalgic cable cars parked one behind the other only a block away. WTFSFMTA?! Yes, we had a rental car, but finding a place to park would require adding another day to our visit. So, we decided taxis were time and money better spent.

We were told the F Line was the quickest way to Fisherman’s Wharf. Be advised, the F stands for FUNK. There were so many people packed onto the thing we could not move…or breathe. What I would have given for a can of compressed air!

Back to my point, I do have one.

On our walk, we saw American flags blowing in the wind everywhere we looked. The symbolism wasn’t lost on me or my loyal follower. We know full well what that star spangled banner represents. The symbolism smacked of hypocrisy when we came upon a man sitting on the sidewalk with two young girls. A sign explained that they’d lost their home. I paused as one of the girls caught my eye. I cannot describe the look on her face because I’m not sure if it was shame or fear. My heart broke. It is broken still. Is this for real? Is this reality? Is this man using these girls as props? People with signs, people sleeping in doorways, people living out of grocery carts have pets? Is this their choice? Their lot in life? If this is not Oprah’s problem, is it mine?

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I cannot stand to hear people say things like, “There but for the grace of God go I.” What about that grace? Who gets that grace? Who among us deserves such a thing? What’s the alternative? To go around asking each person living on the street if they want something more? What about God helps those who help themselves? What about love your neighbor as yourself? I think about the lessons Millie Hollingsworth learned as a child and wonder, did I need to know her story to make me aware or to make me accountable? To ignore what I’ve seen with my own eyes, is that a sin or just apathetic Beyond Belief?

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