What’s it like working with the homeless? What causes it? I became involved with the homeless community seven years ago through Heading Home in Jeffco. They were beginning to talk about inviting …
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What’s it like working with the homeless? What causes it?
I became involved with the homeless community seven years ago through Heading Home in Jeffco. They were beginning to talk about inviting churches to open their doors to provide emergency shelter for people living on the streets. I’ve worked closely with service providers, law enforcement and the faith community to fully implement our shelter model.
I have learned a lot from our shelter guests — how they ended up on the street, what life is like for them, the lack of resources available to them to get off the street and most importantly, I have learned what wonderful and generous people are experiencing life on the streets in our own county and cities.
The most common factors leading to homelessness for singles are well reported. Job loss, cost of living to high for wages earned, life crisis related to health or family situations. These factors may be what lead to a person living on the streets, but it is the lack of resources, housing options and work that pays a living wage that keep people on the streets. Over time hope is lost, alcohol and a variety of drugs become stress management and coping tools that only add to the challenges to get off the streets.
What works? What are the best ways to improve things?
Relationships are the key to life change for people experiencing homelessness — all of us in reality. People experiencing homelessness on the streets are often ignored, discounted and completely “invisible” to many of the community members who are housed and working. All people really need three things to be successful in life: they need to be seen, be heard, be loved.
A continuum of care is needed for individuals and families seeking to get off the street. A continuum of care allows for individuals to take one step at a time, make easy connections to the next step and most importantly, to do this within the context of a caring relationship.
Adequate resources are necessary. According to our guests there are a number of things missing in the community that would help them take the next steps:
Access to public showers and bathrooms: In order for guests to get and then keep jobs they need access to bathrooms and showers to get and stay clean. The lack of showers and bathrooms mean that many people living on the streets are not welcome in public spaces, like restaurants, malls or other places where people gather. Lack of access to public bathrooms leads to interaction with law enforcement for public urination or defecation. Tickets and warrants that cost tax payers large sums of money each year prevent people experiencing homelessness from keeping a regular job.
Access to laundromats: While anyone can enter a laundromat I have been told by our guests that it will cost them anywhere between $8-10 to do a single load of laundry: detergent, wash cycle and dry cycle. Holding a job becomes next to impossible if clean clothes are not available for work each day.
Storage for personal belongings: Theft is one of the biggest challenges our guests face each day. Many of them will try to find a safe place to hide their belongings so they can work or travel without carrying everything they own. Unfortunately, all too often someone will steal them. Or, law enforcement officers will find their belongings, throw away what they deem unsafe and take the remainder to storage. The challenge there is that our guests will not go to the police to collect their belongings because they don’t want to run the risk of arrest due to outstanding warrants.
By filling these few “pre-housing gaps” the community could make it easier for a person to make strides toward a safe and sustainable life.
What can the average person do to help the homeless?
Volunteer with and support local community organizations that are working with the homeless community right now.
Support the building of attainable permanent housing for individuals and families that are currently experiencing homelessness.
Communicate with local commissioners and city representatives regarding the importance of supporting and encouraging those organizations already working with the homeless community.
Work with local organizations to allow for the start of new programs and initiatives that fill in missing services and support systems that encourage individuals and families experiencing homelessness to take those next steps toward safe and sustainable lives off the streets.
— Shanna Fortier
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