Behind the Shadows: A Side of Homelessness that is often Overlooked

Because it’s graduation season (congratulations, 2016 graduates!), I thought this story was relevant. It is a little outdated, having made national headlines in 2014, but I still think its message is applicable and inspirational today.

Before we get Started

Close your eyes for a minute and envision what an individual experiencing homelessness looks like in your mind.

What did you picture?

If you imagined someone like these individuals, you aren’t alone. A simple Google image search will turn up countless images like the ones below.

My guess is, unless you work with individuals experiencing homelessness, you probably didn’t picture someone like this:

Now watch this video (it’s just over 2 minutes long).

America Strong

Takeaways and Discussion

  • Unfortunately, due to Mr. Furlong’s adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), he is at a statistically significantly higher risk of experiencing another episode of homelessness. That does not mean that I think  he will certainly become homeless again (we’re all rooting for him to overcome the odds), but I do want to shed light on our vulnerable youth who have the deck stacked against them.
    • Additionally, children who are experience homelessness suffer higher rates of the following in comparison to their peers:
      • chronic and acute health problems
      • exposure to violence
      • stress
      • fearfulness
      • depression and anxiety
      • aggressive and antisocial behaviors
    • On any given day, it is estimated that over 200,000 American children do not have a place to call home (Greendoors, 2011).
  • Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has the greatest number of women and children who are classified as homeless.
  • Not all instances of homelessness are caused by mental health and substance abuse. Medical bills and the rising cause of healthcare are often cited as contributing factors of housing instability.

Call to Action

  • I’ve had the unique opportunity to get to work with and for individuals who are experiencing homelessness and those who are moving out of homelessness into transitional housing. If there’s one piece of knowledge I can impart on my readers, it would be the strength and resiliency of these individuals. Their stories are as diverse as they are and I find myself humbled and grateful that they are willing to allow me to play a little part in their lives. All that to say, get involved. You won’t regret it.
    • Volunteer to take part in the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count which happens every January across the nation. It is a coordinated effort to count those living unsheltered in places deemed unfit for human habitation (usually on the streets, behind buildings, and in parks).
    • Volunteer at organizations that serve this population. This could include donating your time working at your local food pantries, soup kitchens, street outreach teams, and anywhere that provides services to individuals experiencing homelessness.
    • Make “Blessing Bags” with essentials and resource information. Carry them in your vehicle and give them out in addition to (use your best judgment) or in lieu of cash to those in need.
      • Blessing Bags I’ve made include:
        • Sunscreen
        • Hand sanitizer
        • Chapstick
        • Deodorant
        • Menstrual pads and/or tampons
        • Meal coupons
        • Restaurant gift cards
        • Socks
        • Hats
        • Non-perishable food items (crackers, granola bars, beef jerky, trail mix, etc.)
        • Instant coffee packets
        • Bottled water
        • Resource guide (Tarrant County puts out a Pocket Pal each year and I carry them in my car. This is the 2016 Pocket Pal so you have an idea of something you could create for your locality.)
  • Confront your own biases and the stereotypes that you hold. Chances are, if you think “all individuals experiencing homelessness are…(insert your word here)”, you’re wrong. I encourage you to pause and use this time for self-reflection. Ask
 yourself
 where
 your
 own
 thoughts 
and
 behaviors
 come
 from
, 
find
 the 
source
 of 
your 
socialization
, 
and address
 your 
misconceptions, 
misinformation, and 
myths
. Re-frame your thoughts,
 re-educate yourself, 
cease
 self‐blame, 
and
 be open to change.
  • Use person-centered and non-discriminatory language. Individuals experiencing homelessness rather than homeless people. A person is not defined by his/her housing status. Removing the labels allows us to connect on the basis that we are all humans. We are all worthy of dignity and respect.
  • Stay informed. Write your legislators and representatives. Be an advocate.

For more information about children and families experiencing homelessness, visit Greendoors 2011. The Pocket Pal was created by the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition (TCHC). Video credit to ABC News.

Have you made Blessing Bags before? If so, what sorts of items did you include? Have you volunteered with organizations serving the homeless population? How can others in your area get involved? Comment below.

Be the change,

Erin

 

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Old and on the Street: The Graying of America’s Homeless #AOTD 6/2/16

First Impressions

I struggled when deciding whether or not to use this article as today’s Article of the Day because I don’t feel that it does a great job of accurately depicting individuals experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, the article reads as if author began his investigation with some negative biases regarding this population. It does, however, address a growing epidemic that does not often make headline news: the ever-changing needs of the homeless population as they age. I wish the author had done a better job of using person-centered language and of informing the audience that individuals experiencing homelessness have their own unique stories and experiences, rather than making generalized statements that perpetuate stereotypes.

Teaser: At some point in the future I’ll be able to share some interesting stories that will hopefully provide you with insight and a new perspective into the diversity of this unique population. I am working on a project with my mentor and some colleagues conducting interviews with individuals moving from homelessness into transitional housing. Using mixed methods (both qualitative and quantitative data), we are attempting to gain insight into the ever-changing needs of the population as well as their unique life experiences, trials, tribulations, goals, supports, strengths, and successes. Words cannot adequately express how humbling it is to hear these stories and the excitement and motivation that I feel working on this project. Expect more to come in the future…

Important Facts and Article Takeaways

  • “There were 306,000 people over 50 living on the streets in 2014, the most recent data available, a 20 percent jump since 2007, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They [individuals over the age of 50] now make up 31 percent of the nation’s homeless population.” (Nagourney, 2016)
  • “It is the emergence of an older homeless population that is creating daunting challenges for social service agencies and governments already struggling with this crisis of poverty.” (Nagourney, 2016)
  • “We are dealing with the same issues with a 50-year-old that a housed person would have in their 70s, in terms of physical and mental health,” said Anne Miskey, the executive director of the Downtown Women’s Center, which provides services for 3,000 homeless women a year in Los Angeles. “It is extremely difficult. And women are affected more than men.” (Nagourney, 2016)

Link to Today’s Article of The Day

You can find the article here: Old and on the Street: The Graying of America’s Homeless

For additional information, check out The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress.

Call to Action

  • Confront your own biases and the stereotypes that you hold. Chances are, if you think “all individuals experiencing homelessness are…(insert your word here)”, you’re wrong. I encourage you to pause and use this time for self-reflection. Ask
 yourself
 where
 your
 own
 thoughts 
and
 behaviors
 come
 from
, 
find
 the 
source
 of 
your
socialization
, 
and address
 your 
misconceptions, 
misinformation, and 
myths
. Re-frame your thoughts,
 re-educate yourself, 
cease
 self‐blame, 
and
 be open to change.
  • Use person-centered and non-discriminatory language. Individuals experiencing homelessness rather than homeless people. A person is not defined by his/her housing status. Removing the labels allows us to connect on the basis that we are all humans. We are all worthy of dignity and respect.

What do you think? Comment below.

Be the change,

Erin

Homelessness

Picture credit: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD], 2015. The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress