Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Will Work 4 Food

Will work for food.

Stan M.

There’s more to being homeless than not having a home. If your eyes glaze over when you look at a crowd of “the homeless” then you might be missing the important details that set apart who we really are – not what we are. Admitting it is the first step they say. The real problem is that there are so many problems. If you took the time to ask us why they are homeless or what we need to stop being homeless you’d get the same number of answers as people you ask. Homeless – need a home, right? Well, actually need a job so we can pay the rent, right? Oh, well it is kinda hard to get a job if you don’t have an address or phone number for the application. And then there is the issue of showering and dressing for the day to day job. Why don’t we just wash our clothes at Plowshares you ask? Well, because there are 10x more need than washers available on any given day. If you don’t have a car you won’t be first in line to wash clothes or shower.

Don’t forget that many of us end up here because we’ve got issues with drugs, addiction or alcohol – but there are also those who drink because we don’t know how else to deal with the soul numbing loneliness and alienation on the street. A life of victimization and violence put more than a few of us on the street so giving us a job or home won’t help us deal with the next asshole that we trust who leaves us broke and beaten.

So many of us have a record – criminal or not – and it’s easy to see why a good job is not on the horizon. If you sat down for lunch with us and asked about our professions or education you might be shocked to know that we’ve got master mechanics, appliance repair techs, teachers, artists, plumbers, carpenters and more than a few master’s degrees floating around here.

Did you know that there exists a whole social strata among those who live on the street? We’ve got those that hang at bumbie park and the others at the Wal-Mart parking lot. You’ve got the panhandlers and the parking lot crew on one end of town and on the other you’ve got the multitudes that hang at the Memorial Garden at the Ukiah Community Center. There are the ones that live on the tracks and never stay in the shelter and then still others who live in their cars and camp on the river. We’ve got “drunks”, “druggies” and “tweaks” and then there’s the “12-steppers” and “tea-totallers” avoiding the “addicts” so they can keep clean enough to get into transitional housing. There are the crazy and mentally-ill and then there’s the insane.

And we all bleed, shiver and shake in the cold and get drenched in the rain - the same as you.

Some you might assume to be homeless in our crowd actually have a room they rent or a shack in the woods and yet they come together with the rest of us. It’s not a home that makes them end their homelessness. On the other hand more than a few of us living on the street will argue that we are NOT homeless, but rather without the burdens of a home. For some it’s a way of life that is without the constraints of stability – for those burdens weight so heavy on our broken shoulders it’s easier to let that all go.

For those of you that seek to end homelessness- I’ll pray for you. Your job is just too big. On the other hand those of you seeking to help those of us in need can step right up if you’re willing to listen, suspend judgment and know that we each have a different path to stability. This doesn’t fit in a nice program or treatment plan, but it can work – one person at a time.

Stan M. –

Stan is a local resident who has been both housed and homeless enough times to write a great book.

Sex 4 Shelter

“Unlike step-fathers with roaming hands and implicit demands exacted from cruel caretakers, I found the open negotiation a far more decent prospect.”

“Those of you that have yet to get on your knees for shelter or cuddle up to a stranger to get out of the freezing rain might be wondering how a good person could do such things.”

Gas, grass or ass – Nobody rides for free

Survival SEX

by Alice Spence

Skipping out on a lousy foster home I hitched a ride to Hollywood & set out to find my fortune. I soon learned that a smile and friendly conversation wasn’t valid currency on the street. Nobody had any good reason to watch out for me unless I wanted to sweeten the deal. Gas, grass or ass – Nobody rides for free. It was a harsh reality, but I learned to appreciate the honesty in its delivery. Unlike step-fathers with roaming hands and implicit demands exacted from cruel caretakers, I found the open negotiation a far more decent prospect.

Those of you that have yet to get on your knees for shelter or cuddle up to a stranger to get out of the freezing rain might be wondering how a good person could do such things. What you might not know is how far you’d have to go to survive. The human compulsion to live, eat and stay warm can provide the strongest argument – it becomes easier to separate the body from the self if your sex is your most valuable currency.

While preparing to write this article I found a sad statistic from a Hollywood, Ca. shelter who surveyed 500 youth between the ages of 14-19. 96% reported having been sexually active with 50% boys and 39% girls admitting to participating in survival sex. After I mourned our collective loss of innocence I felt this deep connection to those souls who learned that they have a deep capacity to overcome a great deal. I only hope that they also learned to separate the act from the person so they could eventually heal – the self-mortification drove me to addiction and the brink of death.

Now 25 years later I work with homeless youth. They are far savvier than I recall being. Some skillfully manipulate the complicated legal system that failed to protect them. Others are fueled by the “immortality of youth” as they selectively use condoms and fly in the face of death refusing to believe they could succumb to HIV. I feel so fortunate to have reached the sane side of adulthood untouched by HIV and Hep C. I was off the street and on my way to better when AIDS began taking my friends one by one in the late 80’s. When I look back I feel like a survivor. I don’t think I would have been any different than today’s youth.

Some listen to my relentless lectures on self-protection. My status of having been-there-and-done-that lends some credence to my begging. I am most honored when I hear some repeating my words as they seek to help their friends. It’s then I know that I’ve turned bad for good.

Although Alice Spence is a pseudonym the woman is a very real person who takes pleasure in surviving the past and embracing the future. Though she holds close her anonymity she hopes her story will help others understand more and judge less.

A Kind of Place

Digital Story about Ukiah Community Center

Feel Like You're Doing Something To Solve Homelessness - Do Your Part - Be a piece of the puzzle (or at least play with one!)

Photo Essay - Ukiah Community Center Homeless Day Shelter Clients, Staff & Volunteers

Photo Essay - Ukiah Community Center Homeless Day Shelter Clients, Staff & Volunteers

Homeless people are in every community and in every town in our country. In response to the growing tide and frustration communities have responded in a variety of ways. Some have become proactive and are working to develop innovative strategies to provide permanent solutions to those interested in ending their homelessness. Other communities have responded by criminalizing homelessness through city and county ordinances that target the homeless for activities and behaviors that sheltered individuals enjoy every day.
I offer this opportunity to openly discuss these issues in this forum and invite readers to consider the following:

  • As a nation how do we respond to the shocking numbers of homeless veterans? What obligation does our country have to those who served?
  • As a community how do we come together to problem-solve an issue that hinges on the very issues that divide us? How do we agree on effective solutions if political motivations drive spending dollars?
  • As volunteers how do we deal with knowing that there are people who will never fit into the system currently designed to "solve the homeless problem" because they do not fit the criteria for services? How can we work within the current systems to promote quality changes?
  • As individuals how do we deal with the moral dilema of how to help without perpetuating the problem? Can we face our own bias and stereotyped images in order to hear and see differing views? Do we believe homelessness is a chosen lifestyle for most, all, none, the lazy or just those who are too downtrodden to rise up?
  • As humans how do we invest ourselves in a compassionate manner without feeling as though nothing makes a difference? Can we give more than a little, but sustain our own lives? How do we decide where to give those precious few dollars and who/what agency or program is most worthy of our resources?
  • As parents what does it mean to us that a large portion of today's homeless youth will be tomorrow's chronically homeless adults? What does it mean that the majority of homeless youth have been in foster care at some point in their lives? Does transitional support for youth really provide an effective solution to turn the tide of homelessness for today's youth?

Please post your comments here and remember to respond to differing opinions in a respectful manner. Thank you.