Friday, March 27, 2009

Recession Increasing Interest In Homelessness

This week the homeless population of the United States received a profile boost. On Tuesday, during President Obama's primetime press conference, a reporter from Ebony magazine asked about the rise of tent cities across the country and a new study showing that every fiftieth American child is homeless.

"Part of the change in attitudes that I want to see here in Washington and all across the country," the president said in response, "is a belief that it is not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours."

A change in attitudes may be underway. While the recession has exacerbated homelessness, it has not created a new phenomenon. Take it from Obama: "The homeless problem was bad even when the economy was good," he told the Ebony reporter.

The headlines about shantytowns and homeless children may reflect more of an increase in interest in homelessness than the impact of the recession. Those tent-dwellers sunk their stakes before this recession started, and the child homelessness study is based on data from three years ago. The tents and the homeless kids are indicative not of the current economy, but of a long-standing problem.


Friday, March 20, 2009


Homelessness in Orange County
Over 35,000 people in Orange County California are homeless and 80% of those are families with children. Most of these live in motels because they cannot afford first and last month's rent, and a security deposit. They are faced with the choice of food on the table or a table on which there is no food.

ABC WORLD NEWS TONIGHT recently did a report on the "Hidden Homeless" living in OC Motels:

ABC 7 News - "Hidden Homeless In OC Motels"
(Features interview with Jim Palmer of the Orange County Rescue Mission)

ABC WORLD NEWS TONIGHT - "Motel Homeless" segment

The segment mentions that church groups have been helping with food and resources and Jim Palmer, founder of the Orange County Rescue Mission, is interviewed in both the National and the local segements.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

10 Reasons Why Homeless People Choose To Be Homeless

A question that has often been brought up here amongst the comments is the question of choice. Are homeless people who appear to be homeless by choice less deserving of compassion or assistance than others? If they do indeed choose this lifestyle why should anyone interfere, why should anyone go out of their way or put their hands in their pockets to help them?

Rarely does anyone ever choose to become homeless. I won’t deny the existence of a tiny minority of Robinson Crusoe types that put on their backpacks and drop out of society, favoring a simple lifestyle of woodland living. Some people do this for a relatively short period, more like an extended camping trip but there are very, very few indeed that maintain this lifestyle for a protracted amount of time. Of the remaining ninety-nine percent the reasons for becoming homeless are many and varied but whatever the initial cause of their homelessness and despite all the programs and shelters and missions that are available today some do appear to remain homeless by choice. If you actually ask homeless people why with all the services available do they prefer to stay on the streets, some will even tell you that they choose to be homeless. But do they really? The reality is a lack of suitable alternatives.

The following are some of the main reasons why homeless people choose homelessness over the available services:

1. Safety

Many homeless people avoid using shelter services for fear that their personal safety could be compromised. Whilst most shelters take precautions where practical they are often run, through necessity, on skeleton staff levels of volunteers who are likely not professionally qualified to deal with violent conduct and as such cannot guarantee personal safety. There may well be violent offenders, addicts and mentally imbalanced individuals sharing the room in which you would be expected to sleep.

2. Personal belongings

Homeless people travel light. They own very little and you can be sure that the few things they do possess and carry are either necessary for their survival or they consider the items very precious. They protect the few belongings that they do have tenaciously. Most shelters do not have secure storage available which means that personal belongings can be left lying around and vulnerable to theft.

3. Pets

Homeless people are socially excluded. If they are spoken to at all by the general population it is more often than not to be jeered at. Sometimes they can go weeks, months or even years without speaking to a single soul. This isolation can be one of the most difficult aspects homeless people have to deal with. Many would rather share what little food they can gather with a dog in exchange for the companionship they provide than be completely alone. It is not hard to understand why they would be reluctant to give this up but very few shelters or state supported accommodation programs make provisions for pets.

4. Health Hazards

Death and homelessness go hand in hand. The average age at death of a homeless person in America can be as low as 41 years depending on the state you live in. Homeless people often have difficulty in accessing medical care. Poor diet and exposure to the elements can mean that a relatively minor injury or disease could prove fatal. The risk of picking up an infection is massively increased when using shelter services.

5. Control

Shelter living effectively means being told what time you have to go to bed, what time you have to get up, what you are going to eat and what time you are going to eat it at. It likely also means limited availability as to what times you are able to use washing facilities. In essence your freedom is restricted and your life no longer your own.

6. Daytime Hours

Most shelters are nighttime only. This means that come the morning (and it is usually very early) you have just a short time to get your gear together before being turned back out onto the streets. It matters not whether it might be rain, sleet, snow or hail, you have to leave and you may not return prior to the time allotted for opening the following evening. If you show up late, no matter what the reason may be, this will usually result in missing your spot for that night. That is, of course, if there were any beds left available in the first place.

7. Addictions

Although the common held stereotypical myth that all homeless people are addicts and alcoholics is not true, there is a significant proportion that do suffer from alcoholism and/or substance abuse issues. There are also a great number of them trying desperately to kick these habits. In order to have a realistic chance of breaking the cycle it is necessary to avoid associating with other addicts wherever possible and staying away from places where they are likely to hangout. For many, this means staying away from shelters.

8. Privacy

People need personal space. Staying in a shelter means sharing a dormitory, sharing a meal room and sharing bathroom facilities with fifty or so other residents. Ever tried sleeping in a room full of fifty other people all chatting, laughing, coughing, snoring and breaking wind? It is worth remembering that some of these emergency ’shelters’ consist of no more than a mattress on a church floor. It may be warmer than the streets but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to get more sleep.

9. Intrusion and Anonymity

Many state programs require a very intrusive application process. It can mean disclosing highly personal and potentially embarrassing information. Personal history, family background, police and medical records and financial history are all fair game. There are many reasons why anybody would prefer to keep certain things quiet. Some maybe sinister but others can be tragic. It is widely believed that a significant proportion of missing persons are homeless people.

10. Required Religion

A large percentage of homeless shelters have a religious affiliation. Not all but many of those that do have one impose a requirement to attend religious services in order for a person to be granted access to their food and shelter facilities. This can, of course, be offensive to some and particularly those who belong to an ethnic minority, which tend to be over-represented amongst the homeless population.

This is not intended in any way to be an attack on the services offered by rescue missions and shelters. In fact, I strongly believe that they do a fantastic job of providing an invaluable service with very limited resources. The truth is that they do their best to fill a huge void caused largely by societal and political shortcomings and the homelessness situation would be very much worse than it already is were it not for their efforts. Unfortunately though they cannot realistically be expected to provide an effective solution with the available finances and other resources at their disposal.

Do homeless people ever really choose to be homeless? No, not really. Still not convinced? Well next time you see a homeless person sleeping on the streets try dangling the keys to your nice plush suburban home under his or her nose. Inform them that the central heating is fired up, the fridge is fully stocked and there is fresh linen. Tell them Fido is welcome, they can have their friends over and they can come and go as they please. I can guarantee their will be a dozen proverbial shopping carts parked in your driveway come lunchtime.


COMMENTARY: This article is largely helpful in understanding the challenges faced by people who live on the streets. I disagree that these factors prove that some homeless people do not choose this lifestyle. I (Keith) have personally worked with homeless people who absolutely prefer to be homeless and will only accept assistance to maintain their homeless lifestyle, they will refuse assistance connected with getting off the streets - and not for any of the reasons the author of this article above has listed.

Mainly, those who prefer to remain homeless are either stubbornly clinging to the "I Did It My Way" principle, and/or are mentally challenged and cannot get the help and housing they need due to lack of state/federal funds, etc.

Still, a good article with an accurate snapshot of what life on the streets can be like for many.


To contact the author of this blog:
"elysiansky" at hotmail

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

As Jobs Vanish, Motel Rooms Become Home

*An article on the motel homeless families in the OC published in the NY Times

As Jobs Vanish, Motel Rooms Become Home
Published: March 10, 2009

COSTA MESA, Calif. — Greg Hayworth, 44, graduated from Syracuse University and made a good living in his home state, California, from real estate and mortgage finance. Then that business crashed, and early last year the bank foreclosed on the house his family was renting, forcing their eviction.

Now the Hayworths and their three children represent a new face of homelessness in Orange County: formerly middle income, living week to week in a cramped motel room.

"I owe it to my kids to get out of here," Mr. Hayworth said, recalling the night they saw a motel neighbor drag a half-naked woman out the door while he beat her.

As the recession has deepened, longtime workers who lost their jobs are facing the terror and stigma of homelessness for the first time, including those who have owned or rented for years. Some show up in shelters and on the streets, but others, like the Hayworths, are the hidden homeless — living doubled up in apartments, in garages or in motels, uncounted in federal homeless data and often receiving little public aid.



" many other families, they cannot muster the security deposit and other upfront costs of renting a new place."

"Still, a source of turmoil for motel families is a California rule that after 28 days, residents are considered tenants, gaining legal rights of occupancy. Some motels force families to move every month, while others make families stay in a different room for a day or two."

"(Motel families) are especially prevalent in Orange County, which has high rents, a shortage of public housing and a surplus of older motels that once housed Disneyland visitors."

“The motels have become the de facto low-income housing of Orange County,” said Wally Gonzales, director of Project Dignity, one of dozens of small charities and church groups that have emerged to assist families, usually helping a few dozen each and relying on donations of food, clothing and toys."

"(These motels) look like any other modestly priced stopover inland from the ritzy beach towns. But walk inside and the perception immediately changes.

In the evening, the smell of pasta sauce cooked on hot plates drifts through half-open doors; in the morning, children leave to catch school buses. Families of three, six or more are squeezed into a room, one child doing homework on a bed, jostled by another watching television. Children rotate at bedtime, taking their turns on the floor. Some families, like the Malpicas, in a motel in Anaheim, commandeer a closet for baby cribs."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


*from the OC Register article HERE

Miracle on Piper Place by Lori Basheda (

It all began the day the fires raced up over the hills toward Piper Place. Suddenly a megaphone was blaring: neighbors had 10 minutes to evacuate.
Darcie Campbell and her husband Ken scrambled to get in the car when they saw a neighbor walking slowly to her car two doors down.

The Campbells knew that Sandy Maitlen lived in that house, the one with the overgrown weeds. But no one ever really saw Sandy. And the less people saw of her, the more the tales grew. "We all sort of shunned her," Darcie says.

But now here she was walking to her car in the smoke, looking shaken. Ken ran over: Do you need help? he asked.

And she started crying.

After the fires, after everyone on Piper Place was safe to move back, Darcie and Ken made a decision that they would get to know Sandy. “And actually, our minds were blown,” she says. It turns out Sandy, now 66, is a perfectly friendly lady who has lived on Piper Place since the mid ’70s. Divorced, she raised her two children alone. One daughter died after surgery five years ago. She now has a grown daugther who lives with her, along with a granddaughter.

One day Sandy let Darcie into her house. ”That this was in my neighborhood, on my street, and we never even noticed her need,” Darcie says, trailing off.

In one bathroom there was a hole in the floor, no toilet. In another bathroom, the toilet overflows. There were pipes leaking in the ceiling, black mold, no heat, two broken windows and the front door was hung upside down, on one hinge.

Darcie is part of a Thursday night fellowship group that meets behind Sandy’s house at the home of Julie and Noel Cruz. ”Can we all come together?” she asked them.

And come together they did. This weekend about 50 people are converging on Sandy’s house, carrying cans of paint and tool boxes.

"It's sort of unbelievable," Darcie says. "People used to tell stories if they saw a shadow in her house, and behind that was this very sweet lady."
Sandy chuckles at the idea. "I just tried to do things myself. I didn't want to be a bother to people, so we kind of kept to ourselves."

And now: "It is just beyond my wildest imagination," she says. "I'm just overwhelmed with all the goodness and kindness."

If you want to join the gang of people helping Sandy or donate anything, call Darcie’s daughter Stacie at 714-507-0859 or

NOTE: Some of Darcie's neighbors and friends from a house church on her street will be painting, sanding and doing an "Extreme Home Makeover" of Sandy's house from March 20th - 22nd. For more information and to help out go HERE