Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Most people on the streets today suffer from some form of mental illness. If we focused our energy on caring properly for the mentally ill in our society, we could transform the homeless population, and reduce violent crimes caused by those who suffer from mental illness but are not receiving the care they desperately need.

Friday, September 30, 2011

GUEST BLOG: DWIGHT SMITH - Civic Center Camping Ordinance

To: Ms. Lara
Public Law Center
Santa Ana, California

From: Dwight Smith
OC Catholic Worker

Dear Ms. Lara,

The City of Santa Ana has for the last fifteen years knowingly engaged in a deliberate and cancerous falsehood unbecoming any City in this nation. I'm speaking about the our Camping Ordinance and it's non-existent permits.

Copying a U.S. Forest Service law reasonably intended to ration access to our National Parks, our City Council enacted a pair of "camping ordinances" the first of which required a permit to camp on any public land within the City, and a similar law whose scope was limited to the area immediately adjacent to the multi-jurisdictional government plaza known as the Civic Center.

Two years ago, through the offices of Matthew Fletcher of Fletcher, Connor, Blake, I requested such a permit, asking Mr. Fletcher to make sure through his good relationship with our City Attorney that my request was not ignored on First Amendment grounds: "I want a permit to camp about camping, and not about the right to camp. Sort of a camping celebration of camping, only." Mr. Fletcher did as I asked, and Deputy City Attorney Sandoval made it clear to Mr. Fletcher that the City had never intended to issue permits for camping and would not.

In a recent blog post attached below, I outline my religious argument:

I'm currently soliciting counsel to sue the City of Santa Ana on behalf of all the persons arrested under the camping ordinance. I maintain that they have been illegally detained, prosecuted and imprisoned in a process in which both City Attorneys and County Prosecutors made material mis-representations to the Court in that the permits upon which the law depends were in fact, callously and fraudulently withheld from those persons who would gladly have paid for the permit to avoid conviction. The County and City's fraudulent misrepresentation of the availability of permits and their subsequent mis-representation, through illegal prosecution and imprisonment of the homeless, that such permits were, in fact and in law, possible to obtain, was a material fact denied the Defense as a mitigating factor in these persons' innocence.

(As an aside, a permit to camp at Yellowstone throughout the same era would have averaged $7 per night. I just purchased 100 $7 money orders to facilitate the homeless' acquisition of California ID's. We'd have gladly done the same to obtain camping permits for the Civic Center. From the defense perspective, we could argue that permits would have been made available, at least for some of those convicted, had they been made available at a price derived from appropriate campground marketing practices.)

Cities and Counties cannot be allowed to invent lawful and yet impossible ways to control human behavior, and then deny such impossibilities in later prosecutions. This is carnage, not justice.

If the State of California had made it imperative that every patient in an emergency room obtain a patient permit, and then failed to make such permits available, as a way of circumventing federal Hill-Burton ER regulations, we'd never hear the end of it.

Recently, I contacted the County Auditor and filed a fraud charge against Julia Bidwell, who is in charge of counting the Emergency Shelter Bed Inventory in Orange County, attached. She had invited me to the 2020 Planning Committee Meeting which would "develop guidelines" for disclosing to the public the number and kind of Emergency Shelter Beds available in Orange County. I insisted that it was fraudulent for her to assign (one of her) duties as Director of Homelessness to an as yet unformed and unfunded public-private partnership. I insisted that her own employees had already publicly advised first responders and the hospital ER community that there were, in effect, no County emergency shelter beds at all in the OC, and that the "trial census" she had gifted me, showing a total of over 500 such beds being available, was yet another fraud.

A year ago April, I received an open records response from Kelly Lupro showing that no County funds had been allocated for "low-threshold, non sub-population restricted emergency shelter beds like those at the Armory" anywhere in the County. Privately, the Salvation Army provides 56 such beds, my wife and I about twice that many. Since we provide more Emergency Shelter Beds than everyone else in the OC, we are deeply involved in a religious commitment of long duration to confront this duplicity.

Orange County provides not a single Emergency Shelter Bed of the type discussed in Jones v. Los Angeles.

The Director of Homelessness is disseminating xls. spreadsheets and other data that would incline a City PD to believe that such beds do exist.

The City of Santa Ana is arresting people for camping on public property without a permit that is impossible to obtain, based upon the availability of the beds the County pretends to exist.

If we assume, however, that America belongs first to the people, and then to the landlords who stole it from likewise illegitimate predecessors (all they way back to us Franciscans, who like Israelites, got the State from God) it begs the question "Why can't the public repose upon the commons when necessary?" Even the misdirection involved in falsely pretending the City is a campground harkens back to this ancient right. Were the city to declare "No sleeping on public property" every drowsy judge in the Courthouse would rise up with a constitutional challenge, and if the American Campground Association discovered that there are no public restrooms between 8PM and 8AM in our "campground" we'd be closed on order of the Public Health Department as a menace to the health of the public.

(I have long cautioned against obtaining coffee anywhere near the Civic Center. A fair number of the homeless, who are forced to use leaves and bushes, carry fecal contamination bearing the Hepatitis C virus, contaminating the cups, lids and stirrers in every shop in town.)

Were it not for unobtainable permits, the City would have to arrest people for sleeping or loitering, both of which are constitutionally permitted. It seems that, in Santa Ana, complying with the law depends upon the performance of a deliberate impossibility, and as such, makes the enforcement of such a law "unconstitutional as applied." The law has already been deemed facially constitutional.

I am just an orthodox Catholic who knows that many homeless people lie and cheat. What is surprising is how many City Attorneys and County D.A.'s prosecuting "camping" do exactly the same, and by so doing, avoid a similar fate. Is that all justice for the poor means?

Kristen, In Eichorn v. Santa Ana and Tobe v. Santa Ana, the Court decided that the Camping Ordinance was facially constitutional, but might be unconstitutional as applied. Is it possible that the deliberate witholding of permits makes compliance with the law impossible, and therefore unconstitutional? I daresay that permits are the only thing that make the Civic Center a "campground." If they're never issued, by intention, then the intention of the Camping Ordinance is to deny the citizens their constitutional right to sleep upon public land when necessary through the deceit of permits.

Please help us.


Dwight Smith,
OC Catholic Worker

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Dwight Smith: Hard Questions for SAPD Chief Walters

Subject: A Newsworthy question regarding Chief Walters suitability for his End Homelessness Presentation at 2PM on Thursday the 12th, 2011 at the SAPD Community Room.

SAPD Chief Walters c/o 2020 End Homeless Board

Dear Chief Walters,

I have great respect for you, and I very much wanted to see you defeat Marshal Carona in the race for Sheriff. My respect, however, is necessarily limited to your outstanding performance as Police Chief. It is for that reason I find it both misrepresentative and unfair that you will be holding your 2020 Presentation at the SAPD Community Room and presumably, in uniform. It is with great temerity, therefore, that I intend, as both a loyal supporter and homeless advocate of long standing, to call into question your fitness to end homelessness, since you, Mayor Pulido and the SAPD have done far more to destroy long-term opportunities for permanent housing than any other agency in America:

From the OC Weekly,

For years, Catholic Worker's Dwight Smith has railed against the exotic financing behind the opulent, $107 million Santa Ana Police Department headquarters and adjoining city jail—what one wag dubbed the "Glamour Slammer." The jail was partly built with a loan from the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency; the final installment is due in 2006.

The deal was perfectly legal, but with so many working poor in Santa Ana, using block grants from a low-income housing agency to pay off a loan for a marble-encrusted police/jail complex is shameful, Smith believes. Worse, he sees it as part of a pattern in Santa Ana to screw the poor. There was the city's infamous tent city breakdown in 1992, followed by ordinances that force the poor to move out of motels every month and forbid camping on public land. "Even their blankets are illegal," Smith said. Agencies like Catholic Worker are left to deal with the fallout.

So the 11th through 14th Stations of the Cross—the ones in which Jesus is nailed to the cross, placed in his mother's arms and laid to rest—were enacted with about 30 children, many homeless, sitting on the steps to the shiny Santa Ana PD. After the final prayer, Smith told the adults, "Now you all go on. The children are going to stay here for a moment and enjoy the housing the city purchased for them."

As the kids goofed around, adults lined up to kiss the cross propped up a few yards from the jail entrance.

"I want you to look over at all the children who are sitting on the steps of this building," said Leia Smith, Dwight's wife. "I want to remind you that on Easter Sunday, the armories close—all the armories close. And many of the people in this crowd know exactly what that means. People will not have a place to sleep. Look at the sky, feel the weather, and you notice it is cold, even though it may be the end of March. And we invite you to continue to ask some questions: Why—in a county that can afford a marble-covered building—are there men and women and children who have to sleep outside, exposed to the elements, for any reason at all?"

I have submitted to the OC Weekly and to Mike Anton of the LA Times, copies of those documents which show the result of your persuading Mayor Pulido and then HUD Secretary Cisneros to convince the Clinton administration to approve a 1996 Section 108 Transfer of $60 million dollars worth of subsequent low-income housing grants from Santa Ana's poor to the Chemical Bank of New York. This was to repay a $14.7 Million construction completion loan for your palatial HQ, necessitated by the OC BK. Had that $60 Million not consumed virtually half of all the low income housing funds sent to Santa Ana for the next decade, we might have built some long-term, low-income housing of the type you're going to be "presenting options for" in your talk today. All those millions, and pre-boom 1996 millions, to boot!

It's astonishing to me, of all the people in the OC, that you were handed the 2020 Board Role least suited to your CV. If I were to insinuate that you'd been set up by the very person who needs this to fail badly, that would probably be slander. What is self-evident, however, is that the OC Partnership is so dumb, and held in such little regard by the rest of OC's governance, that such really wonderful self-disclosing mistakes will continue to happen. I'm just sorry that you ended up the fall-guy for the OC Partnership's Karmic blunder.

I'm hoping that with this much advance notice you'll be able to completely address your role in the 1996-2006 debacle that robbed so many families of their "option for permanent housing" since you're now the one in charge of developing the same! Was there any thought, after the Chemical Bank loan was in place, to perhaps downgrade the quality of marble festooning the HQ is favor of squats for just a few tykes, or did the general "Cone of Silence" atmosphere surrounding the whole enterprise make charity problematic?

Does it still?

Or will your frank and disingenuous revelations finally let the voters know how important homeless children really are to Jim Palmer and the OC Board of Supervisors? Chief Walters, the real tragedy here is that, as always, really great public servants like you and the rest of the SAPD get "volunteered" by the likes of City Manager Reams and his good friend Jim Palmer. There's a reason that Mr. Palmer, until recently, publicly eschewed any association with Government, proclaiming loudly his utter reliance upon the Lord! He will never bear the humble "yoke" of public service. He will instead, rope the humble servants of the people into serving his selectively "anti-government" designs. The enduring problem, as demonstrated herein, is that he will do it badly. Jim probably isn't even aware of your involvement in the transfer of millions from the poor to the SAPD. That we would hold an "Options for Permanent Housing" presentation in the Community Room of the very "palace" that robbed poor families of their slim chances is ironic in the extreme. Perhaps no one would notice if you changed the venue to Jim Palmer's palace, and wore civvies.

Only in Partnership with the OC!

Dwight Smith

PS I'll be bringing a few students from the OC College Amnesty Chapter, and a score of homeless people.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

US Government Cuts $75 million Homeless Veteran Benefits, Adds $27million for NASCAR Sponsorships?


Unfortunately, in the recent round of intense budget cuts in Congress, this small funding for the homeless-shelter project was slashed, along with a total of $75 million in homeless-veteran benefits. As both a veteran and an American, I don't believe that veterans' programs should ever be isolated from budget cuts. After all, if the nation is hurting, it is we veterans who have sacrificed and will sacrifice first to protect her. But when I turn the pages of the budget to find a $7.4 million guaranteed commitment to fund a U.S. Army NASCAR sponsorship — and $20 million more from the National Guard to do the same — my blood begins to boil.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Anaheim, California (CNN)
In the shadows of Disneyland, often referred to as the "happiest place on Earth," many children are living a reality that's far from carefree.

They are living in cheap motels more commonly associated with drug dealers, prostitutes and illicit affairs.

It's the only option for many families that are struggling financially and can't scrape together a deposit for an apartment. By living week to week in these cramped quarters, they stay one step ahead of homelessness.

"Some people are stuck, they have no money. They need to live in that room," said Bruno Serato, a local chef and restaurateur. "They've lost everything they have. They have no other chance. No choice."

While "motel kids" are found across the United States, the situation is very common in Orange County, California, a wealthy community with high rents and a large number of old motels. In 2009, local authorities estimated that more than 1,000 families lived in these conditions.

When Serato learned that these children often go hungry, he began serving up assistance, one plate at a time. To date, he's served more than 270,000 pasta dinners -- for free -- to those in need.

"Kids should not be suffering," Serato said. "[I had] to do something."

Serato, 55, has always given back to the community where he achieved his American dream. When the Italian immigrant arrived in the U.S. 30 years ago, his poor English skills forced him to settle for a job as a dishwasher. But within five years, he had become chef and owner of the Anaheim White House, an Italian restaurant that is now a local hot spot.

In 2003, he created Caterina's Club, which raises money for underprivileged children. The charity is named after Serato's mother, who taught him how to cook at the family's trattoria in Verona, Italy.

When she came to California in 2005 to visit her son, he took her to the local Boys & Girls Club, the main recipient of the charity's funds. There, they saw a small boy eating a bag of potato chips and learned that this snack was his supper.

Bruno said his mother was shocked by the boy's meager meal. She had raised seven children and always made sure food was on the dinner table, even during the lean years after World War II.

"My mama ... her whole life was to feed kids," he said.

The Seratos found out that the boy lived in a motel with his family. The situation was so common in the area that the Anaheim Boys & Girls Club had a "motel kids" program, where vans pick up the children after school and drop them off at the motels every night. While these children receive free breakfast and lunch through school programs, their parents often don't have the resources to give them dinner.
Caterina found it unacceptable that the children would go to bed without supper.

Speaking in rapid Italian, she made her feelings clear to her son. "Mom said, 'Bruno, you must feed them the pasta!' " Serato recalled. When he discovered that this meant feeding around 70 children, he demurred. But his mother insisted. He went back to his restaurant and prepared 70 pasta dinners to serve at the club.
His mother helped him that first night, and Serato has maintained the ritual nearly every night for more than six years -- even through the recession.

The economic downturn was a challenge, though. Serato lost 30% to 40% of his customers, and the number of children he fed each night more than doubled. He often found himself giving away more meals than he served in his restaurant, and he was forced to refinance his home to keep going. But Serato found that his work with the children helped sustain him, at least on a personal level.

"So many nights ... it was not too many customers," he said. "[To] know that I served 150 kids ... it made me feel better."

This spring, Serato plans to expand his program to an additional 100 kids a night, and he will partner with another organization to give 100 children three meals a day.
He is also calling on other restaurants around the country to work together to feed "motel kids." He believes that providing just a few dinners a night could make a significant difference.

"Every restaurant in the country -- Chinese, Indian, Mexican, French -- let's do it all together," Serato said. "We would have no hungry children."

Serato's love for the children is clear, but he's quick to give all of the credit to his beloved "mama" back in Italy. Although she suffers from Parkinson's disease, he still talks to her via Skype every morning and believes that if she knew how their work has grown, she would be proud.

Although his mother made him start the work, he now says he could never stop helping the children.

"They're customers," he says with a smile. "My favorite customers."

Want to get involved? Check out the Caterina's Club website


Monday, February 14, 2011

Constructive Alternatives to Food Sharing Restrictions

Despite the prevalence of food sharing restrictions that hinder access to food for individuals experiencing homelessness, there are examples of positive ways hunger is being addressed.

These examples include the expansion of existing federal nutrition programs, innovative new programs, and collaboration between cities and local service providers.

Some examples include:

*The city of Ft. Myers, Florida abandoned plans to limit food sharing programs that serve homeless individuals in public parks, due to a negative public response to the proposal, in 2007. Subsequently, a city council member and local service providers collaborated to address community concerns surrounding public food sharing. Ultimately, the city council promised to work with local homeless service providers to create a Hunger Task Force, which has strengthened local alliances and resources.

*In Los Angeles, California Jonathan Lee, while a student at UCLA, recognized that there were hundreds of unused student meal plan meals at the end of the semester and
identified those as potential meals and snacks to be donated to people experiencing
homelessness and hunger in the community. He recruited help and started Swipes for the Homeless, a quarterly program that collects hundreds of donated meal card swipes from their peers.

*A federal program, the EBT Restaurant Meals Program, allows people experiencing
homelessness to use SNAP/Food Stamp benefits at authorized restaurants. Participation
is up to each state, and while many states do not take advantage of the program, it has expanded in the several states that do. California’s Los Angeles County has 477
restaurants participating in the program, including Subway, Dominos Pizza, El Pollo
Loco and Jack in the Box. Michigan and Arizona also have restaurants participating, and Florida is in the process of implementing a pilot program.

**Taken from "A Place at the Table", June 2010

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A PLACE AT THE TABLE (an excerpt)

Three years after the 2007 publication of Feeding Intolerance: Prohibitions on Sharing Food with People Experiencing Homelessness, cities still choose to implement measures that criminalize homelessness and, at times, penalize those who serve homeless persons.

These measures, such as anti-camping laws, often target activities homeless people are forced to do in public spaces because of their lack of a home or shelter.

This report specifically focuses on ordinances, policies, and tactics that
discourage or prohibit individuals and groups from sharing food with homeless persons. Uncomfortable with visible homelessness in their communities and influenced by myths about homeless people’s food access, cities use food sharing restrictions to move homeless people out of sight, an action that often exacerbates the challenges people experiencing homelessness face each day just to survive.

The report also highlights constructive alternatives to food sharing restrictions, in the form of innovative programs that both adults and youth are implementing to share food with people experiencing homelessness in their communities.

Increasing Homelessness and Hunger Across the U.S.
Many people are confronting homelessness and hunger in the current economic recession, some for the first time. The 2009 Hunger and Homelessness Survey conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found:
*82% (22 of 27) of cities surveyed, in 2009, reported having to make adjustments to
accommodate an increase in the demand for shelter over the past year.
*25% of requests for emergency food assistance went unmet in 2009.
*26% was the average increase in demand for assistance reported by cities in 2009, which represents the largest average increase since 1991.

Growing Restrictions by Cities on Food Sharing
More cities have chosen to target homeless individuals by restricting groups or individuals who share food with homeless people in private and public spaces, since 2007. Examples of these measures include:

*Gainesville, Florida began enforcing a rule limiting the number of meals that soup
kitchens may serve to 130 people in one day.

* Phoenix, Arizona used zoning laws to stop a local church from serving breakfast to
community members, including many homeless people, outside a local church.

*Myrtle Beach, South Carolina adopted an ordinance that restricts food sharing with
homeless people in public parks. Although permits are free, groups may only obtain a
permit four times a year.

Legal Challenges and Human Rights Implications
Such restrictions raise legal issues, and some have been challenged in court. For example:

▪ In Orlando, Florida the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the City of Orlando on behalf of local organizations, challenging a 2006 law requiring a groups sharing food with 25 or more people to obtain a permit that was only available twice a year per park. A federal district court found the law to be unconstitutional and in violation of Free Exercise of Religion and Freedom of Speech in October of 2008. The city has appealed the decision and the appeal is pending.

▪ In San Diego, California the zoning department attempted to prohibit a local church from serving a weekly meal to community members, many of them homeless. In 2008, attorney Scott Dreher successfully defended the church's First Amendment right to practice its religion. The weekly meal continues to take place on church property and serves 150 to 200 people each week. Such restrictions also raise human rights concerns. The right to food is a recognized human right, explicitly addressed in over 120 instruments of international law since 1920 and included in the
domestic constitutions of 22 nations. The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) explains that states have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill certain rights. For the right to food this means a state, or nation, must not take action resulting in preventing access to food, must ensure that enterprises or individuals do not deprive someone of their access to food, and must take proactive action to increase access to food.

*Taken from "A Place at The Table" - A Report by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, July 2010

Friday, February 4, 2011


Part 2 of 5

By Keith Giles

This week I want to share a long list of valuable lessons I've learned over the last few years when it comes to serving others. Keep in mind that a lot of what I learned here had to be experienced. Even as I share this with you I understand that reading about this is no substitute for actually experiencing it for yourself. Hopefully as you move forward in your own journey with serving people you'll discover the truth of these observations in your own heart.

As you take your first tentative steps into compassion ministry, you'll need to know what to expect. Here are some basic things I've discovered in my journey serving others in our community:

*Consistency Is Vital - We started ministry at the motel in Santa Ana almost 8 years ago. Over time we've consistently come every month with a bounce house, games, snacks and a puppet show for the kids who live in this motel. For over four years we only blessed them. We never preached a sermon or passed out maps to our Church. (Although we weren't shy about sharing with them if they had need or if they asked us why were doing this for them.)

Recently, in our fifth year, we started passing out free groceries and asking them if we can pray with them about anything. Why? The goal of the ministry is to show the love of Jesus to them in tangible ways. Not to market our church or to get them to buy something. We have intentionally withheld a sermon or an evangelistic message so that we create the question in their minds- "Why?" We want people to respond to our compassion by asking "Why would you come out here and bless us like this every month?" When they ask us (and they eventually do) we then share with them the difference that Jesus has made in our hearts and lives.

Having no agenda disarms them and, more importantly, demonstrates that we really are only interested in loving them and blessing them in practical ways.

*You WILL Get Burned. It's Part Of The Process - A fellow compassion ministries pastor once suggested that we publish a guide to help local churches serve the poor. He wanted to include a section that would help prevent them from getting burned by some of the poor who take advantage of our goodwill. I protested against this quite vocally because the best lessons I've learned in loving the poor have come from the numerous times I've been played like a violin. Without those experiences of being lied to, taken advantage of and played for a fool I wouldn't have a shred of discernment regarding the poor. Getting burned is part of the process. Try to learn from it. The biggest challenge is to get burned and continue to love people and bless them, even knowing they might be playing you.

*Bigger Is Not better - For the longest time our ministry to the families in the motel was pretty much my wife, my two elementary-age sons and one other woman from our church. We still managed to put together great games for the kids, snacks, puppet shows and a meaningful ministry to the families who live in this motel. Sometimes having a massive ministry footprint means that the people you're ministering to get lost in the hype. I'd rather sit down and share a sandwich under a tree with one homeless guy than have a massive army of people running a huge event where the poor feel like outsiders.

*Don't Pet the Poor - Early on I was warned not to treat the poor as a project or an outreach. When we do this we end up treating them like people who are less than the rest of us. The goal in serving the poor is to make them feel like an equal human being. Look them in the eye. Laugh with them. Learn their story. Pray for them during the week. Get to know them. If you can think of your ministry as being more about making new friends (who happen to be living in poverty) and less about fixing these poor people you'll be fine.

*Don't Attempt To Cure Poverty In Your City - This is a common mistake for those who start off doing compassion ministry. In their zeal to bring justice to the poor they get off target and begin to see their ministry as a grandiose scheme to end poverty forever in their city. The sad thing is that when we do this we stop caring for the actual people who are in need. If our focus can remain on finding a few people and learning how to love them we'll be closer to the heart of Jesus. One of my early mentors, David Ruis, used to communicate it this way: "What do you see and what do you have?" Meaning, start with the people in front of you who have a need. Ask yourself what you have that you could share with them. Befriend people and learn to love them.

*It's About Sharing, Not Giving - Giving to the poor, although important is not what we're necessarily called to as followers of Jesus. We're called to share. Giving means writing a check and walking away (and taking the tax break on our IRS return). Sharing means taking something that is mine and giving it away to someone who needs it more than I do. That's an investment. That's also about friendship and relationship, not compassion from a distance.

*Befriend A Few and Learn To Love Them Deeply - When we first started our Motel Ministry I had grand visions of leading huge outreach teams to lead worship and preach the Gospel and rescue hundreds from the despair of poverty. God quickly corrected my vision and showed me one small family living in the motel. Love them, He said. Get to know them. Invite them to your house for lunch.

For the first two years or so that was the main focus of our ministry in that motel. The difference was that this ministry soon became less about ending poverty in that motel and more about the struggles of my new friends, Mike and Pam and their two children.

*You Will Learn More From Them Than You Teach - My relationship with the families at the motel has taught me more about courage and forgiveness and humility than I could have ever learned from reading a book or a blog or listening to a sermon. The things I've heard and seen and experienced by being in relationship with these wonderful people has impacted me greatly.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Federal Homelessness Program Runs Out Of Money As Need Rises

WASHINGTON -- Homelessness has significantly risen in the U.S. as a result of surging foreclosures and joblessness caused by the recession, but a new federal program designed to nudge people back from the brink of life without shelter is on the brink itself.

A new report, released by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty on Jan. 26, found that a homelessness prevention and re-housing program funded by the 2009 stimulus bill needs more money to meet rising need. Instead, the program will likely be left out of the new federal budget.

In response to the 20 percent increase in foreclosures that occurred from 2008 to 2009, the Department of Housing and Urban Development used $1.5 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to create the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), which helps keep people in their apartments by subsidizing their rent.

The program is quickly running out of money, however, and having a number of administrative difficulties trying to keep up with demand. In Detroit, for instance, about 50,000 people filled out applications for only 3,500 grants on the first day the money was available, and a number of major U.S. cities have already used up more than 80 percent of their allotted funds, which were supposed to last until 2012.

When the NLCHP report surveyed local service providers and legal assistance organizations to determine the overall effectiveness of the program, about 61 percent said that "program bureaucracy" resulted in over half of people applying for HPRP not receiving assistance. About half of the respondents said there was no clear appeals process to give people a second chance when their initial application was denied, and in many communities, eligible families were not even aware of the program because of a lack of outreach efforts.

Sheila Crowley, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told HuffPost she is not surprised the program is having difficulties meeting demand because it was only supposed to be an emergency band-aid for victims of the recession.

"The program was basically created fairly quickly, and the idea was to put some cash into the hands of the service providers in communities who are there when people knock on the door and say, 'I'm about to be evicted,'" she said. "It's a program that was seen as a one-shot deal in response to what, in 2009, people hoped was a short-term crisis. Here we are two years later, and unemployment is still high, and foreclosures continue, so it's sort of the story of what happens when you do programs like that."

According to a December report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 52 percent of U.S. cities surveyed reported an increase in people experiencing homelessness in 2010, and emergency shelters in 64 percent of those cities said they've had to turn away families with children due to a lack of available beds.

The NLCHP is recommending that HUD allocate $1 billion per year in additional funding to the re-housing program to respond to the ongoing needs of communities that are quickly running out of HPRP money. But Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the Law Center, said Congress has asked all government agencies to deliver a reduced budget this year that will likely not keep the HPRP program afloat.

If the program goes by the wayside, it will join the ranks of a number of effective stimulus programs that Congress has deemed unworthy of deficit spending, including a $2.5 billion work subsidy program that one Washington think tank estimated had created nearly 250,000 jobs.

"The bottom line is this is an important program that really does prevent people from being homeless and get people back into housing, but the need greatly outstrips the resources that were allocated," she told HuffPost. "We're seeing tremendous increases in homelessness as a result of the foreclosure crisis and economic downturn, and we're afraid that programs that help prevent homelessness will be cut at a time when their funding needs to be increased."


Wednesday, February 2, 2011


by Keith Giles

Part 1 of 5

Over the last several years I have been involved in serving the poor here in Orange County, California. During this time I have learned a lot about what to do, and what not to do, when it comes to serving the least and the forgotten.

In the upcoming series of articles I will do my best to provide practical insights and information about what serving the poor looks like. I hope to inspire many of you to step outside your comfort zones and begin to serve the poor in your own community.

Whether you volunteer at a local soup kitchen or if you lead a small group or a church team to go out and minister to the poor I hope you can benefit from these articles and catch a vision for serving others.

I am very excited about this new series of articles. My prayer is that this will inspire many of you to take first steps into an outward expression of God's love for others. I welcome your feedback and your questions as we take a few weeks to explore this subject and wrestle with these ideas.

This series will not be about building a case for the "Why" we serve the poor, instead I will assume that most of you reading this have already come to terms with the overwhelming Biblical evidence regarding God's command to care for the poor and the example of our Lord Jesus towards the sick, the broken and the outcast.

It is my firm belief that, as a follower of Jesus, serving the least and the forgotten in our culture is expected of us. Jesus was our blueprint for living the Kingdom life. His example to us compels us to leave our comfort zones and to seek out the lonely, the forgotten, the least and the lost in our society. Jesus himself made it very clear that those who sincerely love him will be found caring for the hungry, the poor, the lonely and the imprisoned (see Matthew 25).

For more on the Believers Biblical mandate to care for the poor please refer to the numerous Scriptural references (over 2,000) concerning Gods heart for the poor and His expectation of compassion and obedience from us.

So, with the assumption of an understanding regarding our personal calling to serve the poor and to love them as we love Jesus, (and as Jesus has loved us), I will try to share some of what I've learned over the last few years regarding God's heart for the poor and how we can step forward in obedience to care for them.

One of the first things I did when I realized that God was calling me to lead a ministry to the poor, (or Compassion Ministry), was to seek out other leaders who were already caring for the poor around me. There was a church in my neighborhood that hosted a weekly luncheon for the poor in their parking lot. I was also aware that they had started a Men's Shelter and opened a local Thrift Store to fund the ministry. After a few phone calls I got in touch with the pastor in charge of this ministry and took him to lunch.

Over a cheeseburger I took notes and asked a lot of questions. From there I took this pastor's advice and got in touch with the chaplain of our local rescue mission. A meeting with this amazing gentleman proved very insightful and provided further understanding of what poverty in our community looked like and how best to help.

If you feel called to start a ministry to the poor through your church, or small group, or just want to get involved in some way, here's what I recommend:

*Understand that this is a Spiritual Battle - Some of the people you are about to minister to are trapped in the most unbelievable darkness you can possibly imagine. They are bound by drug addictions, sexual perversion, demonic possession, mental illness, physical sickness and more. You will need to recognize that you are not enough. You are perfectly inadequate in every way. You will need the power of the Holy Spirit. You will require a complete dependence upon God for help. You will not last a second without Jesus as your example, friend and constant strength. Pray.

*Don't reinvent the wheel - If there's already a dozen ministries in your area who are serving the homeless there’s no point in starting another one. Partner with them and work together.

*Find out what causes poverty in your community - In Orange County there are several non-profit organizations who conduct annual surveys and publish community index reports on everything from education and crime to employment rates and homelessness. A call to your local Rescue Mission and/or the area Salvation Army office can probably put these reports into your hands. Learning what the specific causes of poverty and homelessness in your community are goes a long way to providing
your next step. NOTE: If you live in Orange County, California you can search to find more resources and info to help you understand poverty in the OC.

*Become an expert in what causes poverty in your city - Soon you'll be teaching others about the problem, and the solutions. Because I've taken the time to study the causes of poverty in Orange County, I've had numerous invitations from local churches to come and share what I've learned. Part of my personal mission is to help others to see what I see and to catch a vision for serving the poor. This is a great way to do that.

*Piggy-back with others who have more experience and learn from them - When our group wanted to minister to prostitutes we did our best to find others who were experienced in dealing with this issue. When we felt called to minister in motels we partnered with the local Rescue Mission who was already organizing church groups to address the issue. Don't assume you know the needs, or the best methods for helping the poor. Every city is different. Every category of ministry (homeless, elderly,
veterans, prostitutes, drug addicts, battered women, etc.) is unique. Learn before you step out.

*Build a team who can serve with you - Don't start out alone.
Even if it's only one other person, you need to have a partner in this adventure. Pray together. Research the needs and brainstorm your approach to ministry.

*Don't blindly copy what someone else is doing - Every community is different, and I believe we need to begin caring for "our poor" first. The homeless or the low-income family in your area is not the same as the homeless or the poor in San Francisco, or New York or Chicago, etc. Take cues from others, but don't assume you can "cut and paste" what one ministry does into your community and be

*Start close to home - The poor who live within ten miles of you are "your poor" and getting to know them, and understanding their needs and what keeps them in poverty is crucial. Try not to do long distance ministry to the poor. Find ways to be in fellowship with those you are serving.