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Tent Cities Part 2

Did you know that 44% of the homeless in America are living without shelter?

As discussed in my last post, tent cities have historically been one way people seek shelter, primarily because there is a dearth of affordable housing.  Many of them start as disorganized gatherings of squatters with no place else to go due to shelter overcrowding or housing ineligibility.

Over time though, non-profits have begun to help arrange more organized tent cities. This usually involves taking an existing tent city and helping them restructure in a way that meets city or local guidelines and benefits the residents of the encampment.

Dignity Village

These organized tent cities are thought of by their supporters as waiting rooms until transitional or permanent housing becomes available.  The National Coalition for the Homeless put out a report on tent cities on the pacific coast, and it outlines the structure of several successful tent cities. Cities like Seattle, Portland, and Fresno (among others) have serious shelter overcrowding problems, and tent cities have formed as a way to handle the surplus.

Camp Quixote

The vast majority of the tent cities discussed in the report are dry encampments with strict rules about drug use and violence.  They have councils, meetings, security shifts, and they are self governed.  These miniature communities are models of what our larger communities should look like.  Some of them grow their own food, assist each other in job searches, have community service hours, and advocacy campaigns.

Village of Hope, Fresno, CA

The members of the tent cities discussed in this report defy all stereotypes of homeless people.  They are responsible, clean and sober, and motivated.  The non-profits that partner with them are assisting in funding and act as service providers, but they do not run the tent cities or tell them what to do.  These men and women have achieved a level of sufficiency at which they can run their own villages.

Dignity Village Garden

This is not to say that these people should stay in tent cities forever, or even that tent cities are the best solution to homelessness.  These are just a few of the positives to be considered when looking at tent cities in America  and how they function to service the greater good.  In my next post, I will discuss the downside to tent cities.

Tent Cities Part 1

Many of us have heard about tent cities thanks to the Occupy movement.  Groups of protesters set up encampments in cities across the country. As a result, legislation was passed forcing them out of the parks and off of public lands.  These anti-camping laws did more than eliminate the Occupy encampments, though. The lesser-publicized homeless tent cities were also affected.

Berkley Occupy Camp

These Occupiers, who protest the distribution of wealth in America, did not set out to harm the homeless.  In fact, many of them have been sharing their camps with the homeless.  But with these new laws in place the homeless are being pushed out of parks and public places.  Especially in larger cities, where shelter overcrowding is a major concern, there are few other options for the homeless.  These anti-camping laws have basically outlawed homeless, which raises the question: Where are they supposed to go?

Thankfully, Occupiers have realized their hand in the matter and are now arranging protests of these new laws.  These “Rallies for the Right to Exist” are the first step in drawing attention to a very important issue.  In San Francisco the Occupiers have even taken over a vacant building and are insisting it be used for the homeless. One of the leaders of the movement pointed out that no building should stand empty when there are people without shelter.

Sacramento Tent City…slightly different than the occupy encampment, no?

I find it interesting that we have heard so much about tent cities in the media as a result of occupy, when in reality tent cities have been around for a long time.  The homeless encampments are growing in size as a result of the economic downturn, but still they receive little media attention. For many Americans these tent cities are out of sight, and therefore, out of mind.  Due to negative generalizations of the homeless population, even many who know about these shanty towns are not accepting or supporting.  Surprisingly though, the communities that have actually encountered them are largely supportive.

I will discuss more about why, how, and where tent cities form in my next post.

Call-in Days

This is not the most exciting post you will ever read…BUT it may be one of the most important. Please, bear with me and help us make a difference.

This week the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations will be meeting to determine how much of the FY 13 budget to allocate to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittees (THUD). For HUD to receive more funding in the coming year, the appropriators need to increase the THUD subcommittee allocation, known as the THUD 302(b) allocation.

Unless the allocation is increased above the FY12 allocation, HUD will experience cuts yet again. Tomorrow, March 27, and Wednesday, March 28, there will be call-in days to encourage senators and representatives to tell the Appropriations Committee Chairs to increase the FY13 THUD subcommittee allocation.

For those of you who don’t know, HUD provides funding for affordable housing and community development. So please call your Senators and Representatives and let them know you care about this issue!

Click here to read more about this issue at the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s website. 

By visiting the link above you can type in your zip code and receive the names of those you should call and some talking points. Take some time on Tuesday or Wednesday to do this, because without a large enough response from all of us, HUD will likely experience cuts yet again that will influence our community.

Reedy Place

A couple of weeks ago I was able to visit Reedy Place, which is one of our permanent housing programs for people living with mental disability.  There are 23 apartments in Reedy Place, and with the help of the SC Department of Mental Health, we are able to permanently place those who they refer to our program.

When I first arrived I was greeted by several residents, and they directed me into the office, where I sat down with facility manager, Adriana Zapata, and learned about the program.  The residents are able to interact with the community when church groups come and lead arts and crafts, cooking lessons, and movie days. They have activity rooms in the main building where they can spend time together watching TV or using the computer.  The walls in these activity rooms are covered in art work that the residents have made.

I got to go inside one of the apartments and see how the residents live.  The small, tidy apartment was brightly lit with a large window in the living room that cast light into the kitchen and small dining area.  Each of the apartments has one bedroom and bathroom, and the residents are allowed overnight visitors on a monthly basis.

On my way out, Adriana pointed to some recycling bins and explained that the residents were very involved in recycling.  Each resident divides up their trash into paper, glass, and plastic, then carries it to the bins out front.  The money made from recycling is added to the community fund that keep the communal pantry stocked and pays for odds and ends around the building.  It’s exciting to see the residents of Reedy Place involved in a community activity that builds responsibility and social awareness.

Reedy Place does more than that, though; the residents I met while visiting were so grateful for the fresh start and safe home that the UHCSC is providing for them. Donate today, and help us create permanent solutions to end homelessness in the upstate.

A follow up…

Some of you may have noticed that we finally have pictures up on the website from the Bridesmaid’s Ball.

It was a great night of fun and fundraising, and I’m happy to say that the ball raised about $40,000 for the Upstate Homeless Coalition.  We are so thankful for your generous donations.

For anyone who missed the ball, be sure to check out the photo gallery and start planning for next year’s Dress from Hell contest.  If the competition is anything like it was this year, you’ll need the whole year to plan!

Once again, a big thank you to our bride and groom, and to all of you who attended.

Avoiding Foreclosure

I recently received an email from one of our Housing Counselors, Katie Collins, with this success story. I thought I should share a little encouragement with all of you.

Katie  had a client with a foreclosure sale date of February 6, 2012.  This client has been working with her for nearly one year, and had applied for SC Help’s mortgage assistance programs.  If the client had qualified, the state would have paid the mortgage for 12 months, in addition to the amount of the delinquency.  Unfortunately, due to strict program guidelines, the client did not qualify.

Katie and her client then submitted a modification application to the mortgage company.  The application was submitted the spring of 2011, but a year later, they still had not heard an answer about the application.  The mortgage company continually asked for more documents before they would make a decision, and each time this happened the decision was extended 30 to 45 days.

A few months ago, the program guidelines changed, and after submitting a new application, the client qualified for SC Help’s programs. However, the process wasn’t over; they still needed the mortgage company’s approval.

It was a nail biter, but at the beginning of February, the mortgage company approved the application.  The client is not going to lose the home, and the loan will be reinstated, creating a fresh start. Foreclosure proceedings can be stressful and confusing, but with the help of our Housing Counselors, UHCSC’s clients don’t have to face them alone.  In her email, Katie reflected on the process, “I’ve learned that even if guidelines tell you that a client would not qualify, submit it anyway and get that answer from the decision makers.  I’ve also learned that ‘it’s not over till it’s over [Yogi Berra].’”

Stereotypes

Where do our stereotypes come from?

While checking up on the headlines, I saw an article on mynorthwest.com about a tent city that has recently moved to the campus of Seattle Pacific University. This tent city is a traveling group of 80 homeless individuals who are required by the city to move around every 90 days.  The response from the students of SPU has been overwhelming for many of the tent city’s residents.  Students interact with them on a daily basis, invite them to activities in the gym, set up workshops to help them with hygiene, and feed them nightly hot meals. I was very impressed by the response of the student activists, and then I got to the comment section below the article.

In the article, one student was quoted as saying that she was able to learn from having the homeless living on campus, and she realized that they were people just like her and the rest of the student population.  However, one commenter disagreed with this statement and accused the tent city residents of taking advantage of the college students in order to avoid working to help themselves.  I was amazed that someone would make a generalization like this, especially today with so many Americans losing their jobs, homes, and money due to the economic downturn.  When did it become okay to assume that all the people in one social group are the same?

Taking this a step forward, I was horrified to see another article from the Huffington Post about a new game app for android phones called HoboHunt.  This game allows the user to snap pictures of actual homeless people and use weapons to “kill” the person in the image.  HoboHunt creators have responded to backlash from their game by agreeing to donate 5% of their profits to an unannounced charity to benefit the homeless.  

However, even if 100% of the profits were to benefit the homeless, promoting violence against the homeless, exploiting them for amusement, and making light of their hardships is deplorable. The facebook page contains a mixture of people condemning the makers of the game and those who support the idea.  There are even comments arguing that instead of donations the “bums” should get jobs.

Many of these ideas are, of course, stereotypes. Stereotypes are helpful because they are a kind of shorthand…saying a word helps us move on quickly. But stereotypes are not helpful ways of communicating when the lives of people are at stake. A real danger in using stereotypes is they often lead to discrimination, injustice, inhumane treatment and become, as above, “the games people play.” So, how are stereotypes formed? Personal experience, religious groups, news media, and the entertainment industry are all sources from which we gather information…they have a bias–for or against and we often incorporate that bias in our the formation of our final “stereotype.” How do you think your stereotypes came about? To set our stereotypes aside is the first task in learning. What is there to learn about homelessness?

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