Nearly 60,000 people are homeless in Santa Monica, California. With a number that large it can be hard to imagine how to help. Jan Shepard set out to do what she could to help by taking homeless community members out to lunch two to three times a week.
“I first became aware of homelessness when I gave up my car and started walking everywhere. The more I walked, the more I saw the city from a different perspective. I saw homeless people everywhere. It was quite an eye opener,” Shepard said.
It is easy for some people to look past homeless people on the street and continue to ignore them. For others it’s not as easy because they can relate to being invisible.
“I can see beyond people’s outer because I used to be 350 pounds. I know what it was like to feel that you’re not your body,” Shepard said.
As Jan continued to meet the members of the homeless community in Santa Monica, she learned that they weren’t so different from her.
“I learned that everybody needs connection. People are lonely. People want to be heard. People want to share and that people are loving,” Shepard said.
The more Jan learned about their lives and their situations she learned that there is a large diversity in causes for homelessness. Some people were just out of prison, many had lost their jobs and a few were schizophrenic.
The solution for homeless that Jan discovered was one-to-one caring and support for the local homeless community. What homeless people want more than anything is for people to be kind and not look down on them. To be treated like a human being.
If you want to help your local homeless community take a homeless friend to lunch OR donate to AFTS so we can!
The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition in Austin pleaded with business leaders to help get together the $30 million they determined it would cost to end homelessness in the city during the Solutions to Homelessness meeting July 31.
The amount that the coalition arrived at is needed yearly until chronic homelessness has been significantly decreased. The money would be used to create a community-wide system to carry out the action plan.
Funding for this plan has been partially secured from the following business and non-profits: St. David's Foundation, JP Morgan Chase, Moody Foundation, Cielo Property Group, Housing Authority of the City of Austin, Episcopal Health Foundation, Downtown Austin Alliance, Salvation Army, Central Health, Seton and Community Care Collaborative.
Amazon offered online assistance to help manage the data related to the aid program.
Ausitn City Council signed off on the plan created by the coalition back in April. The city witnessed a five percent increase in homelessness between January of 2017 and 2018. There have been around 2000 homeless people in Austin for the past decade. The city council is hoping this plan will bring this number down in the next year.
The coalition launched a pilot program last year to learn what needed to happen to solve homelessness. Resources and beds provided through long-term housing was at the top of the list. Followed by smaller things like port-a-potties outside the Austin's Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) in downtown.
One goal is to return a police presence outside the ARCH to combat the drugs and crime that come with people abusing the homeless population. Without the police force getting back involved the private business sector will unlikely see any change in this.
By knowing what needs to happen, the coalition is hoping that businesses will continue to get involved to help end the vicious homeless cycle in Austin.
Many people don’t realize that the line between being homeless and not being homeless is very thin for a lot of people. Many people do not have family members to fall back on in hard times and much of America is living paycheck to paycheck, meaning they are one paycheck away from homelessness. Also keep in mind homelessness is usually caused by several factors over time. Here are some of those factors.
As mentioned early people are often one paycheck away from losing their housing. People who are poor are frequently unable to pay for necessities such as housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Being poor can mean a person is one illness, one accident or one paycheck away from living on the streets. There are many reasons why someone would come into hard times and not make enough to cover bills and expenses.
Much of the homeless population struggles with addiction. It could be to alcohol or drugs but the result is the same. They spend their money on the item they are addicted to eventually leading to missed rent payments and eviction. In order to break the addiction cycle the person has to receive consistent treatment for their addiction.
This includes house fires, accidents that result in major injuries or the loss of a job. Many events fall in this category and these are things that are hard to plan for and nearly impossible to prevent. Sometimes things happen which is why it is important for communities to have programs to help support people in these vulnerable states.
People with poor mental health are more susceptible to three factors that can lead to homelessness: poverty, lack of support system and impaired judgement. In turn, homelessness worsens mental health. It is draining physically and mentally to have no routine, high stress and exposure to the elements. People with mental illness also experience homelessness for longer periods of time.
People with mental illnesses often have trouble retaining work with a steady income or are simply incapable of working. In these instances it is vital that they be supported by a community or loved ones. Often times people are one paycheck away from homelessness and this is even more true for people with mental illness than the general population.
Lack of support system
Mental illnesses may prevent people from forming and maintaining stable relationships. Relationships and community are often the only thing between someone with a mental illness and a life on the street. They often push away caregivers/family and friends that are the people providing them with routine and making sure they receive their medication, eat regularly and live a fulfilled life. Serious mental illnesses disrupt people’s ability to carry out essential aspects of daily life, such as self care and household management and often need someone guiding them through these routines.
Mental illnesses can cause impaired judgement making daily life harder. It often is also mixed with substance abuse. Many people try self-medicating and end up in vicious cycles of alcoholism. This combination of mental illness, substance abuse and poor physical health makes it very difficult for people to hold down jobs and pull themselves out of homelessness themselves.
Even if housing is provided for people with mental illnesses it won’t change the cycle they are in unless they receive regular treatment and continued guidance. Homelessness is not, and should not be, the default for people with mental illness.