Who are the homeless? (pt. 2)

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Last week, we started looking into the question of who the homeless really are. In our recent post entitled “why can’t homeless people just get a job?”, we touched upon the idea that when we see someone holding up a sign on the side of the road asking for help, it’s easy to turn our heads and say that we’ve got things to do and places to be. If they were really working, they wouldn’t be homeless. If you’ve thought some of those same things yourself, check out that post to have some of those questions answered and then meet us back here to dig a little deeper into who is really homeless.

When you really get to know someone, when you set out with no judgements, but to understand where they are and how they got there and what you can do to help, you begin to see how nuanced the issue of “homelessness” really is. There’s no easy answer, and there are many causes. For women, they may be escaping an abusive home situation and be unable to support their family. For men, they may have stumbled upon hard times and have nowhere to turn rather than the streets. For children, oh for the children. The innocents in all of this. Never to blame, but always the first to suffer. The children need us to care about them so badly.

We talked last week about the men, women, and children who find themselves in poverty and homelessness. But what about the sub-categories beyond gender and age? What about people of color, mentally ill, physically disabled, and even veterans? What’s going on with these groups? How might they find themselves on the street?

People of color. By now, many of us who had the erroneous notion that “racism isn’t a problem” in America have (hopefully) come to realize how wrong we were. In a perfect world, the color of someone’s skin wouldn’t affect their livelihood or ability to retain a home, but we don’t live in a perfect world. And it’s important to understand that there are many barriers to entry for people of color that frankly just don’t exist for white middle class people.

In the last several years, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, CitiGroup, Wells Fargo, and Toyota have been among *some* of the major (and minor) banks and companies to be caught discriminating against black and latinx customers. This is an excerpt from an article in The Atlantic, entitled “Why Blacks and Hispanics Have Such Expensive Mortgages.”

The homeownership rates of black and Hispanic Americans lag dramatically behind that of white Americans. These minority groups are much less likely to purchase a home, and if they do, they are less likely to have homes that appreciate in value. They’re also more likely to lose their homes through foreclosure. These gaps help explain, in part, the staggering disparity in wealth between whites and people of color.  

Make sure to follow the link and read the whole article to get more insight into this issue. But housing and car loans aren’t the only way in which people of color in this country are disenfranchised. Data shows that children of color are more likely to get expelled from school (even preschool) at a much higher rate than their white peers. This feeds into the school to prison pipeline, and young adults of color find themselves incarcerated at a disproportionate rate compared to white people who commit the same crimes at the same rates (or higher rates, in some cases). Finding housing and a job with a livable wage becomes even more difficult with a criminal record.

Veterans. Here are some statistics from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing and Homelessness Dashboard regarding homeless veterans during a point-in-time count in January 2017. There were 137 veterans in Charlotte experiencing homelessness at that time. 12% of all the homeless adults were veterans. About 70% of the veterans were African American. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the majority of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or some combination of these. So why are these veterans ending up with no housing? Check out this excerpt from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans:

In addition to the complex set of factors influencing all homelessness – extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care – a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment.

Our veterans, and frequently veterans of color, are risking it all to protect our freedoms and returning home to a country that isn’t prepared for them. If we’re truly patriotic, we have to care just as much about their well-being when they return from serving as we do when they set off in the first place.

 

Mentally Ill and People with Disabilities. These two categories are not one and the same, but they have similar effects when it comes to their propensity for homelessness. Both mentally ill and physically disabled people will be less likely to be able to hold down a job, so earning a living will be much more difficult for them. Caretakers cost money, medical bills are extremely expensive, transportation requires special consideration; many things that come easily to an able-bodied person become a chore for a person with disabilities or mental illness.

Harvard Health estimated in 2014 that “about a quarter to a third of the homeless population have a serious mental illness (usually schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression.) A quarter to a third! That’s a significant percentage of people who are being severely underserved by society.

Many people work hourly wages at physically demanding jobs. A disabling physical injury for a day laborer, for example, could cause lost wages and the inability to pay for health care. As well as having a hard time keeping a job, people with these diseases may have delusions which make them more likely to separate themselves from friends and family. A medical doctor working at a street clinic in Colorado adds this:

“All factors are in place for the middle-aged working poor to be ensnared in a downward spiral leading to homelessness. Injuries frequently result in job loss. Next to go is living space, when folks can’t pay the rent. After that, many become clinically depressed or dependent on alcohol or drugs. That situation deteriorates into further joblessness and chronic homelessness,” he explains.

Those who suffer from physical disability or mental illness may also lack the mental capacity to be resilient. More on that here, but for now, we have to understand that not only is mental illness in itself a much higher risk factor for homelessness, it’s also compounded with many of these other sub-groups. For instance, many veterans suffer from PTSD. The intersection of these groups are where we have to meet people and solve problems so that we can all move on to a bigger and better world.

I’ve quoted a lot in this series, and it’s because there is great work being done by great people and their words deserve to be heard as they speak up for the homeless. Please follow the links and check out the original articles because there’s a lot more to be said for why people are homeless. These things I’ve talked about here are not all possible reasons for homelessness. We’ll take closer looks at many of these issues in the future, but this is a snapshot of some of the data that exists around homelessness in America.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: people are people. People who live in million-dollar mcmansions and people who have no roof over their heads or a safe place to store their belongings are entitled to the same rights, in life and according to our constitution. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I don’t know about you, but to me, happiness looks like a safe place to lay my head at night and security for my children. It looks like reaching out a helping hand to my sisters and brothers who need a lift in life.

If you want to lend a hand, but aren’t sure where to dive in, and find a good place and time to get involved. We can’t wait to talk more with you about the impact you could have on our city for the greater good.

Sources

Why Blacks and Hispanics Have Such Expensive Mortgages, The Atlantic

JPMorgan pays $55M to settle mortgage discrimination lawsuit, USA Today

Bank of America pays $335m damages for charging minorities higher interest rates, The Daily Mail

How Toyota May Have Started Overcharging Minority Customers, The Atlantic

The Hidden Racism of School Discipline, in 7 Charts, Vox.com

Our Issue, True Colors Fund

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing and Homelessness Dashboard

The Homeless Mentally Ill, Harvard Health

Mental Health, The Homeless Hub

Dealing with Disability: Physical Impairments and Homelessness, Healing Hands

 

Who are the homeless? (Pt. 1)

pexels-photo-1060365For a lot of us who were raised in middle to upper class America, homelessness has a pretty negative connotation. And I don’t mean from their perspective, in that it’s literally not good to be homeless. I mean we usually view the issue from a somewhat elevated stand point, so to speak. We tend to look down on homeless people to a certain extent and think that they must not be doing something right if they find themselves in this situation. They must be drug addicts, they must not be working hard, they must be getting freebies from the government. (If you haven’t read our posts about homeless people and employment yet, head on over to find out our answer to the question “why can’t homeless people just get a job?”)

At The Dream Center, our goal is to reach people where they are, extend a hand and ask simply, “what do you need?” and “how can we help you?” We form relationships, and to do that we have to get to know people. We give them back the dignity and humanity that society has taken from them because they’re people and they have intrinsic rights to the pursuit of happiness just like the rest of us.

Part of understanding where to best meet people is understanding who you need to reach. The data on those affected by homelessness varies according to city, and the specific numbers ebb and flow. There are a few different ways to measure homelessness, both throughout the year and at a single point in time. The numbers paint a bigger picture of the people behind the problem, who need our help today and every day.  In this short series, we’re going to take a look at who these people are and some facts that tell us why they could be homeless, just to get a better understanding of this problem that affects our entire country. This week, let’s talk broadly about women, children, and men.

Women. On one night in 2017, 44% of the homeless population in Charlotte was female. Frequently, families that are classified as homeless consist of a single mother and at least one child. Domestic violence is a leading cause of women (and their children) becoming homeless. Abusive situations are extremely nuanced, and while it may seem like the obvious thing to do is “seek help,” for some women that’s just not a viable solution. Frequently, abusive men cut women off from their family and friends, so they feel isolated and perhaps actually are isolated from anyone who could help. Women are still paid less than men, on average, in most of the country. So if a woman leaves a man who’s abusing her, she may not be able to support herself and/or her children on just her salary. For women who are experiencing homelessness, sexual and physical violence are a much higher possibility than for non-homeless women. A high percentage of women say they’ve experienced at least one act of violence during their time currently being homeless, and many women talk about the necessity of trading sexual favors for a warm place to sleep during the cold months.

Children. There’s a theory in the field of psychology called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It discusses the priority of our needs in life, as humans, on average. According to this theory, our base need of physiological safety is the bottom of the pyramid; the supporting structure of our lives. That means we need food, shelter, water, sleep, clothing, etc., first and foremost. The next need is safety. Personally, emotionally, financially, we need to feel safe and secure. If these needs are not met, the possibilities of post-traumatic stress disorder and/or trans-generational trauma come into play. These are issues that carry on for years and lifetimes, and are not easily solved.

For adults, homelessness is tragic. Being unable to have the nutrition and food that you need to function, is tragic. Saying that one tragedy is more or less awful than another isn’t really something that can be quantified, but there’s something especially heart-wrenching about children being affected by homelessness. Malnutrition on a developing body and brain has serious long term consequences, both mentally and physically. Children require stability in their home lives before they can fully soak up the material they’re being taught in schools, and for that reason children in poverty or homelessness will tend to perform more poorly than their peers who don’t face these problems.  

As of Spring 2018, there were more than 4000 children in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools classified as homeless. These children have 4 times more respiratory infections than their non-homeless peers and are more likely to get asthma. According to a study conducted by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, children affected by homelessness are much more likely to have lower reading proficiency. Children who are black and classified as homeless are 50% less likely to be proficient in reading than non-black children experiencing homelessness. Exceptional students, meaning children with disabilities, who are homeless are 93% less likely to be proficient in reading than their peers who are non-exceptional but also homeless.

Men. On one night in 2017, 66% of people interviewed identified as male. During this same night (a point-in-time count) 85% of homeless people interviewed who were unsheltered identified as male. Men were more likely to be on the streets than in a safe house of some sort. Many men (and homeless people in general) are facing a criminalization of homelessness in some states as laws have been enacted banning panhandling, loitering, and sleeping in public or in cars. Laws have also been put in place in some areas that make it harder for homeless people to get food. Under the guise of protecting people from food that isn’t properly prepared, lawmakers have put in place regulations that prevent food prep anywhere other than a professional kitchen, and prevent food distribution in or around certain places.

The accusation is that these laws have been put in place to discourage the homeless population from simply being in public places and cities. People in positions of power think that homelessness deters tourism or business, so they don’t want to attract more homeless people to their cities. In fact the majority of homeless people tend to be those that previously lived in these areas, not people who have moved to the city specifically for their “homeless hospitality.” So these men who are already unsheltered are facing further criminalization, and by locking them up for these crimes, the government is spending more money than would ultimately be spent on housing and programs for the homeless. 

We could talk for hours about these people individually, and in the future we’ll dive deeper into what it looks like to be a man, woman, or child in homelessness. How did they get there, and what can they do to get out. More importantly, what can we as a society do to help them find their footing again.

Next week, we’ll deep dive into more of a breakdown of who are the women, men, and children that are homeless. We’ll look into low income households, people of color, the LGBTQ community, Veterans, the Mentally Ill, and people with disabilities. In the meantime, check out our post on what you can do to get involved and help out those in need in our city today!

Sources

The Gender Wage Gap: 2017 Earnings Differences by Race and Ethnicity, Institute for Women’s Policy Research

National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Simply Psychology

Thousands of Children in Charlotte are Homeless, WSOC-TV

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Family Homelessness Snapshots 2014-2015, UNC Charlotte Urban Institute

Data Snapshot, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing and Homelessness Dashboard

For homeless women, violence is a pervasive part of their past and present, report shows, The Washington Post

Ending Homelessness Today, National Alliance to End Homelessness

*Genesis 1:28

What are companies doing about homelessness?

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Homelessness is a heavy topic, so we thought it would be good to take a look at some positive initiatives that companies have undertaken to help the homeless, the hungry, and the poor. Many of us like to help out in any small or big way, and one way to make change is to consciously decide to spend your money with businesses who are making positive social change, and care about the communities in which they serve. Sometimes we can’t do much, but what we can do is actively choose to support businesses who show that they care and that profits aren’t the only thing they’re concerned about. This list will be a living document that we update as we get more information on who’s doing what.

 

  • To top this list, we have to highlight The King’s Kitchen, our partner and  one of a kind Charlotte establishment. It’s a gourmet Southern restaurant, but it’s so much more than that. The King’s Kitchen exists to meet people at all levels and in all walks of life. Homeless people are given jobs and training and patrons are given a top quality lunch or dinner. Those in need seeking a faith based gathering are given a daily Bible study and community and a meal.
  • Everybody runs on Dunkin’ (Donuts), and that “everybody” includes organizations like Feeding America. FA works to get food to hungry children. Dunkin Donuts also partners with local organizations, for example the Mobile Tastiness Machine in Raleigh, which delivers hot meals to low income neighborhoods.
  • Publix, the haven where you can get your grocery cart walked out to the car for you so you can focus on your children who want to dash into the street for fun, has an extensive list of charitable efforts. They actively support Feeding America, Food for Sharing, Food for All, and more. More on their efforts and the companies they contribute to here.

  • Chick-fil-A, the South’s favorite claim to fame, participates in what they call the Chick-fil-A Shared Table program, where they donate extra food to local soup kitchens and shelters in the community. They’ve also supported City of Refuge. This not-for-profit is dedicated to helping the homeless and especially women in need.

  • The Fresh Market impressively donated $49 million in food bank donations in 2017, on top of $400,000 in products towards their own food drive that works to support students in the summer who rely on the meals they get from their schools during the school year. They also donate food regularly to local food banks in their communities.

  • Whole Foods, because sometimes you want to feel good about your expensive groceries, right? Whole Foods has been impressing Charlotte with their approach to grocery shopping. I recently noticed that the Waverly location has a kids play area! They’ve got my business for that alone, but they also care about people getting the healthy food that they need, and contributing to the communities where their produce comes from. Through their foundations, (Whole Planet Foundation, Whole Cities Foundation) they’re working to bring accessible nutrition to people in America and all over the world. To learn more about their partnerships and efforts, head over here.

  • Target, which could only get better if they had a children’s drop-off play area (amIright?), awards grants to organizations which work to feed and shelter those in need.

 

 

  • Everyone loves killing a Saturday exploring the warehouse of possibility that is Ikea, and it turns out they’ve been proactive in helping children and those in need all over the world for quite some time. They’ve been active in our community by donating furniture and volunteer hours to create safe spaces for children and those in need. Read more about here, and enjoy your 50 cent hot dogs and low budget cinnamon buns guilt-free this weekend.

 

  • Starbucks came into the news (more than usual) last spring after a store manager racially profiled two African American men who were in the shop for a business meeting, and called the police who then arrested the two men for absolutely nothing. The CEO of Starbucks responded by assigning a day of racial-bias training so that employees could better understand their subconscious bias against people of color. Problem completely solved? Definitely not, but out of this process, they implemented a new policy wherein anyone can come in and use their restrooms, charge their phones, and use their space appropriately without having to purchase something at their stores. In cities, this is helpful because it gives the homeless somewhere to go in and freshen up, use the restrooms, and possibly charge their devices without having to spend money on a drink that they maybe don’t need.

  • My heart may lie with Publix, but they’re not the only grocery store doing some good in this world. Harris Teeter has been very active in charitable efforts, contributing to schools in their local communities annually as well as charitable efforts nationwide worth millions of dollars. In August, they hosted an event benefiting the Second Harvest Food Bank here in our area. In November, shoppers can choose to donate money to benefit local food banks, so make sure to stop by for Thanksgiving supplies and share the love with people in need!

Diversity also includes circumstance

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Sesame Street recently revealed a new character to their show lineup, and it’s one that’s got us pretty encouraged. The new addition to the Street, Lily, is a homeless child that was first introduced several years ago. At the time, she talked about “food insecurity” because her family didn’t have enough to eat.

The beauty of Sesame Street has always been that they try to educate all young children and provide diverse characters to do so. But in including Lily, as well as other recent additions like Julia, a character introduced in 2017 who has autism, they’re showing that representation matters to them. They’re showing the countless kids who watch their show that everyone’s story matters, that everyone deserves love and friendship, and that everyone is important.

This does a lot of things. First of all, it models acceptance. Too often, kids learn bullying behaviors as a way of processing that which they perceive as “other” or “different.” When they’re taught diversity and inclusion from a young age, they won’t fear or antagonize another child just for being different. Ideally they will embrace that child and spread love and friendship themselves.

Second, it empowers kids who are the “different” ones. Minorities, kids with disabilities, kids with no home of their own. These kids can be forgotten by things like popular storybooks read in school, textbooks, general lesson plans. But when arguably the most popular show for young children is broadcasting and accepting the difference, the struggle, the power in being unique, kids are more apt to own those differences. To feel empowered themselves. To know that they can accomplish anything because they see it being done in their entertainment sources.

Many of us have never had to search for a character to relate to. Straight white people are the default heroes and heroines, and while female representation still has a way to go in equality of portrayal, white women are still not hard pressed to find strong role models for ourselves.

But what about little children of color? What about little children in wheelchairs, or children with mental disabilities?

What about children who don’t have a home?

Who is telling their stories? Who is telling the world that 1 in 20 children have experienced homelessness? When we think of “homelessness”, we tend to think of someone sleeping in a cardboard box under a bridge. But it encompasses so much more than that. Homelessness can mean that someone had to move in with family or friends because their parents fell upon rough times, and it can mean that they have to change schools to go wherever their parents can find for them to stay.

It can mean ostracism and alienation. OR, now, it can mean acceptance and love. 1 in 20 is a large number; in almost any public school classroom there are more than 20 students.  

Sesame Street is normalizing things like discussing feelings of insecurity about where a child will get their next meal or if they’ll ever have their own home. We should both rejoice about this representation and grieve that it’s necessary. We should laud Sesame Street and encourage the children in our lives to tune in, while doing what WE can to end homelessness as a problem for children and for the next generation. We should imagine how we would feel if it was OUR children, and work to help them with that same vigor in mind.

The Dream Center has many places to jump in and get involved, and we are excited to see where you can best fit in to join the movement to end homelessness!

Source:

Sesame Street Introduces New Homeless Character, USA Today

 

Why Should I help? And what can I even do?

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Empathy and compassion are core tenets of humanity. They’re evident in the life of Jesus not only from His words, but perhaps more importantly from His actions. The poor, the sick, little children, the mocked, the scorned by society. These were the comfort zone of the one after whom we aim to model our lives, and yet they can seem foreign and fearsome to us.

We become shocked when we, who have grown up never having to fear for our loved ones’ safety or wonder how we’ll fill their empty bellies, witness acts of cruelty being visited upon others. If we perceive violence or pain, our first instinct is to jump in and rescue. Be the hero, save the day. In our minds, we are all the type to step in to trip the bandit getting away with someone’s handbag before they get too far out of reach.

And yet the homeless receive our apathy at best and our scorn or annoyance at worst. Their need offends us, when in reality, there but for the grace of God go I. As with all things in life, we mistrust what we do not understand, and our goal with this blog is to talk through misconceptions about the homeless and the true struggles they face.

But talking only gets us so far in solving a problem. First we talk and understand, then we act. Once we are made aware of this problem, what can we do to help?

There are two ways to help: financially, and physically. For some of us, volunteering in person just isn’t feasible at this point in life. Maybe you’re a stay at home parent with small children and no childcare, maybe you’re unable to leave your house due to health concerns, or maybe this is just an insanely busy season in your life and you want to be there in person but you just can’t right now. Donations are always welcome, and spreading the message of the Dream Center and Charlotte’s homeless is a great way to stand in solidarity with those less fortunate than you.

When you give to the Dream Center, you’re giving to all the great things that the Dream Center is doing in Charlotte. On Sundays, we transform The King’s Kitchen restaurant into the Restoring Place Church. Our doors are open to all, and attendees engage in fellowship through worship and Biblical teaching while children play in the children’s ministry.

On weekday afternoons, the Kings Kitchen closes from 2pm to 5pm and opens to the homeless and low-income community members for a bible study where all are welcome.

We also provide daily care through a discipleship program. This is really the heartbeat of our ministry. It’s a year long program designed to provide participants with upward mobility, accountability, structure, support, and job training skills.

If giving financially is what you are able to do, then you’re contributing towards furthering these great causes and making real changes on the streets of Charlotte.

For many of us, we could schedule time to volunteer if we set our minds to it, but we find ourselves only hesitating before we take the plunge into showing up for those in need and being bodies in the street to show love and support to our sisters and brothers in Charlotte. Volunteer! Show up! Nothing is quite as fulfilling as helping people. And why is that? What is it about giving of ourselves that makes us feel good in return?

According to psychologists, we get a “helper’s high” when we volunteer. This excerpt from Psychology Today has some staggering information about the benefits of volunteering:

“Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44 percent lower likelihood of dying—and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status, and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church; it means that volunteering is nearly as beneficial to our health as quitting smoking!”

Forbes magazine also talks about volunteering as it benefits the person with a busy schedule. For instance, “volunteering your experience helps build your experience,” and “volunteering your love makes you feel more love.”

Scientists and intellectuals in the modern day aren’t onto some new idea that we’re just realizing. The Bible is rife with parables and admonitions to help those in need, and give to those who have less than you.

“Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” – Matthew 5:42.

 

In our post entitled “What Is Homelessness,” we talked a little bit about the homeless population in Charlotte. If this is your first time checking us out, be sure to head over to that post to read a little bit about the demographics of the people that we’re working with; the people with whom we want to partner so that they can succeed in life just as we succeed in life.

But where do YOU come in? Where does the Dream Center need you? Forming relationships with people and meeting them where they’re at in life is one of our main passions. When you get to know people and visit with them on a regular basis, they feel more comfortable opening up to you and making their needs known. In this way we reach out to people with our foundational Adopt-A-Block program. Our goal is to bring hope and transformation for Charlotte’s most at-risk neighborhoods through consistent and dedicated home visits, relationship building and physical acts of service.    

If reaching out and forming real relationships sounds like the thing for you, and you’re available Saturdays from 11am to 1pm,  click this link and start filling out your information so we can get in touch with you about meeting up on a Saturday and diving right in.

Saturdays don’t work for you? On Friday evenings, we coordinate volunteers in two shifts to make and distribute chili cheese dogs to our neighbors living on the streets. Street ministry aims to meet physical needs of those experiencing chronic homelessness, and again build relationships with people so that all of our lives can affect and receive the greatest change.

What about Sundays? Do you have a group that wants to help out on a Sunday morning? Following services at Restoring Place Church, volunteers feed a free sit-down meal to homeless and low-income church members.

For more information on Friday street ministry, the discipleship program, weekday Bible study, Restoring Place Church and the Daily Care Discipleship program, head to the Outreach page of our website.

Get involved because a safer city for one of us is a safer city for all of us. Get involved because people out there need you. But most importantly, get involved because it’s the right thing to do.

Sources

“What We Get When We Give” Psychology Today
“5 Surprising Benefits of Volunteering” Forbes
“How Close is Charlotte to Ending Homelessness” Charlotte Magazine

How Do Housing Choice Vouchers Work?

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Offering aid to people can be a controversial topic. Some people think we need more government in this process, and some people think we need less. Many people believe churches should be the ones shouldering the brunt of this responsibility, as the Bible takes every opportunity to elevate the cause of aiding the poor.

We believe that it’s our responsibility to love as Jesus loved 2000 years ago here on earth and show people that He still loves them today, amidst all their struggles in life. But it’s true that the government has also stepped in in the last several decades and made attempts at creating a solution for homelessness. As we said above, some people are all for these measures and some are against them, thinking they give people a handout or an easy way out of a problem for which they need to discover their own solution. But are they easy  solutions? Let’s take a look at one method of government aid called Housing Choice Vouchers.

In its own words, it’s a program full of hope and opportunity. Housing Choice Vouchers, also known as Section 8 housing, aid people in serious need of a home who fall well below the median income of a city. It’s not the same as public housing, where the government owns buildings and allows people to live there. It gives people a “choice” of where to live and a “voucher” for a portion of that rent. Housing agencies are funded by HUD, or the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, founded in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson and currently helmed by one Dr. Ben Carson.

You might be asking yourself, “are people just getting homes for free while I’m working for my rent?” (We talked a little bit in a previous post about how hard it can be for homeless people to even get a job, much less make a living wage.) The goal of housing voucher programs is to give people a hand up in the world so that they can turn around and make a living for themselves and cover all of their own expenses. But as we’ve talked about before, it’s important to realize that not everyone starts out on the same footing in life. Someone getting government aid for housing isn’t living a dream life and certainly isn’t in luxury; they’re struggling to provide even a roof over their heads for themselves and their family, not to mention other necessities like food, clothing, and healthcare.

So who can apply for this housing program? You have to be 18 or older and be making less than 50% of the median income for your area to apply. In Charlotte, the median income is around $50k per year, so to qualify for this housing program you would have to make $25k or less per year. If an applicant has a family, then the maximum amount they could be earning increases a little per person in the household. If people are already homeless (not just low-income) they may have priority on some of the waiting lists, and in fact Charlotte’s waitlist prioritizes the homeless.

People who are requesting to be a part of this program need to be holding down jobs, or in some cases receiving public assistance, social security, or unemployment is enough to qualify. Past rental history and a criminal record will also be examined, and negatives of these usually aren’t immediate denials, but they certainly don’t help.

Residents must pay 30% of their income towards rent, and the local housing authority submits the remainder directly to the landlord. There are a few different voucher programs, specifically some programs are tied to the property and some are tied to the tenant. For the latter, the tenant themself/ves can move to a different location if need be and still receive the rent money for which they qualified.

So if we have this program in place, why isn’t homelessness solved? Well first of all, in order for someone to get their turn at the housing choice voucher, there has to be a vacancy. Someone else has to have moved on or out of the program, so the wait is typically a minimum of a few years. For the elderly, who frequently are housed in locations that are specifically for those of retirement age, the turnover may be quicker than those applying who are younger and families. 

But there could be many reasons that homeless people aren’t applying or can’t apply for Section 8 housing. A big one, as we talked about in our recent post about who the homeless really are, is that many homeless people have some sort of mental illness. That, coupled with the bureaucracy of filing to be put on the waitlist for Section 8 housing and the issues we’ll mention next, may not be possible for people with special needs. They may not have any money coming in, either through employment or welfare, to pay their portion of the rent and utilities. The wait list is very long. In Charlotte, the list is currently closed, and is capped out at 13,000 families! Not people, families, are waiting years to even be interviewed for this process. Single people tend to fall below families and elderly people in priority on the list, and then there are further categories like people in immediate danger, domestic abuse victims, etc.

Once someone’s name gets to the top of the list, they get a letter mailed to their last known address letting them know the time and place of an interview. If they’re at a new location, if their situation is up in the air and it’s hard for them to receive mail, if they work long hours, they may not receive the letter at all and will miss the interview, and have to start fresh with a brand new application. 

Once they get their voucher, if they’re approved, they have to find an available space with a landlord who will accept housing choice voucher recipients. And then there are levels to what each landlord is looking for in a tenant. Some of them want records of criminal behavior and rental history, and some of them aren’t looking for anything but a paycheck.

This system is in place to help people, but there has to be space available with a landlord who will accept them. It isn’t easy street once the voucher is in your hands, and most websites encourage people using the program to apply for housing at multiple places to ensure a higher chance of success. (Application fees still apply for many of these situations, by the way. Yet another financial barrier to entry for the homeless and possibly the low-income earners as well.) So even though we do have this system, there are many reasons why homelessness is still a problem in our country.

How does our city stack up with this program? As we already said, the wait list for the Charlotte Housing Authority Housing Choice Voucher program is holding strong at 13,000 families. It’s currently capped, so no one new can apply. This drastically lowers the efficacy of Section 8 as current and viable solution to homelessness. Through the Charlotte Housing Authority website, applicants can find low-income housing while they wait to (hopefully) be approved for housing choice vouchers. Rent can range anywhere from the low hundreds to the high hundreds depending on the individual location and bedrooms, and there are income caps so that these options are only available to those earning below a certain amount in salary.

It may seem like an easy way into an apartment for low rent, but the struggle for those who are already having a hard time finding good quality housing for themselves and often their families is the farthest thing from easy. Most of us can simply open Zillow if we want to make a move, and do a broad search all over the city as we decide where we want to plant roots. For those searching for low-income housing, they have to take what they can get with little control over neighborhoods, and hope the area is safe for their families.

To give a better idea of the situation here in Charlotte, the waitlist for housing vouchers was last open in 2014. Before that, 2007. It remained open in 2014 for all of 5 days, and over 32,000 people applied for aid in that time. That number was three times less in 2007 when the wait list opened. In 2016, the average household using vouchers had an income of around $12,000 per year. 52% of the households had children, 51% were single-mother families, and 85% of households over all had a female head of house.

So what can we do about all this? If people are unable to support themselves and their families, and have to wait years to get help with rent from the government, homelessness seems like an inevitability.

One thing we can do is advocate for the homeless in businesses. Homeless people need jobs, just like the rest of us. And if they had jobs that compensated them fairly, that could be the footing they need to get their lives on track. Too many homeless and low income people are stuck in low paying jobs because an employer is aiming for cheap labor. We can stand up for what’s right when we see that happening in businesses, and make unfairly compensated labor a thing of the past.

First and foremost, what we can do to help the homeless is to reach out a hand and meet them where they’re at. They need friendship, faith, and community just like all of us. The Dream Center exists to accomplish that goal and we’d love to have you along for the ride. Check out more and sign up to get involved. We can’t wait to work with you!

Sources

Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet, hud.gov
What is the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, affordablehousingonline.com
What Housing Vouchers Can and Can’t Do, strongtowns.org
The Power of Public Housing, The Atlantic
Housing Choice Voucher, Charlotte Housing Authority
Wait List Information, Charlotte Housing Authority
The Long Wait for a Home, National Low Income Housing Coalition
Section 8 Vouchers Help the Poor, But Only if Housing is Available, NPR

 

For Homeless Veterans, the Battle Doesn’t End

This weekend we recognized Veteran’s Day. Many of us enjoyed a day off in its honor. We’ve seen sales advertised on commercials, American flags (more than usual) and social media posts of people sharing photos with their grandparents, parents, and other family members who have served in our armed forces.

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But what about homeless veterans? You’ve seen them; many hold street signs at a crossroads where we have to sit and avoid eye contact or else be forced to consider the benefits and blessings of our own situations while wondering how we can directly help that person. Their signs saying “veteran,” and it can be a gut punch, because in America we’re raised to respect those who served to protect our freedoms. We draw pride in our armed forces and it’s not uncommon to see strangers going up to those in military garb and just telling them, “thank you for your service.”

It’s easy to see that soldier in the airport, heading home to see his family, and imagine the warm welcome he’ll receive. The burst of pride we get at being American citizens is a very visceral thing.

But what about the veteran on the street corner, begging for help? Does that person instill a sense of pride in us, or a sense of pity? And what are we doing to help them? The people who risk their lives and leave everything they know and love behind, come home to a society that doesn’t quite know where to place them.

For the soldier in the airport returning home after service, she or he may experience PTSD. Many of us civilians will never grasp what they had to endure. Most jobs can’t sustain a person with strong PTSD or other mental illnesses, even if they were acquired while serving our country.

For other service members, they may simply not find a viable job upon returning home. Military life can be hard to translate to a 9-5 job that pays a livable wage.

In a Point-in-Time count in 2017, there were 137 homeless veterans in charlotte. 12% of all adults experiencing homeless at that time, were veterans.

To allow those who put their lives on the line to live in poverty and homelessness is a blight on this country. We need to care for them as they sacrificed everything for us.

Click here to find out how you can plug in to the Dream Center. Veterans who don’t have a home base, a community willing to wrap them in a welcoming embrace, need every one of us to care about them. How will you honor them in service this Veteran’s Day?

 

The Truth About Voter Suppression

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Before we begin the mayhem of Thanksgiving and Christmas, we are thick in the middle of election season. In fact, it’s election week. The one time a year we get to come together as a community to make our voices heard and show what we will stand for and what we will not stand for.

Voting may not seem like a big deal; in fact the majority of our population who votes at all, votes only in presidential elections. Local and state elections have a powerful effect on our everyday lives than the elections that come around every 4 years. Yes, those every-4-year elections are important, but the reality is that the President doesn’t have much to do with us day in and day out.

Why are we talking about voting here at the Dream Center? Our local politicians, both on a city and state level, have a lot to do with how the homeless and impoverished are treated in our community. Do we put money into social programs, or do we allocate it elsewhere? If we care about ending homelessness, the people we elect to run our cities need to hear about it. We need to vote people into office who will make it part of their goal to eradicate the suffering of those who need a hand up in life, so that we can all walk safer, cleaner, more positive streets. Ending homelessness doesn’t just benefit the homeless; it benefits society. When someone has a safe place for themselves and their children to sleep and a job with a steady, livable income, they don’t have to resort to any means necessary for survival. They don’t have to turn to crime in order to make it. Fewer people committing crimes means fewer victims. Literally everyone wins!

But we have to get involved to make this happen. We have to make sure that we’re putting people into elected positions that represent our values and want to make the city a better place for everyone. This begs the question: can the homeless vote?

The short answer is yes. On a voter registration form, homeless people can enter an address of a shelter where they stay. They can even describe an area where they sleep, like “park bench at the crossroads of Tryon Rd. and Tyvola Rd.” Wherever they “physically live” is what goes in the address slot, and beyond that they just need their name and a birth date.

You do also have to provide some sort of ID; a license or state ID, a bill or official mail with your name and address, something along those lines. As previously discussed, getting an ID can be hard for the homeless. But the bottom line is they can vote, IF provided with adequate information.

Unfortunately, voter suppression is a real thing. There are many ways in which this can sneak under the radar. North Carolina was recently in the news for this, because the way our districts have been drawn out was deemed extremely unfair. Gerrymandering is basically a way of determining districts based on who you want in power. So if you know that one area has primarily people of color, and historically people of color tend to vote for Democrats, you split that area up and portion it off into the surrounding areas, so that more of the vote goes towards Republicans. Our state is currently trying to work through this and find a fair map, but elections happen regardless, so we have to work with what we’ve got and put people in office who will represent all constituents fairly, no matter which party they come from.

Another method of voter suppression, which is both legal and sneaky, is changing when people can vote. Early voting is a great way to get people to the polls because it makes it available to everyone and lessens wait time on Election Day. Our state congress passed a law recently to lengthen our election day in all branches, and because of this, we’re losing some early voting locations because all counties don’t have the full budget needed to maintain them. Again, this primarily affects the low-income and people of color, who work several jobs and can’t afford to take time off to vote. After business hours and on weekends are a good time to get everyone in to have their voice heard, but parties in power don’t always want a change to the status quo.

Voter ID laws are another way that those in power can make it harder for people to get out and vote. The language alone of having someone show ID to vote seems harmless at first, but in reality it’s yet another method of keeping people who tend to vote a certain way out of the polling booth.

The United States has many flaws in the governmental and electoral system, and voter suppression is one of them. This matters because it typically hinges on suppressing the vote of low income people and/or people of color. These two categories frequently intersect. According to recent data, “1 in 6 older black people have been homeless at some point in their life.”

If this subset of the population (minority low income, and not the middle and upper class white people who live in the good parts of town) were able to freely and easily get to the polls, studies show that they would vote for candidates that push for social reforms and programs, healthcare, higher wages, and overall equality.

In a count from January 2017, there were over 550,000 homeless people in our country. In Charlotte during that count there were over 1,400 people, a number, which was expected to rise in 2018. That’s a lot of people who need to be able to have their voice heard. Voting needs to be made easy on people, not hard. It’s the right of every citizen, and if we follow that up with more criteria, then the nature of our country changes drastically.

Today is election day. Your vote matters in giving agency and power to the right people, and the failure to exercise that right gives power to the wrong people.

We’ve listed some voting facts below. Do research to find out who you want representing you and who will represent everyone in their district well.

We know it can be hard to get to the polls. We know that you may have small children that could cause a scene, and we know that you may have long work hours or you may not feel like any candidate fully represents your wishes and goals. But it’s up to us to put in office the people who we feel most aligned with. Your civic duty is too important to ignore, now and every year.

Go Vote!

Voting Facts
– You can register AND vote at the same time during the early voting period, and during this time you can also vote at any polling location in your district
– On Election Day (November 6th), you must vote at your assigned polling place, and you must be registered to vote before this day
– You can find a sample ballot at our state Board of Elections site
– You can find out who will be on that ballot and a little bit about them at Ballotready.org
– I Side With is a good voting guide and resource for checking out which candidates align with your priorities
– You have the right to enter the polls with your phone or a written list of the candidates for whom you would like to vote
– You have the right to remain in line and cast your vote after voting hours end, as long as you got in line before the poll closing time

Sources
Gerrymandering, Explained. The Washington Post / Youtube.
Voter ID Laws, Frontline PBS / Youtube
America’s Shameful History of Voter Suppression, The Guardian
NC Can Use Gerrymandered Map in November, NPR
Many Native ID’s Won’t Be Accepted at North Dakota Polling Places, NPR
Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but were Afraid to Ask, Anton Treuer
4th U.S. Circuit judges overturn North Carolina’s voter ID law, News & Observer

Why Can’t the Homeless Just Get a Job? (Part 2 of 2)

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lordand he will repay him for his deed. – Proverbs 19:17

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If you’re just joining us, this post is part 2 of a series where we’re talking about that nagging thought we’ve all had when we see a person asking for help on the streets or the corner of a busy intersection. If you haven’t said it aloud your self, or thought it, you’ve heard someone else say it: “why can’t homeless people just get a job?”

In our last post (catch up HERE) we discussed some simple barriers to entry for employment when you’re homeless. Something as simple as listing an address or presenting identification, which are easy steps in a process for most of us, take much more planning and finagling for those stuck in the cycle of scarcity or homelessness. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what else is required to get a job in a few different entry-level areas.

Let’s say someone was interested in an entry-level administrative role. Once the application hurdles have been crossed, the next stage is an interview. Most of us have several different interviewing outfits to choose from, tweaking them based on what we know of the company’s “feel.” Several organizations exist to help those in homelessness obtain a proper interview wardrobe, but the application process is multiple steps and requires time. In this day and age, there isn’t typically a long lead time before an interview.

Additionally, the applicant needs access to sanitation facilities to shower and clean up in preparation for an interview, and for work daily until they could afford more permanent housing (a hurdle to discuss separately). They would ideally need somewhere to stash their belongings while they’re on an interview or at a job. They would need a resume, a nice cover letter and references wouldn’t hurt, and anything to put on that resume for past experience. They would be looking at a salary of around $25k to $35k per year, assuming they got the job.

What about the fast food service industry? Say a homeless person wants to get a job as a McDonald’s crew member. Assuming they could access the clean showering facilities and had a nice enough outfit for an interview, were able to provide identification and gave an address, got the job and could figure out a way to get to work every day, they would get paid probably under $9 an hour. Even at full time hours, that annual salary falls right around the poverty line for an individual.

For retail or an entry-level job at your local Walmart? After jumping through hoops to get that job, their pay would be bumped up to $11 an hour as a starting wage. Your annual salary will be above the poverty line for an individual, but if you have a family of 3, you’re below that line, and most likely needing additional subsidies to acquire childcare for your dependents.

What’s also important to realize, is that actually a significant percentage of homeless people DO work. In fact, anywhere between 25% and 40% of homeless people are employed. Many, full time. So if 25-40% of homeless people hold down jobs, why are there not 25-40% fewer homeless people?

Let’s talk about paychecks. Most of us are getting them, or legally dependent on someone who is. The minimum wage, which varies according to state, is not a livable wage. According to Axios, “In no state in the entire country can a family working full time at minimum wage afford an average apartment.”

And that doesn’t include bills or other life expenses. In North Carolina, the minimum livable wage is about $50,000. In the last few years, data has showed that the median income for a Charlotte resident is around $35,000 annually, and for a household, it’s about $55,000 annually.

That means that at least half of households and most individuals fall below the minimum livable wage in our city.

In Charlotte, rent averages about $1000 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,300 for two. About $130 goes towards utilities plus another $55 for internet, and then more fees are incurred depending on whichever mode of transportation is most convenient (or available). Childcare is a cost breakdown in and of itself. For younger children, a daycare is probably the most cost-efficient option and that will run into the hundreds of dollars. For slightly older children, the daycare costs are absent but the costs of school supplies and clothes are a consideration. Most families in Charlotte spend a minimum of $350 per month on food. These costs don’t include taxes taken out of paychecks, healthcare, insurance, or anything extra in a monthly budget.

So not only does assuming homeless people are lazy and should just “get a job” paint half a million people with a broad and erroneous brush, it perpetuates the myth that they aren’t working.

What can we do? We can donate our time and energy to helping people who aren’t currently working be able to go to job interviews and get paying work. But, primarily, we can re-orient our thought processes and look at that person holding their sign on the street corner in the eye with dignity. Because they’re a person, just like you and just like me. They’re struggling, and the least we can do is understand why.

Sources
Working Homeless Population Grows in Cities Across the U.S. (Feb 2018)
National Low Income Housing Coalition
The Working Homeless Isn’t Just a Tech Bubble Problem
Redlining Was Banned 50 Years Ago. It’s Still Hurting Minorities Today.
How Much is the Living Wage in Each State
The Cost of Living in Charlotte, NC
Federal Poverty Level

 

A Chance to Make Christmas Wishes Come True

christmas-xmas-christmas-tree-decorationFor many of us, the holiday season overflows with joy and anticipation as we search high and low for the perfect gifts for family members, neighbors, coworkers and friends.

For some, like families living in J.T. Williams and Reid Park, Christmas may serve as a reminder to parents of what they are unable to provide their children. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center strives to fill that gap.

Throughout the year, the Dream Center serves Charlotte’s often-overlooked communities through programs such as Bible Study, job training, mentorship, Friday night street ministry, Sunday church services, and Adopt-A-Block. The mission of the Dream Center is to give hope to the hopeless, and Adopt-A-Block allows us to bring this mission to life by locking arms with families in need of a reminder of God’s truth of their potential.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center Toy Store enables parents to purchase new and like new Christmas gifts at largely discounted prices, having them wrapped on the spot, and delivered to their homes the same day.

The opportunity to purchase family gifts provides dignity and pride, as well as a sense of hope and excitement about Christmas morning. As one neighborhood mom, Tiffany, described, “It makes me feel like a proud mother.”

Providing for one’s children is a core element of the parent-child relationship. Unfortunately, poverty stresses this connection to the point of breaking. Rather than stepping in to take the parental role, we wish to meet the families where they are and ultimately fuel the relationship between parent and child.

In 2017, Reid Park hosted 31 volunteers and served 26 heads of households who provided gifts to 68 children! In J.T. Williams, 27 volunteers assisted 44 heads of households to choose gifts for 128 children!

Danielle, a mother of four, and a two-time shopper says, “It’s a joy to know that people in your community care about your having a nice Christmas on a budget.”

The Dream Center Toy Store is only made possible with the help of our community partners. Please consider joining us for the first time or as a repeat donor in showing parents, like Danielle, that Charlotte takes care of Charlotte.

How to get involved: Email volunteercoordinator@cltdc.org expressing your interest and if you are representing a larger group. We will survey the neighborhoods and send you a list of requested items. From there we will coordinate time and date of drop off. An online sign up will be created in December for those wanting to volunteer the day of.

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to hearing from you!