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!

 

 

Through the Eyes of a Volunteer: The Eversons

The hard work, dedication and consistency of our volunteer network is inspiring and helps make the Dream Center possible. We were moved to see one of our families, the Eversons, so impacted by their time with our neighbors. In fact, their son Michael recently wrote a paper sharing his experiences:

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I believe that the solution to poverty lies in the hands of those who are passionate about making change. Christians are called to help those in needs using the gifts that we have been given to work as the hands and feet of Jesus. In Romans 12:6-8 Paul says: “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”

When we share what God is doing in and through us we can inspire and motivate others to let God work through them. It is important when reading others testimonies to realize that sometimes to create change we have to step out of our comfort zones. My job is to get people excited so that positive change can occur. I hope after reading my testimony you will graciously give your gift to those in need.

When I was young and immature, my family moved to a new church, which changed our lives. We were lukewarm Christians that were not on fire for Jesus. That church brought a whole new look to Christianity for us; at the time, it led my parents spiritually. I was still young when we moved there and I did not understand a lot. Since first moving there, I have grown with my family spiritually over the past few years, we were all feeling pretty comfortable with where we were at, but there was still that piece that was missing. We had been fed abundantly with scripture and good teaching, but we had not been fed with the beauty of service. My family and I found that we were aching to give. God threw the King’s Kitchen and the Dream into our lives through one of my mom’s friends.

The Dream Center has created a bond in those neighborhoods that no amount of money could ever buy. We were invited to Friday Night Street Ministry one night, and I was excited to see what God had in store for me through this new experience. We spoke to people about their lives and created relationship with them. Poverty is abundant, and it can appear in different forms. Some people are monetarily living in poverty but others are spiritually poor. The job of the Dream Center is to reach those in both situations.

With testimonies being shared, more people can go out and do service for God which can sometimes include just being willing to listen. It is easy to get through life just living for yourself, but people don’t know the treasures that lie in service. Calling Friday nights service even seems a little wrong because all we do is love on people. More people in love with God means more people in love with service and more people involved in service means a change in poverty. Because of the Adopt-A-Block program the crime in Reid Park (which is one of the most dangerous and poverty stricken neighborhoods in Charlotte) has gone down from 5 dangerous crimes to 1 per week. The Adopt-A-Block program does not give those people money; they just bring God’s love and build relationships.

The whole experience the past couple months has changed the way I view people; I have found that I judged the appearance of everyone, but really people who look scary on the outside can surprise you and be the most open to talking about their life. Don’t be mistaken. I’m not asking everyone to go out and preach in a prison or get on the streets and share the gospel, but God calls us to share the word. All I am asking is that you use the gift that has been given to you to give to others.

EricBelk

Eric

Meet Eric. Waxhaw native. Singer. Comic. Skilled machinist. Delivered from addiction to drugs and alcohol. Homeless since 2008. Friend to his neighbors on the street. Known as “Pops.”READ MORE

Hezekiah

Hezekiah

Hezekiah’s life has led him across a spectrum of successes and struggles. His prowess on the football field led to a stint as a semi-pro player and a earned him membership into the 1980 National Football Foundation Hall of Fame (pictured in the ceremony program).

He spent 6 years serving our country as a US Army drill sergeant. And he has also painfully endured the death of two wives from cancer, addiction battles and homelessness.

But, Hezekiah has hope thanks to the Dream Center and The King’s Kitchen & Bakery, where he works as a dishwasher and attends daily Bible studies. “I’m finally finding some kind of peace. I’m able to deal with situations in my past from perspective. Old demons that used to set me off don’t have as much of an effect on me,” he says.

ShawnMassey

Shawn

Shawn’s is a story of forgiveness and hope. After serving 12 years in prison following a wrongful conviction, Shawn was exonerated, thanks to the help of a team from the Duke University School of Law committed to helping those misidentified and wrongfully prosecuted, in 2010. But his situation leaves him feeling as though he is still in prison here in Charlotte.READ MORE

Elaine

Elaine

Elaine survived an 11-year long addiction as well as a suicide attempt. Elaine questioned God, “Why won’t you let me die?” She told God that if He was allowing her to live, He would have to show her how to do it.

Now, Elaine spends her days walking through Uptown Charlotte and saying prayers for people she meets, encouraging them and reminding them of God’s great love for us. As a woman on the street, Elaine has been shown God’s protection time and time again.

After ministering on the street for 7 years, Elaine was introduced to The King’s Kitchen & Bakery through a friend. At the time, she was searching for a place to learn and grow in her faith. “This place, it’s a family,” she proclaims proudly. “Everyone is willing to do whatever needs to be done.” For Elaine, that means cleaning the bathrooms every Sunday. And doing so with a smile, encouraging word and prayer.

Paul DC

Paul

When it comes to homelessness, Paul wants to tell people, “Treat me like a human being.”

Paul knows about tenacity. A Canadian Native American, Paul killed a bear with a bow and arrow at just 13 years old (pictured below in one of his proudest photos).

Homeless in Charlotte for three years, Paul has been a part of The King’s Kitchen & Bakery and Restoring Place Church for the past year. “I was looking for a church and a safe place where I wasn’t looked at funny or turned away. I’m just trying to worship God. I’m allowed to do that right?”

Paul admits that homeless is a struggle. Particularly when it comes to the way the homeless are treated. “I get tired of seeing people warn other people about homeless people, as though we’re all dangerous,” he says. “A lot of parents do that to their kids. It’s hard.”

His life goals are simple: Get things done in this city. He admits that injustice is hurting people, and he’s committed to ending that. Charlotte is known to many people as a city of family values, and Paul, having seen both hope and hopelessness, desires to see those values authenticated everywhere.