Except for the two years I was attending college in Berkeley, I’ve lived on the Central Coast for the past 47 years. Living in such a pristine and affluent area, I’ve always been troubled about our homeless problem.
In January, I went to the New Times with an idea for connecting people in our community who need with those who have. On July 28th, they made it happen by launching “The Homeless Project — One Story at a Time.”
Each Thursday I send a homeless person to the New Times Office at 11:00am where they are asked to sign a liability release form. Staff interviews them, takes their picture, and lets them know their story and photo will be published in the newspaper and included on their website.
Anyone wanting to offer assistance to those in need can call New Times at 805/546-8208 and ask to speak to someone about “The Homeless Project.” Emails can be sent to NT at email@example.com.
NT established an online database with the info from both parties, and with the participant’s approval, contact information is given to the person interested in helping. It’s just people helping people and anyone can help.
We simply provide communication between the “haves” and the “have-nots” — it’s up to the prospective landlord or employer to do a background check and get references.
Our goal is to supplement government and nonprofit programs aimed at helping the indigent, not to duplicate, overlap or replace them. There are plenty of local people without homes or jobs to go around, and unfortunately, homelessness in our community (and country) is increasing each year. It doesn’t have to be this way.
This is a social problem with answers. We may never end homelessness altogether, but we will reduce it.
“After four years of implementation, Denver’s ‘Road Home’ reported an 11% reduction in overall homelessness (4,693 homeless in Denver in 2005 and 3,900 in 2009) and an 81% decrease in chronic homelessness (942 chronic homeless in 2005 and today, 178).”
Ideas of how you can help today:
* Offer a man, woman, couple or family a place to live in your home, in a rental, or on your farm or ranch in exchange for domestic/field/garden/livestock work;
* Give someone who has no home a safe place to live in exchange for companionship to an elderly person and help with the housework, cooking, or running errands;
* Take in a homeless teenage girl to be a mother’s helper with your children; teach her how to clean house, cook and do other chores in exchange for a safe place to sleep at night;
* Hire a person without a home and train them to work in your shop/office/store in exchange for a place to live. I was in a parts store in SLO recently; I asked the owner if he’d consider training a homeless person in his shop. He said yes.
* “Adopt” a homeless teenager, adult or a family who needs your help right here in SLO County. We do for children overseas.
* Some of our homeless teens have been kicked out of their own homes for being gay; they need acceptance, guidance, and love – someone to look up to, or to show interest in them, and to help them get their lives back on track;
* Become a mentor (like Big Brothers & Sisters) to a young person without a home. Assist them in getting back on their feet, help them learn how to get into college or get a job. Take them to church, etc.
The possibilities are endless.
Homeless people need a hand up, not a hand out. They need to work (if they are able) to feel good about themselves. When we do too much for people, we enable them; we lead them to believe they can’t do for themselves. But when you don’t even have a warm and safe place to put your head each night, or keep your important papers/meds/belongings safe, or a steady place to eat, or go to the bathroom, or shower, it’s difficult to get a job, which would enable them to get back on their feet. As many years as I’ve worked with the homeless, I can’t even imagine what it’s like.
The stereotype for the homeless people is that they are drug addicts, alcoholics, or criminals. On the contrary, many are just ordinary people – like you and me. There are many people in this country that are just one paycheck away from being homeless. They are engineers, architects, legal secretaries, students, mechanics, teens, veterans, and the elderly…they are someone’s dad or mother, sister or brother – son or daughter, friend — people who need a helping hand.
The road back to stability is having a place to call home. Not a place by a creek or in a park under a tree, or where you may be trespassing or loitering. When you are homeless, you try to be invisible.
With the stability of a home, good things happen; it can restore mental and physical well being, counseling, group support, a job, school, etc.
To date, five homeless people have been placed. Four others have jobs, one is now clean and sober, legal assistance has been offered, and another person is soon to be placed on a ranch in North County in exchange for his gardening expertise.
A huge thanks goes out to all those involved with these success stories…with your help, there will be many more.
Thank you in advance for being a part of the solution.
Becky Jorgeson, M.A., Advocate for the Homeless