Editor’s Note: The following piece is a continuation of author Wayne Cooke’s intial story about a Graham woman named Teresa and her family, who have been homeless for years. Wayne’s account, titled “Where Can Teresa Go?” appeared in these pages a year ago and triggered enormous response from Mountain News readers.
Now, Wayne updates their story. First, he re-caps meeting Teresa and encountering her grown daughter and her boyfriend, whose names have been changed for this article. Then he describes an amazing journey that reveals the transformation underway in both Wayne and these Graham residents. Yet, it is still incomplete.
By Wayne Cooke
As I turned into the Graham Post Office parking lot, I waved to Teresa, a middle-aged woman, and her daughter, Holly. After depositing the letter, I walked over to them. I’d met them earlier when a few “homeless” people came to a meeting of the Graham-Kapowsin Community Council in early 2014. Those at the meeting learned about the local “homeless problem” from the homeless, themselves.
Holly was indignant as I approached them. “That mean lady from the post office told us to get back to Safeway where we belong!”
But they didn’t belong at Safeway. They didn’t belong anywhere. You might find them near parking lot exits holding a sign, wearing a “hungry and miserable” look. Being “homeless” means returning to a tent in woods away from public view, surviving the cold rains of winter as well as possible. Any available helpful programs, such as food vouchers and Puyallup’s “freezing nights” shelters are taken advantage of when possible. There were dangers, too, with drug addicts and thieves.
“I’m tired of being homeless”, said Teresa, “I’d be happy to work for a place to live!”
If true, couldn’t a program provide some kind of work in exchange for shelter and food? My sense of morality said “yes.” But I learned that the reality is not so simple. Others, experts in the field, have worked for years with the “homeless problem”. And they have had some successes. Other people just say, “Get them out of here.” My purpose in this writing is to both put a human face on the word “homeless”, and share recent successes in ending homelessness. I hope this information will help to multiply programs that do successfully “get them out of here,” off the streets, into a “home” and next to needed services. But I knew nothing about homelessness when I talked to Teresa. I was just curious about the reality of being “homeless” in my town of Graham.
Meet Teresa, Patty, and Bob
I asked Teresa if I could write about her. This is what she told me:
She grew up in Eatonville, on the road to Mt. Rainier, enjoying softball and roller skating. She earned money to go to the swimming pool by mowing and doing yard work. Her parents were “okay” but she still remembers a time when she and her older brother were left in the back of the car while her parents spent two hours in a tavern.
I asked what her father did for a living and felt a shock at her answer: “He sometimes panhandled, but he also did yard work and any odd jobs he could find.”
School wasn’t easy for Teresa. She hated math and once threw the book at her teacher. She didn’t graduate, but got married to Ralph in 1992. It was a good marriage, according to Teresa. Both sometimes panhandled, but also did whatever work they could find. They learned to recognize mushroom species and, for years, picked seasonal mushrooms for a supplier that shipped them overseas. They had two children, Holly and Ron. Ron still lives in Eatonville and, this year, 2014, finally graduated from Eatonville High School, thanks to the urging and support of his girl friend.
Teresa learned about cancer when she was only seven. Her older brother developed leukemia and died. Then, in the ‘80s, her father got lung cancer and died. The worst blow came when, on November 11, 2012, her husband, Ralph, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Then began the ordeal so many others have gone through, made difficult by lack of money and resources. At the end, Teresa was invited by the Franciscan Hospice House to stay there with Ralph during his final week of life. Teresa couldn’t praise the Franciscans enough. She was grateful for their support and help.
Ralph died in September of 2013. The Franciscans arranged for a simple cremation at no cost to Teresa.
And then she was back to reality, back to the tent in Graham, back to the street, holding a sign, panhandling. I asked how she handled the loss, after 21 years of marriage. “I threw myself into self-destructive mode“, she answered. “He was my everything.” She drank heavily and didn’t care what happened to her. “He’s up there,” she pointed to heaven, “and I’ll join him some day.”
She said this while sitting on the cold concrete under the sheltering entrance cover of a former bank. The tent was somewhere far off in the woods. Holly and her partner, Phillip, were with her but left us alone. (Over a year ago, Phil and Holly were renting , but losing a job led to losing their home. They found and joined Teresa, while their child was left with an aunt. From Teresa, they learned how to panhandle. They learned how to be homeless. And so, with Teresa, they survived the winter of 2013-14.)
I asked Teresa if she had any ideas about ways to get them out of tents and into a home. The reminder of her tent set off an angry complaint. She told me how people (other homeless?) had damaged and desecrated her camp while she was away. “I’m tired of it!” she said, and burst into tears.
“I’m tired of sleeping in a wet, cold, sleeping bag! I’m tired of being wet and dirty! On Easter Sunday, someone stole the full Easter basket someone had given us!”
Teresa’s story might be similar to many others and I still saw her as a stereotype. These were simply the kind of people who became homeless, not like me or my neighbors. Then I met Patty at a Graham Historical Society meeting and discovered that she and her husband, Dave, had nearly become homeless like Phil and Holly. But Patty was a college graduate with a long teaching career behind her and Dave had a well-paid managerial job. They both were careful money managers, paying every bill on time and always adding to their savings. They purchased a nice home in Graham and were able to put a large down payment on it, thereby insulating themselves from real estate ups and downs and lowering the payments. Then the “housing crash” in 2008 plunged the value of their house well below the remaining principal. The “insulation” was gone as surely as if a thief had grabbed it. Later came that phone call to her husband: “I’m so sorry to do this, but our business is so slow with this recession that I have to let you go.”
Patty would have to return to teaching. But then she discovered that older people were not being hired. They wanted young teachers, and there were plenty to choose from. Dave and Patty spent months mailing resumes, filling out applications, and phoning, with no success. They used up their savings and Patty finally had to pull out, early, her entire teaching retirement fund. They continued job-hunting and took temporary jobs. They still made every house payment, valuing the house above all. But the dark day came when every option was used up and there was nothing left to make a house payment or even buy food. They didn’t know it then, but they could have phoned Neighbor Works at 888-995-HOPE and received help to stay in their home. Family and friends did help as much as possible. Both Patty and Dave became sick and scared, even terrified, at the future. The house, they thought, was gone.
Drained emotionally, they talked about leaving, with no good place to go. On that day Dave answered the phone. The caller said: “There’s a job opening here. Are you still interested?” They were saved. They could breathe again. Never again would they trust the value of money over the enduring value of family, friends, and love.
Every story about becoming homeless is different. With young Bob, becoming homeless was a deliberate choice, an escape from the drinking and fighting of his parents at home. That was many years ago. He remained homeless longer than most teenagers who leave home and within days move into a relative’s house, or a friend’s house, or even return home. Bob refused to return home. He even sold drugs for awhile to make a living. But his desire to finish high school led him to a program, with housing and meals, in which he passed the GED tests and graduated. Then he went on to college, and graduated, and continued on to earn a Master’s degree. Today, he is a valuable asset to the community in which he and his family live. That program allowed his own abilities and ambition to carry him to a successful adulthood, returning in full the program’s investment.
That program no long exists, but on that same site a new and similar program is just starting. It is named Mentor House (www.mentorhouse.org) and is offered to young adults 18 to 24 years of age who have “aged out” of youth facilities. It offers the personal guidance by professional case managers, GED opportunities, and the job training that will allow them to transition to an income, a home, and a place in the community…paying bills and taxes!
The National Picture of Homelessness
These are individual stories. Let’s look at the homeless picture nationwide, starting with the announcement of President Bush in 2005 of a funded effort to end homelessness in the U.S. by 2015. That effort stimulated a decade of research and initiatives, providing us today with a foundation of facts, and real-life experience. Chronic homelessness, meaning people like Teresa, has dropped, but not ended. We now know that it costs too much money to have homeless “on the streets”. We now know, a bit late, that cities, counties, and states, should be building and staffing “homes” for them, and counting the savings. We know that people, like Teresa, really shouldn’t be seen begging and “hanging around”. Instead, they should be sleeping in a warm, dry bed, with necessities supplied. They may be involved in a drug or alcohol rehab program right there on site. Because the chronically homeless use and need such a large portion of public supportive services, it surprised me that they comprise only 15% of the total homeless population. Without proactive public housing, though, they are the most visible and thus contribute to the misconception that they represent most homeless people. If you subtract 15% from 100%, though, you find that by far the largest number of homeless people do get back into mainstream housing again fairly soon, using available social services and other help. They are most of the homeless, and they are mostly unseen. For those 85%, the system is working pretty well as it is.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness (www.endhomelessness.org) has much more information about homelessness in general, and also about how to actually end homelessness. That’s right, END it, just like President Bush said. Many people, such as myself, thought that was an impossible. I was wrong. The pastor of our church, who came from the Netherlands, asked about our homeless people. He didn’t understand it. He told me that there were no homeless people in the Netherlands. Everyone had a job and a home. If you were in danger of losing the home, a government office worked with you to find a solution. You couldn’t be homeless.
But in the U.S., over half a million people are homeless at any one time. Over 200,000 of them are in families. Over 300,000 are individuals. Most become homeless because of a financial crisis, car accident, or medical emergency. About 9% of homeless are veterans. Most of these homeless people, 85%, return to independence and a home in a reasonable period of time, with the help of rent assistance, job placement help, or housing assistance. However, for the long-term homeless, the 15%, it is difficult to provide the needed assistance toward a more stable life, because they are homeless!
It’s not that Hard to End Homelessness
That’s where Pathways to Housing comes in. They claim to have originated the “housing first” model now shown to be both successful and cost-effective. The Pathways mission statement reads: “We believe housing is a basic human right and aspire to change the practice of homeless services by providing immediate access to permanent, independent apartments without preconditions.” In other words, if clients have no home, get them a home first and then it is much easier to help with other problems. That model now has a name: Permanent Supportive Housing, or PSH.
Isn’t that expensive? Not really! In Los Angeles, (where one-tenth of the half million U.S. homeless population is located), a study found that placing four chronically homeless people into Permanent Supportive Housing saved the city a total of $80,000 each year. It turns out that most cities have been paying triple the cost of Permanent Supportive Housing just to enable homeless people to remain homeless.“ Put that way, not providing small apartments with services appears to be a huge waste of money.
A large recent study followed the progress of Seattle’s new Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC). This is a Permanent Supportive Housing project built to serve only people with severe alcohol problems and varying medical or mental health conditions. When taking into account all costs, including the housing cost, each person at the DESC cost $2449 less each month than a comparable person at a conventional city shelter. This study was from an article in the American Medical Association Journal.
Begging, using food banks and any available resources becomes a way of life for the chronically homeless. They can survive without filling out forms or answering questions. It’s a simple, independent, if uncomfortable life. On the surface, it doesn’t cost the rest of us anything except a random gift of money or food. Or so it seems.
Now the accountants have revealed an unexpected Truth.
Now, at least partly due to the Bush initiative, the accountants have totaled up the real costs from all agencies and revealed the answer. It costs taxpayers about three times as much simply to allow homeless people to stay homeless “on the streets” than it would to put them into small apartments. This is a cold, hard calculation. It’s not about compassion or loving your neighbor. It’s about money.
Meet a Young Homeless Couple
I didn’t know any of that in the summer of 2014. Phil and Holly did reveal a part of any answer, thanks to the Graham Community Garden. I’d stopped there, dismayed to see that no one was using it. Weeds grew high in all seven beds. Then I noticed Phil and Holly across the street, walking together. Something clicked. Work needed. Young people need paid work. I hurried over and offered them $10 an hour.
They jumped at the chance. I showed them what to do, left them with tools, and then left. Maybe some of the “lazy homeless” stereotype lingered in my mind because on my return I was thrilled to see six of the beds perfectly clean and the seventh being finished by a sweaty Phil and Holly bent over, working hard. I went across the street and added a couple teriyaki chicken meals to their pay.
Days later, I noticed that the old white arbor forming an entrance to the garden looked shabby next to the newly neat beds. Could Phil and Holly paint it? Yes, they could. My guess is that it was the first time they had ever handled paint brushes, but they now could stand back and admire the “new” white arbor they had transformed. The paint on their clothes didn’t bother them. What excited Holly even more than the sparkling white arbor, though, was the bean seed she had planted days earlier.
“You’ve got to see it. It’s four inches high already!” she exclaimed. I shared her excitement. There is something spiritual about putting seeds in the ground and watching them miraculously grow to give food. And I noticed something else. Holly’s eyes were shining. Always talkative, she now was excited to be doing something. They had felt compelled to be with Teresa, whose homeless-living skills were helpful, but now Teresa was getting deeper into alcohol and Holly became angry, upset, and worried. It was time for a painful split. Phil agreed. They moved their tent far away, hiding it well. The Community Garden then became a volunteer job for them. I took them to a plant nursery and bought lots of vegetable starts. They planted and tended them, and were amazed at the growing food. They harvested plenty for themselves, and gave some to me and boxfuls to the Food Bank. I grew to like them. They were my friends.
Phil had always been quiet. So when I answered the phone one morning to hear a clear, confident voice politely asking if I had any other work to do, I had to ask who it was! They were changing. With Teresa, Holly had seemed like a teen-ager. Now she acted more the energetic, mothering 25- year-old. She and Phil had been together for eight years. As for Phil, I liked the new man I was seeing. Nor did I ever hear Holly criticize him. They obviously loved each other and shared the potholes of life together.
Lessons Learned: Homelessness is a sinkhole with slippery sides. Just the price of entry is some sort of failure or misfortune, and the cost of remaining is to wear the yoke of failure, outcast from society. Being asked to do a (paid) job that gives you pride, like painting that white arbor, is an important boost to self-respect, and I learned how important self-respect is to the hope of getting back to a normal life. I learned that telling “homeless” people to just get on their feet and get a job is wishful thinking, an excuse to close one’s eyes to the social obligations rooted in centuries of communal living and religious teachings. Those outside the window are family, fellow citizens. We must care for them, but wisely. Long-term homeless people often carry heavy emotional baggage from their past and need long term help to be successful. And we now know an unexpected truth, that the first step is to remove “less” from the word “homeless,” to provide a “home” for them, as in “Permanent Supportive Housing.”
That’s the Answer, Really?
That’s the answer? Yes, really. They are no longer homeless, no longer in the streets holding a sign, if they have a small “home”, a personal space , a dry bed and a bathroom, not Safeway’s parking lot or the Post Office. A “home” is first. Then it is more possible to meet other needs. The documented truth is that it has already been done successfully and has already saved taxpayers a ton of money while getting most of the “homeless” off the streets. It really works. We’ll look at some successful PSH projects in a minute. But where Phil and Holly are, in their tent, no such program exists. There is just one successful and valuable Permanent Supportive Housing project nearby in Tacoma. It is the Randall Townsend Apartments, built specifically to help chronically homeless victims of alcohol and drug addictions, and other disabilities. Much effort, though, has been put into “affordable housing” projects by the MDC, (Metropolitan Development Consortium), that not only helps to prevent homelessness in the first place, but provides attractive neighborhoods. It’s the next step up from “housing first.”
But Housing First, another name for Permanent Supportive Housing, isn’t available to help Phil and Holly. They need a place to live and have no money. But they found another great program, Access Point 4 Housing, under Associated Ministries, and applied for their help. They were put on the waiting list and looked forward to being assigned to an apartment. That would make getting a job possible, and allow their child to come home. After waiting a couple months, though, Phil and Holly were moved further back down on the list! Their future was uncertain. And summer was passing.
Later, I had an opportunity to talk to the director of the AccessPoint4Housing program. She explained that they depended on landlords willing to work with them. But there weren’t enough. Only about 20% of applicants could be placed at any given time. They needed many more cooperative landlords.
Upon learning that the Tacoma-Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness was meeting, I decided to attend, asking Phil and Holly to go with me in the hope of getting more housing information. We arrived late and sat against the back wall. A large rectangle of tables seated over 30 people. Thirteen of them were scheduled to give progress reports on their area of responsibility. From “police liaison” to “Tent City” to “veterans”, they had all the connections covered, and all were doing good, valuable work with homeless people while seeming to never mention ending homelessness. If they did, my poor hearing kept me from understanding it. It even kept me from understanding a quiet side-conversation Holly and Phil were having with a kind-looking man sitting near them. When we were leaving the room, though, that man hurried over to them and told them to wait. He returned with another man who said, with a twinkle in his eyes, “You want to get married? I’m a minister and I’ll do it for you without any charge”. They talked about details for awhile, traded information, and were about to leave when the minister looked up into the air and stated, “Mmm, I sure do love a good chicken sandwich, though!”
A week later, they had the marriage license, my gift to them. On July 3, 2014, standing with their small son, they were married by Pastor John in Puyallup’s Pioneer Park, surrounded by a dozen relatives and friends under a beautiful sky. For their honeymoon, it was back to the tent, now hidden farther back into the woods.
Their dream of soon living under a real roof was fading. The Coalition didn’t have a way to get Phil and Holly out of their tent. They were involved with the realities of helping needy homeless people. Ending homelessness by building apartments might be a good idea, but another part of government would have to do the local research, make plans, find funding, and sign contracts. But it’s possible and it will save money. How can the decision-makers be persuaded to adopt the idea? Constituent pressure?
A Tent City becomes Quixote Village
A “tent city” in Olympia, Washington, found another way to apply pressure. They had to find a safer alternative to tents. They wanted tiny homes, as in the PSH concept.
They started with a deliberate act of trespassing.
The “tent city,” nicknamed Camp Quixote, decided several years ago that they had to make something happen. They moved their entire camp over to vacant lots only a few blocks from the State Capitol and set up their tents, trespassing purposely and illegally, under the watching eyes of police.
As hoped, the fear of negative publicity sparked planning by state leaders. They found property out of town with utilities already close, and began the process of designing and building permanent supportive housing. Tent city residents were included in the planning and were assured it would actually happen. Citizens and churches offered temporary locations for the tents while the long process of getting funds and permits, clearing land, and building tiny homes continued. Camp Quixote residents insisted, in the planning stage, on adding a small, covered front porch to each cabin. When planners questioned this, their answer was that it was necessary because it allowed them to stand on their porches and talk across to their neighbors such as they did from their old tents. The porches encouraged the feeling of community that they were now used to. Finally, thirty mini-homes with bathrooms – and porches – were ready. It also had a common building with showers, TV, laundry machines, offices for caseworkers, (the supportive services), TV, and a fully equipped kitchen for the residents to use. The new housing was named Quixote Village, after their old Camp Quixote. For more information, phone 360-338-0451.
This is the answer, so simple it is overlooked . If people are homeless, then provide them small homes/apartments! But put services and counseling in the same building to save money and time. Include community space for lounging, doing laundry, etc. They are gone from street corners and parking lots. They are no longer homeless.
In this way you provide a minimal space where someone like Teresa could live and feel safe, so different from being chased off Safeway and Post Office parking lots. Provide, at the same location, the services and supervision aimed to eventually get as many people as possible back into the mainstream, with a job, a regular apartment or house, and – well, bills and taxes to pay.
This is the only answer that will help end homelessness, and at the same time bring a smile to the fiscally conservative city treasurer who can point to a significant savings of tax dollars that now can be used by other needed programs.
Some will never believe the facts and still will ask why we should spend tax money on beggars and addicts! Give them a straight answer. In most cities, too much money is spent on them. The housing first, PSH model, will, as seen above, allow less money to be spent on the homeless. Yes, we should spend less on beggars and addicts!
Don’t believe it? The tedious and difficult job of searching out and compiling all the costs from all the agencies, especially police and hospitals, related to needs of the homeless population has been done. These are the real costs, usually uncounted because each is a separate billing task by a different agency’s billing department. But in the end, citizens all pay, whether in higher taxes for public services or higher health care costs. So what was that averaged real cost? $31,065. It varies, of course, but is remarkably similar from city to city. Each homeless person “just hanging around” costs roughly $30,000 in average yearly public costs for each homeless person in a city. What a waste of money, when it demonstrably costs about $10,000 yearly to provide mini-housing, job training, and health care in one supervised place for each homeless person, guiding them toward self-respect, a paying job, and housing of their own choice.
That was demonstrated in Charlotte, NC. That city government found that the new Permanent Supportive Housing apartment complex designed and built especially for homeless people saved the city 1.8 million dollars in the first year alone!
How many civic leaders and social workers are aware of such possible savings?
Not enough. It is counter-intuitive for many and difficult to accept. Yet the truth is spreading and this story will, I hope, help spread it.
But my new friends Phil and Holly were still probably going to spend another cold winter in a tent. Being cautious, I’d chosen not to tell them where I lived.
Phil and Holly Work for Me
Work at my home, especially in my food gardens, was falling way behind and the weeds loved it. So the time came when I just had to get help and I reluctantly asked Phil and Holly. With a promise to keep “mum” about where they were working, they started coming, proved good workers, and were obviously thrilled at planting, weeding, and making things look good while earning a little money. Phil was good with anything mechanical and Holly, I learned, loved all living things, even the pesky neighbor’s dog that loved her. I’ll never see their camp, and they’ve never asked for shelter in my house. I’ve paid them for work done and given them almost no handouts. In fact, they bought me a coffee and burger for driving them to another job to earn money unloading a truckload of hay! They didn’t seem to be representative of the chronically homeless. They just needed to get a small home with an address. Then they could concentrate on finding a real job.
An income is usually necessary before you can get a home address. And you usually can’t get a home address without an income. So the Housing First program, aka Permanent Supportive Housing, is needed to fill the gap, to help provide the home address necessary to get a job and then, with the help of supportive services, work your way into a mainstream home, with a kitchen and…bills and taxes to pay.
Saving Money – Examples from Other Cities
Upon learning this, Salt Lake City crunched their own numbers and found the same two-thirds drop in total expenses that other cities have found by using the PSH model. The city was spending about $20,000 per homeless person per year – funding for policing, arrests, jail time, shelters, and emergency services. All this didn’t make a dent in their total homeless count. Instead, for $7,200 a year, Salt Lake City now provides a person with a small apartment, and the case management services to, if possible, get them back into mainstream society. In addition, the Permanent Supportive Housing program cut their chronically homeless count by 72%!
A report by “Pathways Home Colorado” cited a study by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless finding that services required by homeless “on the street” was costing $43,239 per person per year. The study predicted that would drop to $11,694 per person per year under the Housing First model. So Colorado found a way to do it.
In Las Animas, Colorado, the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility was standing unused since it was closed in 2011. The above study by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless justified its reopening in 2014 as Permanent Supportive Housing for the chronically homeless. Governor Hickenlooper praised the facility, saying, “This project will give homeless veterans and others a chance to learn the skills they need to get back on their feet.” It will offer not only supportive housing, but health services, substance abuse treatment, counseling and job training for the homeless. The actual cost ended up to be $16, 813 yearly, higher than the original prediction, but still a third of the cost of doing nothing.
A major goal of all who work with the homeless is to get homeless veterans off the street and into programs such as Housing First. We owe them that much at least. So the Mayor’s Challenge was issued. Mayors of 150 cities have, so far, committed to ending homelessness for veterans in their city. In our state of Washington, the mayors of Auburn, Bellingham, Bremerton, Seattle, and Spokane have all accepted the challenge to leave no veteran without a home, food, and services to get back on their feet.
As mentioned before, the old Baywatch apartment building in Tacoma was taken over by MDC and rebuilt into Permanent Supportive Housing apartments for (formerly) homeless people who have disabilities. The new 35-unit Randall Townsend Apartments has 24 hour staffing, and provides easy access to all of MDC’s health, education, and employment services, according to MDC’s President, Mark Pereboom. Tacoma and Pierce County were paying an estimated $35,000 yearly in emergency services for each person living on the streets. By providing such supportive and emergency services at the Randall Townsend Apartments, the city and county no longer have to shoulder that unnecessary burden.
Phil and Holly are still part of that burden. They, of course, take advantage of any county service they can use. And they are not getting closer to folding up the tent. But they did learn through a mutual friend that Teresa had folded her tent. She had finally given in and sought a rehabilitation program. Someone drove her to a live-in program somewhere halfway to Seattle. We wish her well.
Now the days were shorter and cooler, and I kept eyeing that old ‘60s era motor home that brother-in-law Bill had parked six years before way up in the back of our property. No one had mentioned it before. It was ugly with mildew, listing to one side, and probably moldy inside. I suggested the possibility to Paul, and he thought he could rehabilitate it. So I phoned Bill and explained the situation. He gave permission for them to use it for six months, over the winter, and then he planned to pull it out, maybe to junk it. His permission was put on paper, including some limits and rules if they were going to live on my property. Within a day or two, Phil had the outside looking bright, clean, and level again, and the roof sealed. With the key to open it, Holly had torn out everything inside that was dirty and moldy. Then she scrubbed with Lysol over and over again. A few days later, they slept in it for the first time, and started carefully moving in their belongings and folding up the tent. Over the next month or two, Phil totally replaced and repaired the electrical system, the heating system, and the plumbing, with advice from a next door neighbor who was familiar with RV repair. Finally it was finished. Phil and Holly now had a home, made with their own efforts. Since it was a separate residence, the Post Office even gave them a new address, their own address, and soon they had their own mailbox. Phil was ready to start applying for jobs.
Weeks passed. I kept hinting and making suggestions. Nothing seemed to be happening. Maybe they weren’t trying hard enough? I directly reminded them of the April deadline when they needed to have the saved money to move into a real home. Phil and Holly needed jobs. This was their last and best chance. It was up to them.
That parallels the situation in any Permanent Supportive Housing program. Those who are capable of taking the next step up to a real apartment and job, are encouraged to do so. The Alliance to End Homelessness has published a guide to this next step, “Moving On from PSH”. It looks at the circumstances under which a person should be helped to transition to a less intensive housing model. Since “moving on” up and out of the PSH program means paying your own rent, and buying your own groceries, it is a difficult and nail-biting step for many who were formerly homeless. Perhaps I haven’t given enough thought to Phil and Holly feeling the fear of applying for jobs, etc., when you’ve been “on the streets” for well over a year. I remembered my own fears when job-hunting many years ago. Do they truly need some sort of intervention and support? They have but three more months before they must find their own housing, and have the money to pay for it.
Programs offering low income housing are available and may be able to help Phil and Holly. The National Housing Trust Fund will soon be a significant help and MDC, in Tacoma, has those remarkably well planned and attractive low-income housing projects. However, there is little out here in the rural part of Pierce County that would help.
Word came to Holly that Teresa had moved from the rehab center that took her into one near Puyallup. There are questions, but no answers. Ending homelessness doesn’t solve all problems. It just makes problems easier and less expensive to work on. Those working with people like Teresa must be angels with great patience and love.
But Phil and Holly seem not to need so much help. They are intelligent and more capable than most homeless people of transitioning to a normal life. They are able to work hard. Yet it still seems so difficult for them. Why?
News! Phil has a job! It is half time, $900 monthly, very early morning, delivering bundles of Tacoma’s morning paper from the printing plant to each paper carrier. It’s a start!
A paragraph from the National Alliance to End Homelessness seems appropriate to end this story. It describes the second of the “Top 3 Things Everyone Should know about Homelessness.”
“Not all homeless people struggle with mental illness and/or substance abuse problems. That’s a stereotype based on the most visible kind of homelessness, chronic homelessness. Most homeless people are people who have lost their housing because of financial hardship. The answer for them, and all other homeless people, is simple: house them. There are a number of different ways of doing that, but one of the most persuasive arguments in favor of housing homeless people is that it is more cost-effective to provide housing than it is for us not to. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the financially responsible thing to do.”
It’s not just the right thing to do it’s the financially responsible thing to do.
© 2015 Wayne Cooke