I was recently asked what I thought about all the ruckus over the Confederate flag. The individual doing the asking is an older white male that I’ve come to know as a nice guy but…completely clueless about institutionalized racism and white privilege. You see, his asking me what I thought wasn’t really out of curiosity, it was his way of trying to justify marginalizing the race issue in America. You might find this hard to believe but some people actually think that this country wasn’t founded on racism, genocide or theft, regardless of historical fact.

I’ve learned since childhood that many of my white friends have no idea that their seemingly innocent questions and attitudes about race are steeped in good old fashioned American racism. Many feel comfortable asking me what my thoughts are about any number of racially charged stories that pop up in the media, as if I am a first hand source of non white information they can use to see if they’re racist or not. I got news for you white folks, whether you realize it or not, you cannot see the privilege of whiteness you were born and bred into much like a fish cannot fathom the water it lives and breathes in. Sure, you weren’t responsible for what your ancestors did but are you still perpetuating white myths towards other races? Do you see yourself as superior to other people because it’s your God given right to do so? Or do you shy away from anything that is “too uncomfortable” for you to admit to simply because from your perspective, you’ve never been the targets of institutionalized or nuanced racism therefore you cannot believe it’s real? Personally, I find it amusing whenever I hear statements like “Well I’m not a racist because I’m married to a (insert race here) man/woman therefore how can I be a racist?” Just because you fell in love with someone doesn’t mean you were shaped by certain attitudes during your formative years.

Back to the guy who asked me what I thought about the Confederate flag, my answer was simple. It’s not the flag stupid, it’s the people waving it that are the problem. Anything can be used to symbolize hate so how does attacking a symbol change the willingness to indoctrinate other people into systems of hate? Children aren’t born racists, they learn it from their immediate environment and if no one corrects them, they will continue to live in ignorance. Hate groups are social clubs for people seeking to validate their racism through group activities like organized cross burning field trips and if you join, you might receive a complementary white hooded robe or swastika. Sometimes these groups plan other social events like White Pride Parades or, for the really serious, build segregated compounds, I mean communities for themselves. I and every other person of color in this country has known or felt the impact of racism in America. Just because you’re not wearing a sheet or burning crosses in your neighbor’s backyard doesn’t mean you aren’t perpetuating racism on some level.If you’re not sure you aren’t offending anyone, here are some signs that you might be more offensive than you think:

1. Have you ever asked anyone why their people do this or that? (Example: Why don’t Indians just become Americans like everybody else?)

2. Do you scoff whenever a person of color points out that something you said or did was racially inappropriate?

3. Have you ever asked a person of mixed heritage who they identify with the most?

4. You see nothing wrong with making fun of different races simply because “they’re not like us.”

5. You think that because we have a black president (he’s mixed by the way), racism is no longer an issue in America.

6. You complain that your neighborhood “ain’t like it used to be” because different races have moved in.

7. You think that just because you have a non white friend, they’re ok with what you say about their race or other races.

8. You think people of color should believe and think the way you do.

9. You have a problem with brown people from other countries coming here even though you’re an immigrant yourself.

10. You justify or intellectualize your xenophobia with statements like, “Well I’m not a racist but…”

11. You tell people you’re not completely white because you have “high cheekbones” or unusually curly hair.

12. You think brown folks will accept you more if you tell them your great great grandfather or grandmother was an Indian (but won’t tell anybody you had a relative that was owned by other relatives.)

Personally, I laugh whenever people say to me “What are you?” I tell them that I am 100% sure that their assumptions will be incorrect because I am a mixed blood but the very fact that someone feels the need to ask tells me that they need to categorize who I am. If that’s the case, I let them keep guessing. Maybe someday they’ll figure out we’re all human after all.

Washington State is failing its homeless kids. I know because I’m a homeless mother who gets to deal with out of touch school superintendents, educators and principals. The so called homeless liaison from the Auburn School District introduced himself to me AFTER my child had been enrolled for three years! He had no clue about how to help us and the truth is, the McKinney-Vento Act is a bit of a joke in real time homelessness. Let me give you an example. The only “help” we can get from said Act is mileage reimbursement in the form of thirty cents on the dollar and said reimbursement doesn’t get paid until about two months later so in the meantime, transportation costs are being incurred that mileage reimbursement doesn’t even make a dent in. Not only that, after I had turned in a form documenting our mileage, the check sat in the school’s office for a month because none of the office staff knew what to do with it. If I run out of gas, I’m just plain stuck on the side of the road which might as well be a death sentence because when you live out of a car, if it breaks down or gets towed, you are screwed.

Here’s another reality for homeless kids, shelters are not an option for everybody. Welfare is a joke. Applying for Section 8 in a state where most of the time Section 8 is closed to apply for is a joke. Private organizations running their own programs neither have the funds or resources to help everybody so there are indefinite wait lists, if you can get on one or there just isn’t any availability. Living out of a car means we get sick more often than housed people. I work nights and because I can’t get help with childcare (even if I could find a daycare that runs at night), so every night I wonder if I’ll lose my part time job because of that. There is no regular address to send a bus or a taxi to to pick up my child. If I am too tired to drive after work, it is dangerous for me to drive as it is the same as being under the influence. So, as a result of daily realities, my kid is going to miss more days. Apparently the school’s way of “helping” is by threatening to report me to the state as if the state after all these years, has suddenly ended homelessness. I don’t think school districts realize that their hindering more than they are helping and that is the direct result of being out of touch with homeless life.

Because the only help I have is me, I can only do so much in a twenty four hour period and I do a lot! I have been homeless for almost nine years now and during that time I have worked two jobs to the point of a stroke. I’m not “supposed” to be working two jobs but here I am looking for a second one. I can’t exactly tell my current employer we’re homeless because I may get fired for disclosing that I am homeless. I will either die from running my body into the ground because there are no real options available when we need them or I will die from homelessness sooner or later. Either way, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Being homeless means being in constant deficit. Last I checked, our state has over 30,000 REPORTED homeless students. I know for a fact there are more homeless kids out there than that reported number because not everyone will admit to being homeless. I talked to my child’s classmates who are also homeless and it made me sick to hear that they too have been stuck in homelessness longer than anyone should have to be thanks to slashing budgets on programs barely funded anyway. Many of your students have lived in tent cities because of waiting lists and no availability. Hotel stays are expensive. Rising housing costs means more homelessness and no hope of getting out of it anytime soon so I find it more than insulting when an educator or someone calling themselves a homeless liaison tries to threaten me with a Becca Bill that I will refuse to sign. Until we get housing, nothing changes and because of that, there is no escape velocity accessible to me. Right now, the only thing that trumps everything else is daily survival.

What you need to understand is that every negative event out here triggers a chain reaction. Who has time to mess around with your 211 system that doesn’t get people off the street? I’ve called it and guess what? I can’t wait for two weeks to get an appointment with some agency that simply enters my information on their computers then tells me what I already know, no availability right now but you’re on the waiting list or you’re in our system now. Everybody knows that that means they just wasted their time and who knows when they’ll get housed. In the meantime, you have to scramble for a place to sleep where the police won’t harass you or ticket you. You have to figure out how you’re going to eat or feed your kids without refrigeration or a place to cook. Eating at restaurants everyday kills a limited budget so you turn to eating ready made food from grocery stores which can get expensive. We are thankful for free school meals during 9 months out of the year because without them, food rationing and going hungry is the alternative. Since I don’t have reliable child care, once school is out in the summer, I am once again in danger of losing employment. It’s happened several times before and nobody is doing anything about that for working homeless parents. You have to qualify for subsidized child care and if you don’t meet the state’s requirements for whatever reason, you are just plain stuck like I am.

I don’t bother hoping that government will change anything. The reason social programs are stuck in status quo models is because their funders are stuck in status quo models and King County is great and funding themselves but suck when it comes to creating more affordable housing and getting people off the streets. Right now living wage jobs are also in short supply but there’s a catch 22 to that if you’re homeless. Without an address or personal references to list on an application, who will hire you? What happens if you can’t afford a cell phone? Those free “Obama phones” people refer to are great if you can keep their batteries charged. If you don’t have a regular place to shower or do laundry, that will affect your ability to get hired and keep a job. I am in touch with homeless reality because I’m living it and the grade I give to Washington state is a D- when it comes to ending homelessness.

A gift covered with newspaper

It’s that time of year again, watching people look like lemmings as they run to the nearest outlet mall or department store to spend their money. Even before I became homeless, I taught my kids that the holidays are not an excuse to grant them excessive wishes once a year but after we were homeless, the meaning of giving experiences instead of stuff became even more important. To a kid, watching most of their peers do the same routine every year and not being able to do likewise; made them feel out of place. I remember that feeling and it was on one of those nights I shared this story with them but I wonder if my oldest even remembers it when we lived out of the old rv.

I call it “Pinky’s Present” because the next door neighbor’s daughter had the nickname of Pinky and although we were all living in poverty, I don’t think she realized that the gift she gave me was far more valuable than any mass marketed trinket could ever be worth. Maybe it will do the same for you. Enjoy!

 

Pinky’s Present

We hadn’t been in the Holly Park Projects for long, a few months at the most. Christmas was coming and our place didn’t look any different than it had before. There were no holiday decorations and we were accustomed to not celebrating any holidays. My mother had to go somewhere and needed a babysitter. She asked Pinky’s mother if Pinky could sit with us for a few hours and this was the first opportunity we had to get to know her. At seven years old, I was in awe of Pinky. She had a style all her own and a self-confidence I have always admired. From her perfectly braided cornrows to her perfectly creased bell bottom pants, she was one of those neighborhood kids we younger kids wanted to follow around.

My sister and I were in our upstairs bedroom, a place we were often sent to be out of the way and since we were restricted there, Pinky came in with her usual flair and sat down at the foot of my bed and smiled at us. “Y’all are on punishment?” she said as she snapped her chewing gum. “Punishment?”  Pinky laughed. “That’s what we call it when you’re on restriction.That’s alright. Your mom went out for a while so I thought I’d keep you guys company.” Pinky glanced around the room and frowned. “Ain’t y’all gonna decorate for Christmas?” My sister and I didn’t know what to say. We didn’t even know what Christmas was except a holiday other people celebrated. I told Pinky that holidays never seemed to apply to us because we were always told there was no money to buy anything. Pinky snapped her gum for a few minutes as she thought. “Well looky here, y’all got a shoe box anywhere?” I smiled. I did have one in the closet! I ran to get it then plopped it on the bed beside Pinky. Pinky smiled and told us to stay where we were; she was going to her place to get something. My sister and I looked at each other and wondered what she was up to but in no time at all, Pinky was back with a Sunday newspaper. She rifled through the sections until she got to the Sunday comics. She pulled them out and laid one sheet across my bed then put my empty shoe box in the center of it. She folded the paper over the box then asked if we had any string. All I had was the thick yarn popular in the 70’s for girl’s hair so my sister and I gave Pinky the yarn that was in our hair. She tied the ends together and used it like ribbon around the box and tied it into a small bow. “Ok now sit around me now,” Pinky said as she waved us closer. I sat on one side of Pinky and my sister sat on the other. Pinky snapped her gum a few more times before telling us a story. “You know, me and my brothers, we don’t always get a Christmas either so I’m showing you what we do. Don’t feel bad just because y’all don’t have any money. You got to find ways to live without it. Anyway, this isn’t just an empty box.” My sister and I leaned closer and stared at it. “Well it sure looks empty to me!” my sister blurted out. Pinky laughed. “Oh sure, sure, it looks empty but can you see wishes?” Even I had to think about that one. “Oh now, it ain’t always gonna be like this, you just wait and see. Someday, things will be better than now but I want you to close your eyes and you think about what you want more than anything. See? That’s your wish and nobody has to know about it but you and it’s your wish and nobody can take that from you. Inside this box, is where you can put all your wishes; for instance, I’m wishing for a new dress and that we’ll have turkey on Christmas. In my mind, we are sitting around the table having a good time and later, we are giving each other the one gift we’ve always wanted. Sometimes I wish my mama didn’t have to work so much or my dad would visit us. Now you try.”

My sister and I were stumped. We weren’t sure what it was we were supposed to be wishing for. Pinky could see the look on our faces but she didn’t push us. “I tell you what. You just think about it a while and it will come to you.” Pinky got up from the bed and put our wish box on top of the old dresser my sister and I shared. We spent the rest of our time together playing clapping games and letting Pinky do our hair. When it was time for Pinky to leave, she stood out front where we could see her from our upstairs window. She winked and waved at us and we waved back.

My sister and I stared at the box wrapped in Sunday comics and thought about what Pinky had said. I picked up the box and sat with it on the edge of my bed. My sister stood in front of me and asked me if she could make a wish. She held the box close to her face and closed her eyes and whispered that she wanted a doll but more than anything, she wanted our father to see us. I hardly thought about my father because all I ever heard about him was bad things. Then something did occur to me. I put my hand out and my sister handed me the box. I couldn’t close my eyes but I remember whispering to the box that if there was such a thing as wishes coming true well then, I would like for my mother’s boyfriend to stop hitting her and us. I would like us to have new shoes and maybe a better place to live. My sister then giggled and said “And I am imagining that we are sitting around a big table with some turkey and stuffing and dessert and this time we have a tree with all the decorations on it.” I laughed and lay back on the bed and my sister lay beside me. We giggled and began filling that empty shoe box wrapped in newspaper with all the wishes we could think of.

The next day, my sister and I had managed to find a few more boxes that we brought to our room and wrapped them with the rest of the newspaper Pinky had left behind. Since my sister and I were the only ones exchanging gifts with each other, I wrote on hers “The doll you wanted” and she wrote on mine “New Shoes”. We put imaginary gifts into the boxes and pretended we had long hair by pinning towels to our heads and we were having a holiday party with all the trimmings we could think of. Just before bedtime, we hid our “presents” under our beds and when Christmas finally came and went, we still didn’t have much but…..we had something time couldn’t forget; each other.

handful of pennies

We are not a just society and when it comes to homelessness, somehow being the poorest of poor is an excuse for others to vent their vitriol about what they assume is a lifestyle by choice. That assumption often manifests itself in bad policies by city officials that make a bad situation even worse. Take for instance the growing numbers of cities enacting “civility laws.” I’d like to know just how aware these cities are that they are making survival harder than it needs to be. It’s easy to speak from a platform the homeless don’t have or judge them for not having anywhere else to go since people don’t want to see the poor up close and personal otherwise there wouldn’t be town hall meetings to protest a new shelter or service set up near where they live.

From personal experience I have seen the city of Kent use police to remove local homeless people from public areas, which is laughable considering that Kent’s homeless population is second only to Seattle’s. I have experienced a Kent School Principal telling me my kid couldn’t attend because that particular Principal thought she could ignore the McKinney-Vento Act. I have caught Kent officers in the act of walking through public parks phishing homeless people for warrants and if they didn’t have a warrant, cops made bogus accusations that the homeless were camping in the park which from what I saw, there was no proof of them doing so. Used to be that officers would also be in the Kent library and if any homeless person should fall asleep from total exhaustion, they were asked to leave. We all know it’s the Mayor’s office behind this because her remarks have been overheard regarding homeless people. The city of Kent has repeatedly found “reasons” not to let any agency use the resource building in downtown Kent that has been sitting empty for years. It’s also interesting to look at the reasons why that building was set up and how many tax dollars have been siphoned off the utility tax originally used to get the resource center built. The Showare Center is a shining example of cronyism at work. How much is it losing every year now? The amount of money used to build it could’ve housed most of the homeless population from and still in Kent.

The business community in Kent has some legitimate concerns but I have caught them acting out of ignorance more than with knowledge of our reality. Do you really think by demonizing the homeless population, things will get better for them or is your bottom line, which is affected more by the economy than homeless people, will improve if the visibly poor were swept off the streets in Gestapo fashion? You have no idea how many invisible homeless people live in your community. We already know about your homeless bigotry since we are the direct targets of it. You hide your practice behind ordinances that were invented to discriminate against the survival of homeless people and yet your homeless numbers are skyrocketing. Even when the city of Kent removed park benches so that homeless people couldn’t use them, it didn’t stop people from becoming homeless or leaving the city.

Churches have limited resources so pushing off the burden on them is a fallacy and unrealistic. Pushing your homeless population off onto other cities resources should result in those cities suing you for any financial impact made on their hospitals, human services, food banks, etc. Kent needs to take care of its local homeless population instead of discriminating against them but so long as ignorant behavior and denial exists among city council members and the Mayor’s office, the plight of the homeless in Kent will go from bad to worse. I should know. I happen to be one.

Tammy-Jo-Blanton

Tammy-Jo-BlantonHow dare you. What kind of organization has no moral conscience in using a woman’s horrific murder to push their agenda to feed jail inmates a vegan diet? Not only did you show incredibly bad judgment in making such a statement, it is nothing compared to the slap in the face you just gave to the family and friends of Tammy Jo Blanton. You lost all your credibility with me. Caring more about your pets than the lives of other human beings is unbalanced to me considering how much is spent on clothes and accessories for pets that could’ve housed a lot of needy families or fed them. Who the hell are you kidding in saying you think people will “understand” the point of your stupidity?

Ask Tammy Jo’s family if they “understand” how you jumped on her death like a parasite to use for publicity. How fucking dare you. Better yet, ask Tammy Jo how she feels now that she’s dead. Ask all the women who die at the hands of their partners how much they “understand”. Must be nice to be so privileged that you can look down your noses on someone else’s tragedy but as long as you get what you want out of it, it doesn’t matter, does it?

Tammy Jo was a person, a living breathing person who did not deserve to die the way she did. She was a daughter, friend and sister. Her smile lit up the room, just like her spirit. For you to disrespect her memory is unbelievably wrong. As far as I’m concerned, PETA will never have my respect again. I’ll be remembering her at a local memorial my friends set up for tomorrow and I hope everyone remembers PETA for being too insensitive to care.

I live out of a car and have been homeless for several years now and one of the things that irks me about homeless service providers is that there’s a disconnect between what they do and what homeless people actually live. Part of that is because many in social services have never been homeless so although they will try to show sympathy for the less fortunate, they simply do not have the same point of reference we do. The other reasons for the disconnect is that this is a job for them that ends when they clock out. There is no clocking out of homelessness just because a service provider’s office closes for the night. The messy reality out here is knowing that Band-Aid services is pretty much the norm out here and no matter how many waiting lists you’re on, people assume they should tell me about this place or that not realizing that after 9 years, I have already checked out those services so telling me or other homeless people to keep applying for the same lack of services is redundant and irritating. See, we’re not interested in constantly wasting our time on being told there’s nothing available. We also don’t appreciate being used as fodder to play the numbers game with government grants, oh yes, we are very aware of that!

It also doesn’t seem to occur to people that it will take us longer to do things other people with resources take for granted. For instance, if you ask me to send back a form to you at my expense and I don’t have the money to buy a postage stamp let alone to send a fax, how does that affect my ability to respond to you according to your timelines? Do you just automatically assume I don’t want the help because I cannot meet your basic request? If I don’t have gas money to get to where your office is located, you aren’t going to see me, period! Most of us out here don’t have people we can just call up to give us a ride or childcare WHEN WE NEED IT so that automatically is a barrier that doesn’t get recognized or is marginalized by people who really don’t get it that we’re stuck. It always makes me laugh when people  complain about the appearance and smell of the homeless because apparently, there are free showers and Laundromats on every street corner that we can readily access so as not to look “homeless”.

The other thing that I have observed is the attitudes of people who provide services to homeless people and if you want to automatically get on my you know what list, come at me or other homeless people with a holier-than-thou attitude that assumes you know better than we do what we need. If you don’t live out here and face what we face 24/7, you shouldn’t be talking. We’d rather talk with people who have proven themselves to be safe people to talk to without the air of judgment. We also don’t appreciate half measures to make you feel good that doesn’t do anything to get us off the street or create real housing opportunities. We know you may be overworked and underpaid but if you are unhappy with your job or volunteering gig, why are you in it in the first place? Life is hard enough for us without having to be exposed to your sour attitudes towards us.

Oh and stop giving us “resource” numbers and referrals you never bothered to check out yourself. Playing the deferral rhetoric only pisses us off because it shows that you don’t care about us, you’re just trying to push us off so that you can shut down on a subject you don’t know much about or care to get involved in. We hear all the vitriol spewed about poor folks not being responsible for being poor even though we weren’t the ones who caused the next depression or cutbacks to services that would shorten our time in poverty because the truth is that the longer we are out here, the faster our health declines and the bigger the gap grows in our ability to access jobs even though the reality is that we have to work 2 of them to reach anywhere near escape velocity from homelessness. How do you even reach escape velocity if you can’t get hired? We already know that just throwing money at a problem won’t end poverty but the other reality is that you do need money to create more housing and other services needed to get people stabilized.

So while other people are going on with their status quo daily routines, I, just like other homeless families and individuals out here, are scrambling to prepare for winter and we’re doing that with a barely there budget that will run out before the end of the month and we already know that food rationing and going without is going to happen regardless of how much running around we do.

Neel KashKari website poster

According to Mr. Neel Kashkari, he’ll do anything to bring attention to the plight of the poor. If you believe that, you’re mind-bogglingly naïve or a well-practiced liar. Mr. Kash N’Karry is committed alright, committed to bringing as much attention as he can to his campaign, not homeless people. He isn’t raising awareness as real homeless people and service providers to the homeless have already done that. 60 Minutes already did that as well as other news agencies so who does Mr. Kashkari think he’s fooling?

Where was Mr. Kash N’Karry’s concern while bailing out banks that helped push people into poverty? Yes, I’m sure Neel really is concerned about those of us who don’t have golden parachutes to cover our asses once the shit hits the fan. Every move Mr. Kashkari makes is a calculated one used to enhance his political career and prestige. If he really gave a damn about homeless people, where’s the proof before his publicity stunt? Let’s be real here, Neel isn’t the first to exploit the homeless or the issue of poverty with the hopes of gaining votes and campaign donations.

Not one publicity stunt has ended homelessness or the widening poverty trench the rest of us non-millionaires get to live with year after year in this country. The problem with being out of touch is that you don’t know just how much you’re out of touch until your antics backfire. Mr. Kash N’Karry is no acolyte when it comes to politics so it’s not a surprise that he had no problem posing as a homeless man with blaringly obvious unrealistic expectations of finding a job in a week. How many homeless people, many of whom do not have an address to list on a job application much less an id or professional references, can find decent jobs in a week when hundreds of others are applying for the same job that have basic requirements already in place to qualify for those jobs? How many homeless people has Mr. KashKari housed in his mansion or fed personally because you know, he cares so much for the plight of us lowly homeless folks?

Mr. Kashkari cares. Yeah, right!

 

 

“The need is great but what can I do?” That’s the response I got after talking to a guy who worked at a hospital I was visiting that I had brought a local homeless man in to. The hospital maintenance man was changing light fixtures as we talked. “Besides, with all the corruption and bureaucracy out there, it doesn’t seem like anything has changed or will change for the better regardless of how much good a person does to change it.” “So you’re saying you’re a defeatist therefore that absolves you from human compassion?” I asked. The staffer stopped what he was doing and stared at me with a guilty look on his face.

My question pretty much ended the conversation but I was hoping the guy could explain why he had the attitude he so freely espoused just a few minutes before. Pointing out the obvious would be to state that of course the need is great and the reason it is growing is due to several factors including lack of living wage jobs, affordable housing and the rising costs of living. Add to this delay tactics inherent in bureaucracy, budget cuts and blaming the poor for being poor and you will have a seemingly insurmountable problem. The more conversations I have with people about homelessness and homeless people, the more I learn how deeply preconceived notions have been ingrained into the public’s mind which in turn, gets translated into people excusing judgmental attitudes or making excuses for being apathetic and not getting involved.

Poverty affects everyone’s finances, health and mental well-being so why wouldn’t you want to do something to make your community a better place to live? You can’t sit on your butt and gripe about all the ills of the society we live in while doing nothing about it and expect things to change. Passing the buck doesn’t absolve anyone from being inactive and I have seen people who claim they aren’t that way do exactly that….nothing!

I have seen and lived the reality of ill-informed people in positions of policy making when it comes to social services and community involvement and they all have the same thing in common: a lack of acute consequences for their failure. Homeless folks feel the brunt of cutbacks, lack of services and bad policy decisions IMMEDIATELY. Homelessness doesn’t end when a social worker clocks out for the day. It doesn’t stop after a crisis call either. Homelessness goes on during long waiting lists, bans and city ordinances targeting “homeless behavior”. Telling homeless people to just get a job is a blaring testimony to being out of touch with the realities of homeless life. If you think all homeless people need to get out of homelessness is a job then consider this: what do you put down for an address on a job application? Not everyone has an agency or personal friend to sponsor a residential address for homeless folks to use to get mail at which in turn can also be used to prove residency for some programs. Did you know you can’t get a PO Box without a residential address? The post office will ask you for proof of a physical address in the form of a copy of a mortgage or insurance policy with a residential address on it plus a valid id with the same address listed. The same goes for private mailboxes. If you don’t have an id or driver’s license (many homeless don’t) then you have a barrier to accessing other things that require having one.

For me, reaching out to local homeless folks trying to get on their feet isn’t a hobby; it’s a natural response to knowing what it’s like to be homeless longer than anyone should be even while working two jobs and then dealing with the after effects of a stroke. During that time I have seen the economy collapse and at the same time, systematic stripping of a once strong safety net social services used to be. Local organizations have picked up their pace the best they can to help their communities but the reality is that they cannot afford to alleviate widespread poverty or provide homelessness prevention help. I suppose I could be like everybody else and adopt a careless attitude towards others who find themselves in hard times but…… the need is great.

I just read a few articles on the state of homelessness in King County, Washington which is where I live. Just for the hell of it, I did a Google search on homeless help and laughed at what I saw. As a homeless person, it is blaringly obvious that all of the sites I looked at were apple polished; that is, they put on a great show of what they do for homeless people and it all looks good on paper so to speak but the truth is, not one of them had the balls to mention how LONG it will take for their programs to get people into stable housing. Go ahead and “Google” homeless resources for your town and see for yourself. Better yet, call one of the numbers you find and ask point blank what the waiting lists are and see if you get an straight answer!

Friends that meant well but had no idea how many organizations I’ve applied to all these years will often suggest a program or site they heard about. I checked one out that a childhood friend told me about so when I went to look at their website, I was not surprised that you cannot self-refer to the agency, you have to call 211 and get referred. Here’s what they don’t say; after you wait anywhere from one to two weeks for an appointment, then go in to get your info taken, you get put on a waiting list. I did find one agency in South King County that I could directly apply to via the web but at least these folks were kind enough to say right off the bat that they had no vacancies and they didn’t know when they would but I was free to keep reapplying every month.

Here’s what worries me about homeless folks being put on years long waiting list; anything can happen within the time that they’re waiting! Anything from losing their cell phones to losing their lives will affect how soon they find housing in the meantime. What happens if you lose or break your phone and can’t afford to get another one? Those “Obama” phones are great if you can get one but uh, where will it get sent to if you have no address? This is a small sample of what I see homeless folks go through every day, including myself!

I recently ran into one of my homeless mom’s at a South King County library, I wrote about her when she had a miscarriage in a Kent park due to not being able to find any homeless help when she needed it. She told me she is still on a housing waiting list and that although she was told 30 people were ahead of her on the same waiting list, nobody could tell her how long it would take before her name came up. So far she’s been able to find a job but it’s not enough to pay rent so after almost two years, she is still couch surfing.

At the community garden I have a pea patch in, I met a couple who had to wait 2 years to get into a family shelter, another 3 years to get into transitional housing WHILE they both worked low wage jobs and they are still waiting to hear from Section 8. They are worried that they won’t be able to find housing before their time limit is up which leads me to an article I read in Real Change News that quoted SHA Executive Director Andrew Lofton as saying “We believe [residents] will be successful in securing those living wage jobs. If they don’t, they will have a very difficult time in our housing and in paying their rent.” See for yourself here >http://realchangenews.org/index.php/site/archives/9119 Umm…question to Andrew from  me is….WHAT LIVING WAGE JOBS?!

You can put on a good front but the bottom line is that you’re still the same old rotten fruit.

Nobody ever told me how long grieving takes but I never put a time table on it anyway. I just knew that after the shock of losing both my parents a few months ago, I would get back to what I was doing before; helping the homeless while trying to help myself get back on my feet. When it comes to hardship, there’s no such thing as a class or instruction manual you can turn to for advice. You pretty much have to learn as you go but at the same time, there’s a lot of stuff going on inside your head because you aren’t just physically trying to live, you’re trying to survive mentally as well.

Due to the realities of the economy we’re living in, making ends meet is a common endeavor and some folks have it harder than others which is why I don’t understand people who look down on people struggling to survive. Most of the people I talk to who have this attitude are misinformed about the homeless and some, in spite of facts, still chose to believe in myths about the destitute as if it is a justification for treating other people as less than human.

I don’t buy into the mentality of “that’s just the way it is”, seems to me it’s more like “that’s the way people let it be” and no matter how someone tries to argue their point of view, children are still going hungry in this country and families get ripped apart when they have nowhere else to go. I can’t even begin to tell you how many elderly and disabled I have found sleeping under bushes or behind park buildings or living out of their cars. I’ve lost count of homeless youth camps I’ve visited and unfortunately, I remember every homeless death I’ve seen.

While community leaders battle with city politics, the clock keeps ticking out on the streets. Doesn’t matter how many meetings you attend on homelessness when the homeless are still homeless and any efforts that do come about are often too little too late and nobody knows that better than a homeless person. Then there’s those who have never experienced real hardship that only know poverty from an academic view instead of practical experience with it and these are often the same people who come up with policies that don’t work on homelessness. Taking a food stamp challenge for a week or a month barely scratches the surface but living in a shelter or out in a tent city for six months will give anyone a healthy dose of day to day reality.

We can be defeatists or we can be champions, it all depends on an individual’s priorities in life. Not everyone can do big things but everyone can do something. I appreciate all of the folks who have supported what I do by donating shoes, coats, socks, blankets, hand warmers, scarves, hats, $5 fast food gift cards and sometimes cash donations via the PayPal donate button on this site because to the homeless folks who receive the items, these little things mean a lot. When cold weather hits, the main thing I buy is sleeping bags, hand warmers and feminine products for the women out here. Sometimes I just need gas to get people to a doctor’s appointment or get them bus tickets to get to work, every person I meet out here has different needs but the obvious need is housing! How come we can find money for war but not for the poor?

Helping the poor isn’t about a handout, it’s about empowering them out of poverty but how can anyone empower the poor when a certain group of people do everything they can to eliminate food stamps, housing programs and job training? Even after all of that, where are the living wage jobs to pay for the always increasing costs of living? You can’t argue for self-sufficiency in a system that promotes dependency and the biggest irony I’ve observed is the myth of self-sufficiency. Often, the very same people who run around touting this myth are oblivious to the fact that they rely on support systems others don’t have access to. I love the hypocrisy of people who complain to me that homeless people are homeless because they were irresponsible. That’s when I ask them who takes care of their kids while they hold down a job. What would you do if you were un-hirable because you don’t have an i.d. or have been unemployed for a while due to an illness or have to take care of a sick relative? If you get a job, is it more than minimum wage? Does it cost more to keep the job you’re applying for than it pays? How will you get to work if you can’t afford a car? What if you don’t have a cell phone? What if you don’t have relatives to help you when you fall?

 Assuming there are programs to help people who face homelessness is also a myth. There are year’s long waiting lists and there are requirements you may or may not meet. You can’t just show up at a shelter the same day you become homeless, you have to be “processed” and you only get in if there’s room. You are self-sufficient as long as you can AFFORD to be, there’s no such thing as isolated sufficiency because in one way or another, you are dependent on resources you have access to. Even if you were living out in the wilds, you need access to materials to build a shelter, you need access to clean water and you need access to food and if none of these things are in abundant supply, how “self” sufficient are you? In one way or another, people rely on resources in order to survive and survival depends on how resourceful you are within the environment you are in so the argument that the poor are poor because they don’t know how to be “self-sufficient” completely ignores institutionalized inequality, lack of access to basic necessities, poor education and the absence of people to people support. I know of no society that can exist with mass poverty and remain, sooner or later it implodes.

Having said that, I still apply for jobs I suspect I won’t hear back from and I still try different ways to earn money without having to pay for childcare but I’m a realist. I know things don’t stay the same forever but it certainly is taking longer to get back on my feet than it used to. I already know that it will take me longer to build my own support system because even when other people are around you, you’re still pretty much on your own. Everybody is on their own schedules with their own ambitions to follow. I get that. I also know that there’s a helluva lot of people out there who have it worse than I do but I can only do so much in a day and whatever gets missed today gets tacked on to tomorrow’s to-do list. It’s just too bad that so many are being shoved onto a to-do list that never gets done.