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Reality versus false hope

December 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Carey Fuller in Homelessness

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“Keep your head up!” “Trust in God and things will get better for you!” “You just gotta hang in there until things get better, don’t give up!”

As a homeless person, sayings like these are like nails on a chalkboard, especially if you’ve been homeless for long periods of time while trying to keep a job, your health and your sanity. Praying for people while they endure the injustice of poverty is not the same as doing something about it. Granted, sometimes people who are struggling themselves have little more to offer than their prayers but casually throwing around false hope is more damaging than folks realize. You can’t tell people not to give up when every day the odds are stacking up higher and higher against them. Cuts to food stamps, housing programs, mental health services and whatever else qualifies as a safety net all contribute to killing off hopes of being financially stable again and if an individual has other serious problems that prevent them from living a “normal” life, the future is nothing but a bleak prospect that can’t be escaped.

The biggest thing that aggravates me is when the social services sector gives misleading information out to applicants. Telling people that they can get help just by calling 211 or applying for welfare is the biggest misconception people have about overcoming poverty. Assuming church groups will be able to serve all the needs of the poor is also a false expectation because churches rely on the collection plate and if the flock is poor, then what? Also, if you happen to be of a certain orientation, you can forget about finding help through shelters ran by church groups. As far as I’m concerned, calling 211 is great for bureaucracy, crap for actually getting help on time! You will be put in touch with a “specialist” who will set up an appointment for you to meet with some other organization and that could be a 2 week long wait for that appointment. Shelters have waiting lists that are more than 90 days long and good luck getting into transitional housing of any kind because you have to meet the criteria standards these places have to get in! Luring people into offices to fill out endless paperwork just to add to that particular agencies numbers is a waste of people’s time but they do it because they are hoping something will come through but the reality is knowing it won’t be any time soon.

If you have any kind of felony on record, even if it was years ago and you’re clean now, your chances of getting a job, an apartment or a college education are nil. I’ve never had a felony of any kind yet I still can’t pass a credit check that I have to pay for not to mention I don’t have enough of an income to pay rent. If you are a homeless youth, you may not be old enough to apply for any social programs because of age requirements. If you’re living on the streets with nowhere to bathe or do laundry let alone get regular meals, how will you be able to keep up with school? The majority of kids I run into on the streets didn’t start using drugs until after they’d been on the streets for long periods of time. Desperate for money, they will resort to prostitution and drug dealing because getting a job that pays even minimum wage is out of their reach. You have to have an address to put on an application and how many places will hire you without a diploma or g.e.d.?

When I ran into a woman sitting in her truck crying her eyes out, I knew she was recently homeless because her household furnishings were piled up in the back of the truck with a tarp over the top. She had run out of gas and I gently approached her to see what I could do. She told me she had nowhere to go and kept crying “When are we going to find a home again?” That’s the sentiment of every homeless person I’ve met that knows the odds are stacked and stacking higher and higher every year. It’s not because people don’t want to work, it’s because they’re working for less longer and the cost of living isn’t going down.

When talking to homeless folks contemplating suicide, the number one contributor to hopelessness is always a lack of being able to access opportunities to get out of homelessness. But they get judged for that. They get criminalized for being poor. They get told to suck it up and get over it. They get harassed from public view by city ordinances and police brutality. They lose all hope that their lives are worth living. Then they die for it.


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2 Responses

  • As bad as it is right now is only the beginning of what is to come. For those who find this upsetting, it will be getting worse as time goes on. Just because a family works two jobs and being homeless is not unbelieveable as our wages keep at the same rate (or lower) while the cost of living keeps going up. Our health care situation is totally out of control. We pay more in insurance payments for less coverage and our employers contribute less at a time when Dr. and Hospital costs are skyrocketing.

  • Why would a former elementary school teacher forsake shelter to sleep outside in a blizzard? How could someone leave prison without anywhere better to sleep than beside his mother’s grave? How could a man go from Harvard to living on a park bench? I spent a year covering homelessness, trying to answer such questions. These are the stories of people I met.

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