The semester is coming to a close, and its time to reflect a little bit. One of the things we were tasked with doing was to teach a particular part of the class, to a group outside of class. For this, Brandy and I talked about misconceptions of homeless people, and we presented to a group of our friends. We definitely could have done some things better, but overall, we taught some people some things and started a discussion. We specifically talked about the misconceptions around the idea of the homeless being crazy, lazy, and violent. We tried to shift the thinking of our peers from a individual way of thought to a systems view, showing how income inequality and lack of affordable housing create the cycle of homelessness. Even though it was only two people, it was a little nerve-raking trying to educate people on an idea that we only have truly known about for a semester. The setting was also not ideal, and there could have been more preparation from that aspect.
There is still a lot left I want to learn about homelessness, but this class has definitely given me a good background to go on from. I have shifted from viewing homelessness as a individual issue to an issue with how our society is set up. I have learned about the true causes of homelessness, pertaining to income inequality and lack of affordable housing. I have shifted what I think of as a partial solution. Most importantly, I have shifted how I view homelessness as a whole. The course materials and readings have been really great to engage with. I look forward to taking this knowledge outside of class, and sparking conversation with the people around me, trying to make as much of a change as I can.
Finland is having success in lowering the number of un-housed individuals in their country, and their using a housing first model to do so. Alppikatu 25 is at the center for Finland’s new policy to end homelessness. It runs off of the aspirations and concrete measures of the National Program to End Long-term homelessness (PAAVO). On of PAAVO’s cornerstones is the strategy of replacing temporary housing with permanent housing, with rental contracts. In the city of Helsinki, the change can definitely been seen. In 2008, there were almost 600 beds in shelters and hostels in Helsinki. Now, there is only one permanent service center for emergency accommodation with 52 beds. There have been some important insights from what Finland has done. First off, it may sound simple, but it is crucial to have housing before you try and implement housing first. Also, it is important to offer different housing alternatives, in different types of communities and things of that nature. Finland has been one of the few countries where homelessness has decreased. They have worked effectively at targeting the most vulnerable and long-term homeless people.
There is a new federal court rule that affects all western states including California, that will have a (hopefully) positive impact on the homeless populations. The law states that cities can no longer give homeless people tickets unless the city provides enough alternative beds to house the entire population. The ACLU of Southern California agrees that its wrong to punish people for sleeping outside when there aren’t always alternative options. They believe that it is a violation of the eighth amendment, citing cruel and unusual punishment. Currently, the city of LA only has enough shelter beds to house about a third of the population, which comes out to around 31,000. Organizations such as the ACLU are hoping this law will force cities to think of more reasonable and accessible alternatives to housing.
Watching the movie about the homeless kids in Orange County really reinforced two main ideas that I have noticed in my experiences with homeless children: They grow up fast, and overall, they seem more happy and appreciative then you would think. For the first instance, the movie showed this well, when the kids were learning about their rights as well as drugs in a grade in which that would usually not happen. When talking about drugs, the teacher said, some of you have probably been offered one of these things before. To me this was different because although maybe I had seen drugs referenced on TV when I was young, I most certainly was not talking about it in school. To the second point, about their attitudes, it really struck me when the family was going through the trash to look for things they wanted. On first site, that is something that may elicit sadness, but these kids were rummaging through with joy, excited for what they may find. Also, throughout the movie, the kids were playing around with each other a lot, and one may think that their status would debilitate them from having that kind of joy. In reality, playing around is probably the only escape they can get, besides school. I was talking to my friend after class about the film, and talking about humans truly can adapt to a lot. She said, these kids grew up not knowing any different, and so that probably helps, which I thought was a good point.
I read an article recently that was refreshing and also uplifting. The article talked about the Dignity museum, a new museum in a parking lot in Atlanta. The museum is far from traditional, as it it held in a shipping container. The museum is about creating more understanding surrounding homelessness. The first room challenges stereotypes through storytelling, showing that anyone can become homeless, as well as how difficult it is to escape the situation. In another room, the museum uses virtual reality to try and give visitors a peak into what it could look like to be homeless. It also shares stories told by homeless people, while also learning about statistics and issues such as affordable housing. The last room is meant to give people the motivation to go out and do something about the issue. The director of the museum says that we often put all this stuff on government, but sometimes if we want to truly get something done we need to take the issue into our own hand. Since the museum is in a shipping container, it could move to other cities. Seeing stuff like this truly opens your eyes to all the creative ways people can learn, and it makes me hopeful for the future.
After reading chapter 8 of Lyon-Callo’s book, I have a different understanding of the ways that we should be looking at the issues of homelessness. Yes, I previously understood that low-wages and lack of affordable housing are big issues that play into homelessness, but the way in which Callo explains it just put it together for me. Instead of just focusing on homelessness on a person by person basis, providing help in the form of shelter and resources like that, we should more so be focusing on the systematic problems that will continue to create homelessness regardless of how many shelters there are. These issues are low-wages and lack of affordable housing, and they will continue to put people of out homes for the rest of time unless those issues are personally confronted. The issue of funding is a real hurdle, as people who support you financially usually put restrictions on your vision, if its going to cause too much of a stir. Working within the system to try and make these changes are hard, for that very reason of funding. People will happily (or sometimes not so happily) fun shelters to house the homeless, but when it comes time to address the issue of whats getting these people in the shelters, not many want to be a part of that. That is partially because its a big issue that is not easily solved at all, and most people dont want to embark on that journey.
Recently I read an article about homeless people over the age of 50, and it was pretty striking to me. This article cited a study which found that just under half of all homeless people who are over 50 years old, became homeless for the first time after they were 50. The study is headed by a woman who works for UCSF, and this problem is especially visible in the Bay area, where housing costs have risen dramatically over the past decade. The problem often seems to stem from the issue of saving money, as well as society not having safety nets to catch people before they fall. A separate study projected that the elderly homeless population will nearly triple over the next decade, which is astounding to me. From the researchers eyes, the problem is often the same: A person works a low-wage job which barely allows them to get by, let alone save, into late middle age. Then, something may happen that impedes them from working, and its a quick fall into homelessness, because they dont have anything to fall back on. This issue has skyrocketed recently, as UCSF research indicates that in 1990, only 11 percent of the population was 50 or older, and now its 50 percent. Homeless people in their 50’s usually display health concerns of 70 year olds, which makes the issue that much worse. As a society we usually agree that children and seniors are the most vulnerable and need the most help, but we are not treating it that way, and it is starting to truly show.
America makes up roughly 4% of our worlds population, yet we use about 25% of the worlds resources. As our technological advancements increase our quality of living, we strive for more and more, often without thinking about the ones who get left behind. While volunteering at Redlands Family Services, our supervisor Noel starts talking about food waste, as we are sitting in the food pantry. We were talking about how stores often end up throwing out perfectly good food because of the sell by date, and it ends up getting wasted. Canned food for example, is good for up to ten years after the sell by date. Noel also told us that within the past few years, California has adopted a law that states that stores can not throw out food that is actually good, and must donate it. Therefore, Vons has become one of the biggest donating organizations of food to Redlands Family Services. However, not all states have such ordinances, and our thus gives our nation a big problem when it comes to food waste. It is estimated that about 30-40% of the food in the food supply is wasted. 1) That is a lot of food that could be going to people in need. 2) The resources such as power and such that were used to make those foods have thus been wasted, when they could have been used for something more beneficial. 3) Food waste is the single largest component going into municipal landfills, which in turn generates a lot of the methane that comes from them. Food waste is not just a problem in terms of the food and who it could be going to, but also because of the trickle down effects that impact our world as a whole.
I read an article recently about the rising rent in L.A, and how its creating more and more homeless people as the wages are not increasing enough to balance it out. In recent years, as the economy has improved, corporate owners of rental properties have begun renovating a lot of their properties, driving up the rental prices. From 2010 to 2018, the median rental price for a one-bedroom apartment increased 84 percent, while median wages only rose 11 percent.
An interesting stat was brought up in the article, in which they stated four out of every 10 Americans cannot afford a $400 emergency. That’s almost half! In L.A county, that comes out to four million people. There was a woman mentioned in the article, Ana Estrada, who was previously employed as a social services case worker. Estrada’s rent increased from $1,000 to $3,000 per month, forcing her to relocate. The cheapest place she could find was $1,800, but then she suffered complications from a medical condition and ended up losing her job, and now her teenage daughter and her are living in their car.
Since 2001, 20,000 rent-controlled properties have been taken off the market. according to HUD, the Los Angeles metropolitan area needs more than a half a million affordable housing units to meet demand. Because of these factors, Estrada says that falling into homelessness is easier than people think.
This week in class, we had two different presentations, both enlightening and encouraging to an extent. On Monday, we had the H.O.P.E team come in, and they are the homeless outreach department of San Bernardino County law enforcement. It was impressive and heartwarming to see people who are genuine in their care for the homeless and are trying to get them help while also treating them with respect. The story of the guy who was not ready for help initially, and then years later came back to the team saying he was ready was touching. The fact that these men constantly showed up for these people, whether they were ready for help or not, built a sense of trust that is vital in these interactions. The discouraging part of the presentation was that there were only three men, and San Bernardino county is one of the biggest in the U.S. Those numbers dont add up.
Our second presentation came from Dr. Craig Turley, who gave us good information about the un-housed people of Redlands, as well as some general ideas and thoughts. I thought it was interesting that Dr. Turley distinguished homelessness as a manageable issue instead of a “problem”. After hearing his reasons, it makes perfect sense, because there will always be people who chose to live outside regardless of if they have housing or not, and that is okay. But the idea of calling it a problem, however slight you may think that is, does in fact change the perception a little bit. Its slight, but I think it is important, and issue sounds better and is more humanizing.