Friday, November 13, 2009

Catholic Charities Pimps DC Council Again, This Time Over Gay Marriage

What do a Catholic Charities homeless shelter and gay marriage have in common? Some would venture to guess that gay men want the right to identify as women and sleep in female shelters and that butch lesbians want the right to sleep in male shelters. That would be a very well-informed guess. I've witnessed gay men checking into female shelters, though I've yet to see a butch lesbian check into a male shelter. Such rights exist in DC homeless shelters already.

However, there is a new and strange twist (no pun intended) to the fight for gay rights. I received the news over dinner last night (before it even hit the airwaves) that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC is considering the possibility of not doing any more business with the city of Washington if the gay marriage bill is passed. Being that the news has hit the airwaves at this point and you can get the story by going on-line, I'll take some time to give you a little of the background on relations between Catholic Charities and DC Government as well as the low-down on the mayor -- the parts of the story that the media won't tell you.

In March I did a blog post about several shelters having been threatened. (See below where I've re-posted it.) It was believed by the homeless community at that time that DC Mayor Adrian Fenty wanted to close ALL DC homeless shelters before leaving office in January of 2011. Then, the mayor was heard suggesting that homeless people who are not from DC go back to where they came from. (You can read about that in my September post entitled: "DC Mayor Tries To Rid City of Homeless".) In lieu of all of the reasons that the mayor has given the homeless to think that he wants them to just get out of town, it behooves the mayor to proactively prove otherwise. No matter how many layers of authority and contracts lie between the mayor and those who actually close the shelters, the mayor will still be implicated in the closure. He is still ultimately responsible. It is, therefore, in Mayor Fenty's best interest to actively prevent any shelter closures, especially at this time of year. He must use every weapon in his arsenal to come to the rescue of DC's homeless. Failure is not an option. Even if Catholic Charities shuts down all city operations, the mayor will be who everyone looks to for answers.

Catholic Charities is a different story altogether. Some believe that Catholic Charities is in dire straights and is using the gay marriage bill to suck more money out of the city. But before I explain the correlation between the gay marriage bill and the homeless shelters, I'll explain how Catholic charities likes to pimp the city.

The news came out on September 28th of this year that $12 million would be slashed from DC Government's Homeless Services budget. All homeless service providers were, in turn, ordered to cut 30% from their budget for FY 2010. Catholic Charities representatives attended a hearing in front of DC Councilman Tommy Wells on October 5th and stated that they could not continue to operate with one-third of their budget having been slashed. They threatened to shut down all of their city shelters, which would have resulted in the loss of about 2,000 shelter beds. The city scrambled to find the funds to keep the shelters open. Within 3 days the mayor found $11 million and the shelters were saved. He thereby averted a lot of major lawsuits due to hypothermia deaths.

However, this showed Catholic Charities that they are in a position to do a power play on the city. If this latest development is any indication, Catholic Charities is not going to let the city forget that they -- and not the city government -- hold the cards when it comes to social services in the city. When I referred to Catholic Charities as having pimped the city during conversations in October, it was blown off as being nothing but hype. In the articles about this latest move, various council members have weighed in on this issue of being pimped by Catholic Charities. It's too obvious to ignore at this point. I told you so.

The story goes like this:

The DC Council has been working on a gay marriage bill, which they expect to pass next month. While the bill makes certain exemptions for religious organizations, it doesn't make exemptions for businesses. Churches don't have to perform gay marriages or allow their space to be used for gay marriages. However, businesses are not allowed to discriminate against gays in any way, shape, form or fashion. They must serve gay patrons and must extend employee benefits to the gay partners of their employees. Catholic Charities, being a non-profit, is an uncanny marriage of the two -- a church and a business. They seek to assert their religious beliefs as reasons for them not to have to abide by the gay marriage bill as it pertains to businesses. They also claim that the increased cost of employee benefits justifies them opting out of city contracts due to the increased cost of those benefits having not been figured into the contracts at the time of the signing. Catholic charities is seriously considering not doing business with the city any more. If they were to make good on this threat, thousands of DC's most vulnerable citizens would suffer. That makes it rather selfish of Catholic charities to opt out of their city contracts. (As a quick aside, I must say that I told the person who first informed me of this situation with Catholic Charities that I feel obligated to remain a homeless advocate, in spite of me not getting paid for it, and that my reason is that I'd be letting a lot of people who look up to me down if I were to quit now.)

Let's also bear in mind that Catholic Charities receives city funding. This alone obligates them to lay aside any religious beliefs and to continue to deliver services -- secularly, as a non-profit and not as a church. My statement is not without precedent, that precedent having been set in the Central Union Mission (CUM) case. Central Union Mission sought to move to the historic and city-owned Gales School. With CUM being Christian-based, they were told that they could not acquire the Gales School unless they lifted the religious requirements. That is to say that they couldn't make anyone pray or attend chapel services as a requirement for residing at the shelter. Neither could they make or enforce any other religious policies such as not allowing people to smoke cigarettes. CUM is still bargaining with the city for the Gales School; but, they know full well that they must lighten up on the religious requirements in order for this deal to move forward. With Catholic charities receiving city funds, they can expect the same type of treatment.

The crux of the issue is whether Catholic Charities is more of a church or more of a business. (I can't help but think of a related ethnic joke.) Should they be exempt from honoring the gay rights law due to being a religious organization or be obligated to obey such a law due to them being a business and receiving city funding?????

While people ponder that question, I'd like to throw a possible solution out there. There has been conversation between homeless advocates and DC Government about the homeless community running the shelters. This too is not without precedent. The CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter in downtown DC is run by homeless people. No one gets paid to work there. The shelter runs entirely on donations, with the building being owned by the city. The building was actually wrested from the Reagan administration by homeless people who were operating under the leadership of Mitch Snyder.

This conversation needs to be picked up and become a bit more serious. Furthermore, the city should actually pay the homeless to run the shelters. They should transfer the money that they would've given to Catholic Charities to the homeless who would run the shelters. The homeless would be willing to run the shelters with the reduced budget that Catholic Charities cried about in October. Furthermore, it would serve to empower the homeless -- to instill in them a can-do attitude. This alone would lead to a substantial decrease in homelessness. Just something to think about.

Is Mayor Fenty (and/or Catholic Charities) Closing ALL of DC's Homeless Shelters?????

I first posted this article on March 19th, 2009.

New information came out in the headlines this morning stating that Catholic charities might stop doing business with the city of Washington, DC if the gay marriage bill is passed.

This would lead to the loss of about 2,000 shelter beds in shelters that are run by Catholic Charities.

The homeless have become pawns and bargaining chips in the game of local (and "loco") politics.

As I type up my blog post pertaining to this latest development, you can read about why people thought that all DC homeless shelters were threatened in March. I believe that there may be a correlation between what happened in March and what is happening now. I'll explain in my next blog post later today. Read on.....

Several homeless people have told me that they read a newspaper article which stated that DC Mayor Adrian Fenty (a man) plans to close ALL DC homeless shelters by 2011. Unfortunately, I didn't read that article myself and haven't found it on the web. I know enough to take what I hear with a grain of salt. However, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that at least one of the several people to tell me this is a man whom I know rather well and who is quite rational. All things considered, I've heard it one too many times to ignore it. So, while considering the veracity of this claim, let's also take a look at Fenty's track record on how he treats the homeless. I think that we'll find that whether or not this particular claim is true, the Fenty-phobia of the DC homeless community is well-founded. The homeless have good reason to fear and dislike the present mayor of our nation's capital.

The mayor received complaints about DC Village Family Shelter while he was still the Ward 4 councilman and chairperson of the Committee on Human Services (the latter position now being held by Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells). So, Fenty decided to close DC Village. It was closed in October of 2007. DC Government received work orders for maintenance at Franklin School Shelter, some of them having been sent by me. (There are some people in DC Government who misrepresent me as having opted for the closure due to me having sent these work orders. Don't believe that lie.) These work orders were used as reasons to close Franklin School Shelter on September 26th, 2008. Is it any wonder that people are afraid to place work orders or complain about anything that might be wrong at a shelter? Closing a shelter due to it needing maintenance is like decapitating oneself due to their hair being disheveled.

While there are those in the homeless advocacy community who feel that the mayor had good reason to close both shelters, both the homeless and their advocates agree that any shelter closure should be accompanied by a suitable replacement whether it is another shelter of equal or greater size or housing. As it turns out, the Fenty administration has gone from housing about 135 people per month for the 3 months following the Franklin closure to housing less than 10 people per month since December. Fenty is not so gung-ho about housing the homeless now that he has gotten many of them out of downtown. Furthermore, with the economic downturn, various housing programs have been partially defunded. While the number of those housed due to the Franklin closure exceeds the 300 men that Franklin held, there is good reason to believe that DC Government's efforts to house the homeless, as noble as it is, can't keep pace with the shelter closures that are on the horizon. And let's not forget that Adrian Fenty still hasn't created the 150-bed men's shelter in the downtown area like he promised he would do BEFORE Frnaklin School Shelter was to close.

The Harriet Tubman Women's Shelter, located on the grounds of DC General Hospital, was recently moved from Building C to the newly renovated Building 9, which had been a men's hypothermia shelter. (I don't believe that a replacement location was created for that men's shelter.) Now that the women's shelter has moved to Bldg. 9, it might be shut down entirely as DC General falls prey to the proposed Hill East Development. The 801 East Shelter (aka MLK Shelter), located on the grounds of St. Elizabeth's Hospital, might have to close its doors soon due to Homeland Security building offices on the hospital grounds. (Even though they might not even use the plot of ground on which the shelter is located, it is strongly believed that the Dept. of Homeland Security doesn't want a homeless shelter located in proximity to its offices.)

Then there is the Central Union Mission which is located at 14th and R streets, NW. It is due to leave its present location by October of this year. C.U.M. got N.I.M.B.Y.'ed out of its own property on Georgia Ave. and did a land swap with the city for the Gales School, located at 65 Mass. Ave, NW. The Gales School is under renovation and might not be completed until some time in 2011. This means that the homeless shelter itself will be homeless for 2 years. The Fenty-phobians fear that Mayor Fenty might decide that, if we can go 2 years without the mission, then we don't need it ever again. He might in turn decide not to move it to the Gales School after all.

Now rumor has it that Fenty might try to close the CCNV shelter. I haven't received any official word on this matter. Nonetheless, various residents have told me that they've seen ominous characters snooping around the shelter and taking notes. (My guess is that some of them are donors.) While various efforts have been made over the years to close the CCNV shelter, Fenty's success at closing other shelters has the homeless community on edge. Add to this the fact that Franklin School is only worth $12 million while the building which houses CCNV and 4 other homeless entities is worth over $100 million. This makes CCNV a much more lucrative buy for a greedy developer. That's not to speak of the fact that CCNV is located near Capital Hill or the fact that it is very close to the Gales School and to the Gospel Rescue Mission, thus creating a high density of homeless shelters near the Capitol.

Now it is easy to see why the homeless believe that the mayor wants to close ALL homeless shelters. I might look for that article on-line again. But, whether or not I find it, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Even though much of what is stated herein remains unsubstantiated, it is still cause for concern. It also puts DC Government in general and Mayor Fenty in particular on the defensive. It therefore behooves them to give the homeless community the answers we seek.

NOTE:A meeting to name me as the acting president of the Committee 2 Save Franklin Shelter (a slight misnomer at this point) and/or vote on one is in the making.

Also, the case SHEPTOCK et. al. vs. FENTY et. al.is being moved to federal court.

Finally, I was quite impressed to find out that a certain young lady named Meghan who attends Georgetown U. has been following my blog for 2 months and has read ALL OF MY BLOG POSTS. Gotta love her. She's definitely interested in the issue of homelessness.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Testimony to the UNITED NATIONS Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing

Below is my testimony to UNITED NATIONS Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Raquel Rolnik, which I delivered to her along with the testimonies of several of my colleagues.

Ms. Rolnik visited Washington, DC from November 5 to November 8th and heard many testimonies concerning the need for safe and affordable housing in DC.

She visited 6 other jurisdictions in the country. DC was her seventh and final stop in the country.

I'll write about the experience and what came out of it soon.

Enjoy.....

From: Mr. Eric Jonathan sheptock,
Homeless homeless advocate
Washington, DC

To: Ms. Raquel Rolnik,
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing

Re: The Need for Emergency Shelter and Affordable Housing In Washington, DC.

I, Eric Jonathan Sheptock, would like to impress upon the UNITED NATIONS and the special rapporteur on adequate housing the fact that the capital of the wealthiest nation in the world is in dire need of both emergency shelter and affordable housing. It stands to reason that, while the creation of affordable and adequate housing is the ultimate goal of all homeless and housing advocates, a sufficient amount of emergency shelter is needed during the interim. The unfortunate truth is that, for reasons ranging from mental illness and the inherent bad choices that it brings to fear for one's safety to concern over bed bugs and other pests, there are many who choose not to sleep in shelters. Many are they who would rather take their chances on the streets. But let's not forget that there are many others who seek shelter but are turned away for lack of bed space.

Fortunately, DC Law mandates that no one be denied shelter during hypothermia, even if it means that people are allowed to sleep on a mat on the floor of a shelter. Local homeless advocates have long maintained that, in this well-renowned city, no one should be relegated to sleeping outdoors, even when it is not hypothermia season. There is only a right to shelter, according to local law, when the temperature is at or below 32 degrees (including the wind-chill factor) or it is at or above 95 degrees (including the heat index). The homeless are often put out of shelter into 33-degree weather or even thunderstorms, as the weather alerts are only temperature-based. The reasons that are most commonly cited for such policies include limited funding and the need for additional staff and/or overtime pay.

The present administration of the DC Government is placing much emphasis on the creation of housing (especially supportive housing) and very little on the creation of a sufficient amount of emergency shelter. As noble as the effort to house the homeless is, it requires much time and dedication and fails to address the immediate needs of the city's homeless. We must strike a balance between these two ideas. Those whose need for emergency shelter is not met are likely to relocate to other jurisdictions, in effect becoming the problem of these other jurisdictions and not actually ending their homelessness. this is counter-productive and makes it impossible to accurately gauge the success of our housing programs.

This past summer, Washington, DC's homeless shelters remained at or near capacity, which is highly unusual. The Ward 6 councilman, who is also the chairman on Human Services, admitted that there is insufficient shelter capacity for homeless women and families (having at least one minor child). In a strange twist of fate, a homeless woman who was living with AIDS died on a bench right in front of a homeless shelter that was full to capacity this June. Her story speaks to the ineptitude of outreach workers who should've encouraged her to enter into a program for the terminally ill as well as the shortage of shelter space and of housing for those living with HIV/AIDS. While much could be said of shelter conditions, I won't belabor this topic anymore, but will instead address the need for housing.

In January of 2009, an official count indicated that Washington, DC had 6,228 homeless people, up from 6,044 in January of 2008. This number actually includes those who've been housed by city programs, being that they are still in the system. Within that same year, there was a 25% increase in family homelessness. There is no official record of how many more people have become homeless since January of this year. It is generally understood that, while homeless singles are sometimes the cause of their homelessness, homeless families are usually victims of the bad economy.

That said, the average rent in Washington, DC is about $1,400/month. The high cost of living in our nation's capital has spawned the creation of numerous groups that are fighting for affordable housing, with very little measurable success. This on-going fight has also raised questions about how to define the word "affordable". The most widely accepted formula for affordabilty is the one which states that a person's rent or mortgage shouldn't exceed 30% of their gross income. According to this formula, a person would need to make over $4,500 per month or almost $30.00/hour to live in this city. The minimum wage is $8.25/hour, less than one third of what it would take to live here. A recent Washington times article indicated that about one-fourth of the homeless work but can't afford a place to stay. Bearing in mind that an average is a median between a high and a low figure, I'll acknowledge that there are places that rent for less than $1,000/month. However, these places are usually in poorly maintained, unsafe, crime-ridden neighborhoods where one must forgo safety in order to obtain affordable housing.

This also speaks to the issue of Permanent Supportive Housing. Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), a program for housing the city's most vulnerable and chronic homeless, was begun in this city in 2008. The program is in grave danger of being defunded, though I will say to the credit of this administration that at least 500 homeless singles and 75 families have been housed through this program.

The story is told of a certain man who remained homeless for over ten years on the streets of DC -- safely. He was housed last year by the PSH program. Within 4 days of being housed, he was beaten within an inch of his life. In September of 2009, a year after the beating, he was finally able to say, "Mommy", according to a good friend of his. I can't possibly overstate the need to connect people to safe housing and to ensure that we don't recreate the circumstances that thrust them into poverty and homelessness in the first place.

There has been a fruitless struggle for "sweat equity" in this city. Sweat equity is a policy that allows people to work on vacant buildings and to rehabilitate them and then have somewhere to live. The council of this city has not been receptive to this idea in previous council periods, with the fight having lost momentum at this point in time. as a result, many properties sit vacant and in need of repair. that's not to speak of the newer apartments and condominiums that are not being rented or bought due to lack of affordability. There are many more empty units in this city than there are homeless people.

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention an elderly woman whom I know who became homeless at the age of 87. She was evicted from the place she had rented for over 30 years, due to a condo conversion. The price of her unit more than tripled from $750.00/month to $2,400.00/month. She was evicted because she couldn't afford the new mortgage on her fixed income. Though, DC actually has laws forbidding such treatment of seniors, people often don't know their rights until it's too late.

This woman ended up going to a homeless shelter. The adjacent building caught fire and the flames damaged the roof of the church in which the shelter was located. She went to the hospital for several days due to smoke inhalation. Upon leaving the hospital, she went to a different shelter where she was pushed down and broke her hip. This mishap also took place in September of 2008 and the woman, who until last year walked without a walker, just began to walk again in september of 2009 with the aid of a walker.

As a final point of interest in my laundry list of concerns, I'd like to mention the fact that there are many irresponsible landlords in Washington, DC. Too often people pay their rent to a landlord who defaults on property payments, resulting in the property being forclosed on and the responsible tenants losing their places. This problem has long since been brought to the attention of local officials, though I'm not certain what, if anything, is being done about it.

In summary, our concerns are as follows:

1 -- The creation of affordable housing does not completely eliminate the need for emergency shelter. Furthermore, emergency shelter should protect people from ALL inclement weather, including rain.

2 -- There is a need for additional supportive housing which has sufficient wrap-around services and which is set aside for various target populations and those with special needs. (To their credit, DC Government provides this to some degree.)

3 -- There should be a concrete definition for "affordable housing" and a sufficient amount of affordable housing, such that those who work in the city can also afford to live in the city. (what they save on rent by moving to the suburbs, they pay in addition public transportation fees.)

4 -- Affordable housing should be safe. Poor neighborhoods should be patrolled as frequently and as well as affluent neighborhoods. They should also be well-lit.

5 -- Landlords should be required to properly maintain properties and should be penalized for failing to do so. Renters should be allowed to purchase a cashier's check and to withhold rent payment while properties are in disrepair.

6 -- Long-time tenants should be adequately protected during condo conversions, especially the elderly.

7 -- Landlords should be required to make people aware of their rights as tenants and should be have to make reparations when they violate a tenant's rights. The elderly and others on fixed incomes should be given special protections, which they are apprised of by the landlord.

8 -- When a supportive housing unit or complex is intended to house former substance abusers, the area should be cleaned up of all drug activity prior to opening the facility. reasonable efforts should be made not to put former addicts in neighborhoods that are plagued with illicit activity.

9 -- tenants who faithfully pay their rent should not be evicted due to delinquent payments by the landlord.

10 -- The city should be required to rehabilitate dilapidated properties that have sat vacant for at least 2 years. When they fail to do so, homeless and impoverished citizens should be given the opportunity to acquire such properties through sweat equity. Distressed rental properties and those owned by bailed-out banks should be acquired by municipalities and made available to low- and no-income people.

I hope that this testimony has proven to be insightful and useful. please feel free to contact me with further questions or concerns.

Yours ever so truly,

Eric Jonathan Sheptock
www.ericsheptock.com (blog)
425 2nd St., NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003
(240) 305-5255

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dealing With Certain Unruly Homeless People

The following is an article that a reader asked me to post.....

I have volunteered with homeless ministries and service providers in
many different contexts. I have served homeless guests in established
shelters and on the street and almost always find the experience
uplifting and powerful. That is not to say the work is easy.
Difficulties arise for a number of reasons, some obvious and others
not. As volunteer homeless service providers, each of these reasons
should be studied closely to successfully accommodate all of our
guests and fellow volunteers.

For me, one particular situation that causes more difficulty than most
-- the case of a frustrated, angry guest. This does not happen often,
but when it does there is a significant impact on the mission's
volunteers and guests. Suppose you serve in a mission that promotes
community and hope. Just one angry guest can sully the positive mood
and discourage guests from returning and new volunteers from ongoing
participation. In other words, when one person is unhappy everyone
loses.

There are many reasons why an upset guest may cause frustration among
volunteers. First, volunteers are almost always driven by their desire
to help those in need. Personally, if a guest leaves unsatisfied, for
any reason, I feel a sense of failure. Second, volunteers attempt to
transmit hope and energy in an otherwise gloomy situation. When my
energy is not reflected in some way, it is hard to stay positive.
After the volunteers lose their hope, the situation can quickly
deteriorate. Finally, most volunteers work only for a thank you. I
know there is nothing more gratifying than hearing someone say, "thank
you". On the other hand, there is nothing as disheartening and seeing
a frustrated, angry guest storm off.

There are many reasons why a guest may arrive at a ministry with a,
shall we say, less than happy demeanor. Obviously, living in difficult
conditions every day is wearisome. Beyond that, I think service
organizations often times unknowingly contribute to the frustration of
their guests. I have seen ministries where tension builds until
everyone is served. When the guests know that there may not be enough
for everyone, there is a sense of anxiety. This is not an anxiety that
I have ever experienced. I do not know what it feels like to worry
that you may not receive a share large enough to keep you alive
through the day.

Because of this anxiety, it is difficult to promote sharing and even
more difficult to enforce the organization's rules. This is something
that I struggle with. I have a difficult time saying "no" when a guest
asks for seconds or a larger portion and looks particularly hungry or
needy, even though it may be against the policy that seconds are not
served until everyone is fed. I hope that's human nature and I hope
that everyone would feel the same way. Unfortunately, people that
disobey the policy (like me!), imply that the rules are inconsistent,
or arbitrary. More importantly, actions by volunteers like me imply to
our guests that the policies are unfair. When the small parts of the
policy are disobeyed, guests begin to wonder if they must follow the
larger rules like first-come-first-serve or one-per-person.

What can be done to eliminate frustration caused by the service
organization? One simple way to eliminate a majority of the
frustration is to ensure that there is always plenty for everyone.
Easier said than done, right? Absent that, I think it is very
important for all volunteers to follow the policies of the group.
Unfortunately bending the rules or giving a "little something extra"
can quickly backfire. It seems harsh and it is very difficult to say,
“no.” But in the end, I believe this benefits the larger group.
Equally applying the rules to all guests demonstrates that the
organization values fairness. In the spirit of fairness, it is also
worthwhile to promote sharing and community. When guests see each
other as peer members of the community, anxiety may lessen and the
general mood may increase.

What happens when an angry guest does interrupt a meal? I have found
that other guests quickly come to the rescue. In some cases, the angry
guest will be consoled and comforted by others. In other cases, if the
guest is inconsolable, the group will ask them to leave. The former is
a satisfying outcome, but I cannot say the same about the latter. As a
volunteer, this is a difficult situation. If breaking the rules is the
only way to assuage the angry guest, what is the right way to proceed?
Unfortunately I don't know the answer to this!

When the guest's anger is directed toward a volunteer, it is important
that we care for each other. Allowing a volunteer to go home without
being debriefed on such a situation is the worst thing that can
happen. A friend and I were once told by a frustrated guest to "eat __
and die". Neither of us talked about it, but it affected us
tremendously. I was so shaken that I didn't want to return. Once we
talked about it, I began to feel better. Simply discussing the event
and understanding the guest's perspective and the context of the
situation, healing begins.

As one of the myriad reasons why serving the homeless is not easy,
this is one that is particularly difficult for me to deal with. I look
forward to hearing your comments on the situation and hope to learn
from the discussion.

THE ANSWER:

There are some unruly homeless people. Some are mentally ill. Some have had behavioral problems all throughout their lives, possibly due to poor parenting. Some have been hardened by life on the streets. Knowing the reasons for people's bad behavior doesn't excuse it or eliminate the need to address it. However, it DOES give you a starting point for addressing it.

As a rule, when a group serves the homeless on a regular basis, the homeless learn what to expect from that group. If that group has never run out of food (or at least not for a long time), the homeless learn that they need not worry about there not being enough to go around. The worry about there possibly not being enough will take care of itself. Feeding the same homeless people on a regular basis without running out of food is the solution to the worry and the pushing and shoving that can occur.

The converse is also true. If the homeless see that there is very little or they have seen a particular group run out of food, they will become restless in their attempt to get a piece of the pie. It is wise for those who only have enough food or other goodies for a few people to take it to a small shelter or a location where only a few homeless people are gathered, not a large park with dozens of homeless people. I've seen do-gooders bring 10 left-over platters from a church dinner to a shelter with hundreds of people -- and the confusion that ensued. Those who want to help a few homeless people should inquire with shelter employees, other homeless service providers and the homeless themselves as to where the smaller shelters and gathering places of the homeless are and take their goods there.

When a homeless person exhibits unruly behavior, it is good to take note of their mental state. Are they mentally ill, drunk, high or just plain unruly/gangster-like????? You'd be surprised to see just how many people can't figure out when someone is mentally ill.

I'm reminded of a homeless woman who got upset because someone rubbed against her as they passed in a tight space. When she got upset, he responded by letting her know that he didn't mean any harm. She continued until he got upset. Knowing her, i called her by name and asked how she was doing. She immediately came over to me and forgot about that situation. her mental illness was obvious to me, even though I've not studied psychology or psychiatry; but, it wasn't obvious to the other man. As soon as someone says something irrational or responds to something other than what i actually said, I begin to watch for signs of mental illness.

TIP: When calming a mentally ill person, don't ask them about the situation that they were upset about. That will only upset them more. Change the topic.

As for dealing with the discouraged volunteers, it is good to discuss what type of people they will be dealing with prior to having them serve the homeless. Let them know that only about one in ten million situations leads to actual violence, making that a minimal worry. besides, most of the homeless are decent people who would defend a volunteer, were they threatened by one whom they came to serve. The rational homeless people and those with mild mental illness know this and would never cross that proverbial line.

With safety having been adequately addressed, we can now look at people's degree of commitment. It only makes sense to know what you're getting into beforehand. Potential volunteers should be briefed on what they might encounter. Hopefully, they won't be discouraged and walk away. They should make addressing people's frustrations part of their mission, in addition to feeding the homeless. If a person volunteers to help the underprivileged and is taken by surprise when that person expresses frustration, I wonder about their level of preparedness and commitment.

They should come up with ways to proactively deal with people's frustration. Assure people before feeding them that there will be enough. (If you're wrong, they won't believe you for many months to come.) Also, make sure that you don't have just barely enough volunteers to feed people and give out clothes. There should also be those whose only duty is to talk to the homeless. We get offended if all you do is give out food and clothes and then leave. It makes us feel like pigeons having bread thrown at them. The homeless like to tell their stories. (For this reason, it is also a good idea to befriend a homeless individual and do one-on-one lunches with them from time to time. You may find out something that enables you to help them out of homelessness.) The homeless tend to develop relationships with those who serve them on a regular basis. Build on that truth.

As for bending the rules for an individual, it is OK at times. Try first to reason with them and to have them keep the rules. If they were dealing with an exceptionally difficult situation or they were mentally ill, explain that to anyone who gets upset about you having made an exception to the rule. If you explain that the person was mentally ill, most people won't want to be labeled as such and this will be enough to assuage them.

It is fine to be firm with people. They won't lose respect for you. they'll actually respect you all the more. Many are they who've been scared by the bad behavior of a few unruly homeless people and failed to return. This results in ALL of the homeless whom they used to feed going hungry. Being firm and letting the homeless know that you'll physically ward off any attack doesn't come across to them as a threat. It tells them that you don't give up. They know that you won't be scared away or stop feeding them. If your group returns after an altercation/situation, that actually guarantees your respect amongst the homeless. They need people who won't give up on them. and, by golly, don't let it be said that you gave up on the many because of the misdeeds of the few. after all, some of them are homeless because someone gave up on them -- and they might be the trouble-makers that you speak of.

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