Posts Tagged ‘homeless’

Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP/File.
People collect their belongings as Salt Lake County conducts a homeless camp cleanup of the Fleet Block area in 2021. Today Utah and a few other states are considering government-sanctioned tent encampments as steppingstones for those without homes.

One has to appreciate politicians who try to solve problems rather than sweep them under the rug. If people are homeless, kicking them out of an encampment with nowhere to go just creates an encampment somewhere else. Some states are considering a different approach.

Patrik Jonsson reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “When Salt Lake City began enforcing an urban camping ban several years ago, hundreds of Utahns picked up their belongings and headed toward the Jordan River.

“For centuries, the river has been a trading post, a border, and a nexus of nomadic activity. But most of all, it has been ‘a place of refuge,’ says Søren Simonsen, executive director of the Jordan River Commission.

“Today, growing numbers of encampments filled with Americans without permanent homes dot the banks of the river. And Mr. Simonsen is on the front line of what to do about it.

“A decade ago, Utah claimed it had largely ‘solved’ homelessness, reducing it by 91%. Now it is considering an idea, supported by Mr. Simonsen, that is gaining traction across the United States: outlawing unsanctioned camping and instead creating government-sanctioned tent encampments as steppingstones for those without homes to find more permanent housing.

“For much of the recent past, one assumption in addressing homelessness has been that everyone wants a solid roof. The debate over encampments is shifting those assumptions.

“Increasingly, cities and states are exploring whether there can be a sense of dignity and agency in ‘safe outside spaces’ as an end in themselves. As some carry out sweeps to clear out encampments, others are experimenting with the idea of making them more humane, hygienic, and livable as one potential part of the solution to the housing crisis. …

Says Mr. Simonsen. ‘Can’t we make space for people that aren’t ready, aren’t capable, aren’t interested in living such a fixed-address kind of lifestyle?’

“The situation is Utah is common across the country. Tent encampments have ‘definitely become more of a visible issue since the pandemic,’ exacerbated by a national housing shortage, says Courtney Anderson, an expert on social welfare law at Georgia State University College of Law in Atlanta. ‘It’s a problem that people can see, so they need a solution where they can’t see it.’

“Under pressure from voters, officials are taking action. Authorities in Rhode Island cleared an encampment from the steps of the state capitol in December. Washington, D.C., conducts regular camp removals. New York City has conducted hundreds of ‘sweeps’ under Mayor Eric Adams. Residents have largely hailed the efforts, but the majority of those affected haven’t moved into more permanent housing. …

“ ‘The raiding of camps is really tragic,’ says Professor Anderson. ‘The more you dehumanize people, the easier it is to do that kind of thing.’

“The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it is unconstitutional to ban sleeping in public if there are no other sleeping options available, and some municipal courts have made similar rulings. But this year, Tennessee made camping away from sanctioned areas a felony. Other states are following suit.

“The Georgia Senate is considering a bill that would criminalize camping and force municipalities to comply. But the bill would also allow the state to designate areas for sanctioned camps.

“In Savannah, Georgia, Shirley Walkowicz says the move to criminalize what she is doing – living in her car – ‘just shows that people don’t [care] about me and people like me.’ …

“The Georgia bill is significantly based on the thinking of Judge Glock, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Cicero Institute. Dr. Glock saw the early potential of ‘housing first’ – an Obama-era policy that ended requirements such as drug testing for housing recipients. But he now says the policy has largely failed. An average of five homeless people die on the streets of Los Angeles every day, he says – more than twice as many as a decade ago.

“ ‘This is a crisis situation,’ he says. ‘It’s about what we can do this month, this year. We can’t just sit on our hands until the housing [shortage] is solved.’

“He points to cities such as Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon, which are banning makeshift encampments but creating safe spaces for people without homes.

“ ‘The argument is, if cities are going to allow it, make sure they provide the things you need: sanitation, social services, security,’ says Dr. Glock. …

“Birmingham, Alabama, has just voted to erect a tiny house village to accomplish many of these goals. For City Council member Hunter Williams, the logic is clear. …

“ ‘We don’t have to have tent cities under every overpass in America. … We can do better than that.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall; subscriptions welcome.

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Photo: Parker Michels-Boyce for NPR.
Eric Perkins (right)
says lived on the beach, then a shelter and then in a hotel during the pandemic before moving into the Norfolk apartment,” NPR reports.”The median local rent for a one-bedroom apartment is over $1,000. Perkins’ rent is $600.

This is a story about an approach to housing that hasn’t always worked in the past but, when carefully managed, really can move people out of homelessness and into eventual independence. It’s called the roommate.

Jennifer Ludden has a report at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Even after three years of homelessness, Eric Perkins did not want to move into an apartment with another person who had been unhoused.

” ‘I was real skeptical because of the things I was seeing inside the shelter,’ he says. ‘A lot of drug use, lot of alcohol abuse, PTSD, there was a lot of veterans there. …

“But the arrangement suggested by a local housing provider has turned out better than he expected. On a recent afternoon, Perkins gave a tour of the two-story house where he has lived for more than two years. It’s divided into two apartments, and he shares the one on the first floor. The place came furnished, including with some homey knickknacks. Perkins has his own bedroom but shares a bathroom.

” ‘It’s small, but it’s enough for us,’ he says.

“Farther down the hall is what sold him on the place — a roomy kitchen with a window onto the small yard. ‘I like to cook,’ he says. ‘This is where I want to be.’

“Before he moved in, Perkins had lived on the beach in Virginia Beach, then a shelter and — during the pandemic — a hotel. He ended up without housing after a heart attack in 2017 and double-bypass surgery with no health insurance. He also has chronic lung disease that limits his ability to work. Perkins’ monthly disability payment is just under $800. The median local rent for a one-bedroom apartment is more than $1,000.

“After seeing the apartment and meeting the roommate he’d be paired with, Perkins decided to try it out. His rent is $600, and he gets a lot of help from housing aid. He says his roommate was also a good match with his personality, neat and quiet.

” ‘We got to know each other, we respected each other’s space, we shared everything,’ he says. ‘It was really nice.’

“That roommate ended up reuniting with his family and moved out, and in April 2021, Leon Corprew moved in. Corprew is 59 and Perkins is 56. They say they get along well, though they mostly keep to themselves and give each other space. Perkins used to cook for both of them, but Corprew makes his own meals now because, he says with a laugh, ‘I eat a lot!’

“Getting homeless people into their own apartment, without roommates, is considered the ‘gold standard’ for achieving independence, says Ann Oliva, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. But record high rents and a historic housing shortage are making it all but impossible in many places in the U.S. …

“Rents in many places around the country have gone up by double digits in the past couple of years, and in June, the median listed rent for an available apartment rose above $2,000 a month for the first time. Federal benefits like Supplemental Security Income — or disability — have been unable to keep up. …

“Oliva says she’s seeing more interest in offering roommate arrangements to homeless people out of necessity. When vacancy rates are as low as 1% or 2%, she says expanding the search to two- or three-bedroom apartments can make it easier to find a place.

“It may also lead to housing in nicer neighborhoods, says Todd Walker, executive director of the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center in Virginia Beach, which found the shared apartment for Eric Perkins.

“Walker started trying out this kind of shared housing eight years ago when one of his volunteers offered to rent out a four-bedroom family home. And he says he quickly learned some of the pitfalls.

” ‘We had clients that weren’t paying [rent], other clients giving that client their money to pay for the utility and it wasn’t getting paid,’ he says. ‘It was a catastrophe.’

“The first major lesson Walker learned was to have a separate lease for each roommate. That way, if one person is a problem they can be moved — or evicted — without everyone else being kicked out. Also, he says it’s important to keep utilities in the landlord’s name and include that cost in the rent.

“Another rule that Walker considers nonnegotiable: No doubling up in bedrooms, and there must be locks on the bedroom doors so that each renter is guaranteed a safe space. …

“The whole idea can also be a tough sell to landlords, who might worry about property damage. Walker talks it up to mom-and-pop landlords at every chance and offers incentives like a bonus or double deposit. He says these arrangements often let him house people who would otherwise be denied a lease, because of lack of income, a criminal record or past eviction. …

“Landlord Sophia Sills-Tailor owns the house where Perkins and Corprew live. When she heard about Walker’s program five years ago, she was desperate to rent out a couple of places. She’d been using Craigslist but found those tenants ‘fly-by-night.’ Working with a nonprofit seemed more stable, even if its clients were homeless.

” ‘When they come in, they don’t just say, “OK, here is the person, goodbye,” ‘ she says. They help them set up the household, donating things like blankets, pots and pans. ‘”‘And then they’re coming to see them.’ “

More at NPR, here. No firewall.

I love that when Perkins says the shared apartment is small, he adds that it’s “enough for us.” The roommates are not friends, but they are still an “us.”

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Photo: Genna Martin/Crosscut.
Writes Crosscut, “In their roles as King County support services specialists, Kirk Rodriguez, right, and Joe Barnhart walk the area around the King County Courthouse and City Hall Park, as they build relationships with those who live or hang out in that area, … using their own lived experiences with homelessness to form connections.”

After a recent post on better approaches to homelessness, Hannah sent me a link to a New York Times opinion piece by Maia Szalavitz.

“The needs of homeowners and businesses and those of people who are unsheltered often conflict, ” she writes. “Community leaders, faced with increasing crime and disorder, frequently see police sweeps as the only answer, while advocates for homeless people argue that this response is merely a stopgap that does more damage than good.

“But what if there was a way to stop shifting ‌‌people from encampments to jails to shelters to hospitals and back again? In Seattle a unique collaboration among businesses, neighborhood groups, the police, advocates and nonprofits is fighting cynics and misperceptions driven by politics to cut homelessness.

“The coronavirus pandemic presented Seattle with a crisis and an opportunity. In early 2020, authorities closed congregate shelters, emptied jails and stopped new arrests for minor crimes. Lisa Daugaard, a lawyer, saw a rare chance to develop a new approach to addressing homelessness that didn’t involve law enforcement.

“She’d already had success in getting officials to cooperate across siloed systems: In 2019, she won a MacArthur ‘genius’ award for helping to create a program originally called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, which has now been replicated in over 80 jurisdictions across the United States.

“Instead of re-incarcerating homeless people who typically already have long histories of minor arrests, police departments that participate in LEAD refer them to case management services. The program has an overall philosophy of harm reduction, which, in addition to securing shelter, focuses on improving health, rather than mandating abstinence from drugs and other risky behaviors. LEAD originated as a collaboration of public defenders, the police and prosecutors, who put aside differences to work on solutions.

“Peer-reviewed research published in 2017 by the University of Washington found a 39‌‌ percent reduction in felony charges for participants (a group of over 300 people suspected of low-level drug and sex work activity in downtown Seattle) in LEAD compared with controls and an 89‌‌ percent increase in the likelihood of being permanently housed for participants after they started case management. ‌‌

“At the height of the pandemic, when the police were ordered not to make minor arrests or referrals to LEAD, Ms. Daugaard decided to try something new. With federal pandemic funds becoming available and desperate hotel owners newly open to being paid to house nontraditional guests, she said she saw ‘our chance to show that there is another way.’

“Ms. Daugaard and her colleagues created a program now known as JustCare. JustCare staff members, rather than police officers, would respond to urgent calls about encampments. After building trust with ‌‌local homeless people, the workers would move them into housing without strict abstinence requirements and then help clean up the site. The police would be contacted only as a last resort.

“An early success involved an encampment on a major thoroughfare, Third Avenue‌‌, where around two dozen tents were ‌‌erected directly outside the popular local restaurant Wild Ginger, which had closed under pandemic restrictions. A co-owner, Rick Yoder, wanted to reopen the restaurant in the summer of 2021, but he told me, ‘I couldn’t get the windows repaired because the guy said, “I’m not going near those tents.” ‘ …

“Outreach workers from JustCare managed to house ‌‌those living in the encampment and clean up the site without police reinforcement. …

‌”The work begins with no-strings offerings of items like food, water and clean needles‌‌. These regular visits help‌‌ demonstrate trustworthiness and defuse fear about coercion. Creativity is also a must: Conflicts arise over everything from open drug use to burning items for heat. Workers neutralize tense situations with humor and compassion and by recognizing that often bizarre behavior is driven by fundamental needs like hunger, thirst and exhaustion.

“Alison McLean owns a condo in the Pioneer Square neighborhood and contacted JustCare for help dealing with tents that started being pitched against her building during the pandemic. …

“JustCare began its outreach. ‘Maybe two weeks later, they were like, “We found housing for everybody,” ‘ Ms. McLean said. …

“Between the fall of 2020 and this past spring, JustCare closed 14 encampments and placed over 400 people in hotels and other lodging.”

More at the Times, here. Thanks, Hannah. Good tip.

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Photo: School on Wheels.
A student at School on Wheels’ Skid Row Learning Center works with staff member Emma Gersh.

All children need an education, but those experiencing homelessness get a spotty one at best. That’s a situation the nonprofit School on Wheels is aiming to rectify.

Magda Hernandez wrote about it at the Christian Science Monitor. “The little girl was 6 years old, and life hadn’t been kind to her. 

“When Catherine Meek walked into a homeless shelter for their tutoring session, she found the child hiding under a desk. 

“No questions asked, the volunteer joined her on the floor and began reading to her. For an hour a week, the session would allow the girl to be just a kid, getting the assistance she needed, and for at least a moment forgetting about the circumstances that put the girl educationally behind by about a grade. 

“The space remained their meeting spot for six sessions until, one day, Ms. Meek walked in to find the girl sitting at the desk waiting for her. 

“ ‘I had, I remember, the biggest smile on my face, and she did too,’ Ms. Meek says. ‘I think even at that young, vulnerable age she understood that something had changed, that there was a set level of trust, that she could trust me.’

“Ms. Meek lights up recalling that moment – one of her greatest success stories as a volunteer tutor for School on Wheels, a nonprofit addressing educational needs of children K-12 who are experiencing homelessness. She and the girl worked together for about two years until the child moved out of state and they lost touch. 

“Recently, Ms. Meek – now executive adviser to the organization – attended that no-longer-little-girl’s wedding after they reconnected through social media. 

“A brainchild of the late Agnes Stevens, a retired schoolteacher, School on Wheels began in 1993 when she started tutoring kids living in shelters on Skid Row, an area of Los Angeles known for its large homeless population. In the next few years, she formalized her efforts, recruited more volunteers, and grew the organization with the help of Ms. Meek, who joined in 1999. 

“ ‘She was the inspiration and teacher and had the education background, and I had the business and financial background,’ says Ms. Meek.

‘The need was there in 1993, and it’s just grown astronomically since then. One in 30 kids in California in a classroom is homeless.’

“The organization grew steadily, partnering with shelters, school districts, motels, libraries, anywhere homeless families could be – even reaching those living in cars, in foster homes, and on the streets. With year-round operations in six counties, prior to the pandemic, the organization reached more than 3,000 homeless children a year, and it recruited and trained more than 2,000 tutors annually. …

“ ‘Students experiencing homelessness move on average about three to four times a year, and with each move, it’s estimated that they fall behind four months academically,’ says Charles Evans, the organization’s executive director. …

“School on Wheels doesn’t get into the students’ backgrounds but focuses solely on assessing the kids’ educational needs – like a fourth grader who is two grades behind in reading or a 10th grader who’s struggling with pre-algebra and biology – and matching them with tutors. …

“Says Mr. Evans. ‘We don’t pry and try to figure out why a family became homeless.’

“The children are assessed every few weeks to make sure they’re improving. Ms. Meek says that in 2021, K-4 students improved their literacy skills by 21%; in the past six months, fifth through eighth grade students increased math skills by almost one grade level, and self-efficacy surveys showed a 40% increase in confidence in ninth through 12th graders. 

” ‘Before the pandemic, tutors would meet students wherever they were – motels, shelters, libraries. But tutoring sessions have been remote – via donated Chromebooks and laptops – in the past couple of years. The drastic change had benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, students could stay in touch with tutors even on the move. On the other, School on Wheels had to pivot from handing out backpacks and school supplies to figuring out how to get digital equipment into kids’ hands and making sure they had Wi-Fi access. … Now, the organization is returning to in-person sessions, particularly for younger kids. But it will keep the hybrid model. …

“Outside of tutoring, School on Wheels is out to erase the stigma of homelessness. Many of the families the organization works with found themselves homeless through no negligence of their own – victims of domestic violence or economic hardship, doing their best to get back on their feet.

“For example, one single mother in her 20s, who for security reasons asked not to be named, left an abusive relationship, and ended up in a shelter with her four young kids. When she noticed her children falling behind in school, she connected with School on Wheels.

“ ‘It’s been the best thing ever, because my kids love their tutors,’ says the young woman, who works and goes to school. She now gets reports from school that her kids are doing much better: ‘The teacher did see a lot of improvement in [my daughter’s] math and her spelling.’ That motivates her to do better herself, says the mother.”

Read at the Monitor, here, about Angela Sanchez and how she got math help from a rocket scientist. No firewall.

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Photo: World Housing.
In a tiny village on the outskirts of Nacajuca, Mexico, builders are creating new homes using an oversize 3-D printer.

Pop-up temporary cabins, 3-D-printed buildings: whether such super-cheap housing is a good idea or not, it’s probably the wave of the future because we are so far behind providing shelter for all. Typhoons, floods, entrenched poverty, opioid devastation. All require new solutions to homelessness.

First, let’s take a look at 3-D homes in Mexico.

Debra Kamin reports at the New York Times, “Pedro García Hernández, 48, is a carpenter in the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco, a rainforest-shrouded region of the country where about half of the residents live below the poverty line.

“He ekes out a living making about 2,500 pesos ($125.17) a month from a tiny workspace inside the home he shares with his wife, Patrona, and their daughter, Yareli. The home has dirt floors, and during Tabasco’s long rainy season, it’s prone to flooding. Dust from his construction projects coats nearly everything in the home, clinging to the bedroom walls, the pump toilet and the counters of his makeshift kitchen.

“But that will soon change. In a matter of months, Mr. Hernández and his family are moving to a new home on the outskirts of Nacajuca, Mexico: a sleek, 500-square-foot building with two bedrooms, a finished kitchen and bath, and indoor plumbing. What’s most unusual about the home is that it was made with an 11-foot-tall three-dimensional printer. …

“And now, the era of the 3-D printed community has arrived. Mr. Hernández’s home is one of 500 being built by New Story, a San Francisco nonprofit organization focused on providing housing solutions to communities in extreme poverty, in partnership with Échale, a social housing production company in Mexico, and Icon, a construction technology company in Austin, Texas.

“When New Story broke ground on the village in 2019, it was called the world’s first community of 3-D printed homes. Two years and a pandemic later, 200 homes either are under construction or have been completed, 10 of which were printed on site by Icon’s Vulcan II printer. Plans for roads, a soccer field, a school, a market and a library are in the works.

“Single-family homes are a good testing ground for the durability of 3-D printed construction because they are small and offer a repetitive design process without much height, said Henry D’Esposito, who leads construction research at JLL, a commercial real estate firm.

They can also be constructed to tolerate natural disasters: Nacajuca sits in a seismic zone, and the homes there have already withstood a magnitude 7.4 earthquake. …

“ ‘We know that being able to build more quickly, without sacrificing quality, is something that we have to make huge leaps on if we’re going to even make a dent on the issue of housing in our lifetime,’ said Brett Hagler, New Story’s chief executive and one of four founders.

“The organization was started in 2015, shortly after Mr. Hagler took a trip to Haiti and saw families still living in tents years after the 2010 earthquake there. Across the globe, 1.6 billion people live with inadequate housing, according to Habitat for Humanity. …

“Speed is only one factor in bringing a village to completion — New Story has teamed up with local officials in Tabasco to bring sewage services, electricity and water to the community.

“Mr. Hernández, who has plans to expand his construction business to a larger space in his new home, said he was not focused on a move-in date. He cares about the long-term impact the home will have for his daughter, who is studying to become a nurse.

“ ‘When we receive the house, my daughter will be able to rely on it,’ he said. ‘She won’t have to worry anymore.’ ”

Meanwhile in Boston, construction crews have been working on a pop-up, temporary community to relieve the pressure at a trouble spot known locally as Mass and Cass.

Milton J. Valencia reports at the Boston Globe, “The crews had already built new pop-up cabins over the last two weeks. And on this day, they were digging through concrete to connect to water and sewer lines, putting the finishing touches on a new, makeshift cottage community to house people who are homeless.

“The pop-up community — which could be fully operational by Monday — is just one piece of what state and city officials hope will be the solution to a sprawling tent encampment at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, what has become the epicenter of the region’s opioid crisis.

Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe.
An inside view of one of the temporary cottages on the grounds of the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital campus.

“Seventeen sleeping cabins, ranging in size from 64 to 100 square feet, are lined up in two rows. At one end is a courtyard. And at the front of the village is a 500-square-foot structure that will serve as a common room, where those living there can gather for meals or counseling. Other services — to help treat addiction or mental illness — will be available at the site. And at the end of the day, those living there can retire to their own personal sleeping space. …

“As city officials and social workers push people to leave their tent encampments near the Mass. and Cass intersection, they invite them to the new cottage community, marketing it as a temporary but appealing option that could serve as a warmer, safer transition to long-term housing.”

Will there, in fact, be safer, long-term housing? That is the question.

More on 3-D homes at the Times, here, and on Boston’s pop-up community at the Globe, here.

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Photo: West Volusia Beacon.
Charles Peacock, a paraprofessional at New Smyrna Beach High School, tells the Volusia County School Board that he has recently been made homeless.

It pains me to think how little most of those entrusted with educating America’s children — daycare professionals, teachers, teachers’ aides — are paid. We are talking about work that any country should give the highest respect and reward.

In today’s story, a popular Florida teaching assistant confesses that he cannot find housing on his income. The shame he feels should be for us.

Kyle Swenson wrote at the Washington Post recently about the moment Charles Peacock went public.

“They called his name and Charles Peacock hustled up to the microphone to address the Volusia County School Board. The public comment period gave him three minutes. He had practiced his speech, but the 40-year-old knew that somewhere in that time frame, his emotions would overwhelm him.

“He introduced himself as a teacher’s assistant — called a ‘paraprofessional’ in the district — at New Smyrna Beach High School, a school of nearly 1,900-students near Daytona Beach, Fla. The divorced father of three detailed how overworked he and his colleagues are, how the ranks have thinned due to high demands and low compensation.

“Then he paused, knowing that his next sentences swung from workplace complaint to raw confession.

‘I myself, like most others, have to work multiple jobs in order to simply scrape by. I put in 80-plus hours each week, every week, between four jobs to barely make it,’ he said, the words bobbing along on muffled sobs.

“ ‘After four years with the county, I make a minimum salary which equates to less than a thousand dollars per month.’

“Peacock stopped, took a breath, and looked at the board.

“ ‘I personally have been made homeless,’ he said. ‘At least one of your employees — one who is great at their job, has been nominated for para of the year, who loves his students beyond measure — is homeless. Living out of his car. Crashing on couches from time to time. Getting showers at friend’s houses. I dare you to look me in the eyes right here, right now, and tell me that this is okay.’

“His three minutes were up.

“Peacock … represents a large number of Americans who struggle outside the reach of public policy because they don’t fall inside the traditional definitions of poverty. He was homeless, but he technically wasn’t poor.

“Untangling the difference for the board, or explaining it in public, was nothing compared with knowing that after the meeting that his family would now have questions.

“ ‘It wasn’t hard facing the board,’ he said later. ‘Facing my kids was harder.’

“Peacock’s typical day starts at 7 a.m. He is at the school by 8 a.m. He is done by 4 p.m., but then it’s off to a local bar where he works security. That gig ends between midnight and 2 a.m. Weekends, he umpires youth baseball games.

“For all of this scramble, Peacock estimates he makes somewhere between $22,000 to $25,000 each year.

“ ‘It was exhausting, and I was not the only one of my colleagues trying to keep this kind of schedule,’ he said. ‘We were all exhausted.’ …

“For decades, poverty experts have warned that the federal government’s official measurement misses a larger chunk of Americans. One measure that has since emerged has been pioneered by the United Way: the ALICE threshold, or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Since 2009, United Way and its partners have used the criteria to take a high-definition snapshot of people in Peacock’s position — those living above the federal poverty line but scrambling to pay for necessities. …

“After his divorce, Peacock could only afford to rent a bedroom in a friend’s house. The profession he had chosen — he makes $11.65 an hour — alone could not support his basic needs.

” ‘I make next to nothing doing a job that I love,’ Peacock told the board in November. ‘But when does that love get outweighed by the need to survive, and dare I say, thrive? … If I’m in this situation, how many other paras are on the brink?’

“He decided to speak before the board and publicly detail his own situation. ‘That was difficult, trying to swallow my pride.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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An example of tiny houses designed to combat homelessness.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about tiny houses (you can search on the term to see what I posted before), and I was curious to see what was going on in the movement. To my surprise, I learned that a tiny-house community is being planned to combat homelessness in Worcester.

Tori Bedford writes at GBH News, “Plans for a community of tiny homes for people experiencing chronic homelessness in Worcester have been announced, with a small village slated to open in 2023.

“The village, to be located at 264 Stafford St., will have 21 tiny homes that contain a bedroom, bathroom and combination kitchen and living room, contained within about 480 square feet. As of 2019, 84 people in Worcester were chronically homeless, according to data reported to Central Mass Housing.

” ‘It’s expanding the options for people,’ said Amy Arrell, a service director at Open Sky Community Services, ‘because different things work for different people, depending on their trauma history, their need for privacy, their different experiences when they’ve been out on the streets.’

“Arrell says Worcester’s homelessness crisis has heightened during the coronavirus pandemic: at the height of the crisis in April of last year, nearly half of the population at a Worcester adult emergency homeless shelter tested positive for COVID-19.

“Open Sky is working in partnership with the Worcester East Side Community Development Corporation and a group of local real estate developers, organizations and agencies to offer permanent housing for people who have struggled with chronic homelessness, mental health challenges and substance use.

“Applicants for residency will be processed through a coordinated entry process, led by the city, Open Sky and the Department of Mental Health, to select candidates who don’t thrive in a group setting or temporary housing. …

“The village will include on-site housing specialists to help transition tenants into the neighborhood, as well as individualized and group mental health and substance use treatment. Staff will live in a central building that also serves as a community center, offering monthly social activities like barbecues and picnics. Residents will additionally have access to both individual and community gardens.

“Subsidies will be available to cover the cost of rent based on a percentage of income, and resources for job placement will be made available to residents on-site. …

“ ‘In permanent supportive housing programs, people usually don’t live there forever, they live there for as long as they need to. But there is a sense of security as you’re recovering to know that if you do need that, it’s a permanent option for you.’ …

“Some funding has already been secured through UMass Memorial Health’s anchor mission program, which has connected Worcester East Side CDC and Civico, a real estate development firm that has designed the model based on similar projects across the Pacific Northwest.

“ ‘We abide by some of the principles referred to as “trauma-informed design,” ‘ Taylor Bearden, a partner at Civico, said. ‘The idea is that you’re actually designing for the population and the experiences that these people who may have suffered from chronic homelessness have had in their life. You’re not creating dark corners. You’re making sure that, from the bedroom, you have a clear line of sight to the front door. Certain things that may be triggers for trauma are sort of addressed in the architecture of the spaces themselves.’

“Bearden says safety and community are huge factors in designing a space that can serve as both a recovery center and a liveable space for people who have experienced trauma.

“ ‘The goal is to create a really permanent community where the people who live there develop relationships.’ “

More at GBH radio, here. At the Christian Science Monitor, here, you can see what some other cities are doing to address homelessness.

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Photo: Angie Smith/Redux/eyevine.
Bob Wells: ‘Then came the first of the month, and something clicked: he didn’t have to pay rent.’

Although many of us have yet to see the award-winning film Nomadland, we can get a taste of the characters’ way of life from this article at the Guardian.

Reporter Stevie Trujillo describes living off the grid in the back roads of America. “If you look closely on city streets, campgrounds and stretches of desert run by the Bureau of Land Management, you’ll see more Americans living in vehicles than ever before. It was never their plan.

” ‘I wasn’t prepared when I had to move into my SUV. The transmission was going. I had no money saved. I was really scared,’ said April Craren, 52, bundled in blankets atop a cot inside her new minivan, a 2003 Toyota Sienna.

“She flipped the camera on her phone to show me the camp stove she uses to make coffee and her view of the sun rising over the Colorado River. She has no toilet, shower or refrigeration.

“After separating from her husband, April found herself homeless in June 2020, exacerbating the depressive disorder for which she receives $1,100 a month in disability benefits.

“ ‘I could have gotten an apartment but in a crappy unsafe place with no money to do anything at all,’ she explained.

“Last year, where April lived in Nixa, Missouri, the average rent for an apartment was $762, slightly less than the national average. Like nearly half of American renters, she would have been crippled by the cost.

“It’s not surprising, then, that job loss, divorce or, say, the sudden onset of a global health or financial crisis can push so many over the edge.

“ ‘If the Great Recession was a crack in the system, Covid and climate change will be the chasm,’ says Bob Wells, 65, the nomad who plays himself in the film Nomadland. …

Today, he lives exclusively on public lands in his GMC Savana fitted with 400 watts of solar power and a 12-volt refrigerator. His life mission is to promote nomadic tribalism in a car, van or RV as a way to prevent homelessness and live more sustainably.

“Before becoming a nomad in 1995, Bob lived in Anchorage, Alaska, with his wife and two boys. He worked as a union clerk at the same Safeway where his father had worked until retirement, only to die two years later. … By his own telling, he was the living embodiment of Thoreau’s ‘quiet desperation.’ …

“Then, when he was 40 years old, the divorce happened. After paying alimony and child support, he was taking home $1,200 a month, $800 of which went towards rent.

“One day, fretting about impossible finances, he saw a green box van for sale and thought: ‘Why don’t I buy that van and move into it?’ The idea struck him as crazy, but with the prospect of homelessness closing in, he drained the last $1,500 in his savings account and bought the van. …

“Then came the first of the month, and something clicked: he didn’t have to pay rent. As his finances improved, he installed insulation, a proper bed, even a dream-come-true PlayStation fortress for his boys. He started working only 32 hours a week, and since every weekend was a three-day weekend, he spent more time camping with his kids, which ‘tremendously helped’ his mental outlook on life. …

“Realizing he had something valuable to share, he bought the domain name Cheap RV Living in 2005. He posted tips and tricks about better vehicle-dwelling, but what he was really offering was a road map to a better life.

“Four years later, when close to 10 million Americans were displaced after the Great Recession, traffic to his site exploded. Finding himself at the center of a growing online community, he decided to create a meet-up in Quartzsite, Arizona. He dubbed it the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), and in January 2011, 45 vehicles showed up. Eight years later, an estimated 10,000 vehicles convened for what was said to be the largest nomad gathering in the world. …

“While Bob concedes the limits of his solution – it doesn’t address PTSD, mental illness or drug addiction, three main causes of homelessness – he does see it as a way to lower our carbon footprint and make ourselves more financially resilient in trying times ahead.”

At the Guardian, here, read why it’s mostly older women seeking advice and assistance from Bob’s programs.

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Douglas Fir needles. If you know what you’re looking for, you can use fir needles in Fettuccine Alfredo.

Did you ever picture yourself running away from home as a kid? I did. I liked the book The Boxcar Children because it suggested that kids could manage on their own. Even as a young adult, I was still puzzling about it in my imagination but was never able to invent a scenario that didn’t involve some helpful adult.

When I read today’s story, I was reminded of that conundrum because the author, Sabra Boyd, notes the impossibility of getting any landlord to rent to a 14-girl-old with two younger siblings. Her article at the Washington Post also discusses how foraging for food influenced her cooking style.

“Desperate times call for comfort food,” Boyd writes. “And whenever I have time, making fresh pasta helps me embrace being home. … Rolling out fettuccine noodles is the only kind of meditation I have patience for these days. I press my hands firmly into the dough, feeling grateful to have a kitchen. I coat the rolling pin in extra flour and think about how, as a homeless teenager 20 years ago, I cooked using only a backpacking stove. Surviving teen homelessness prepared me for a pandemic in ways I never could have imagined.

“My mother first kicked me out when I was 14. … I didn’t know anyone to crash with, so I trudged uphill to the dark high school because I could not think of anywhere better to go other than the place I needed to be in the morning. I climbed the roof of the auditorium and took a clumsy parkour leap from the eave of my English classroom’s window. Tracing constellations with my finger, I pulled my hoodie tight against the cold. The glare of a neon crucifix, perched on a hill above the school, flooded the football field with light. I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep.

“The following night, I sneaked into my mom’s house through a window and packed my camping gear. I set up my new home in a cave above the Elwha River. Sometimes I slept in an abandoned house in Eden Valley. When it grew too cold, I stayed at a hippie commune, in the goat stable, but I left when the commune became too dangerous. I returned periodically to check on my younger siblings, but Mom would fly into an alcoholic rage, so I spent most of high school homeless. …

“I kept my favorite nonperishables in a bear canister: instant noodles, dehydrated miso soup, granola bars and halvah. In the spring, I sauteed fiddleheads and horsetails in olive oil with my compact camp stove. In summer, I gorged on blackberries, delicately picked bright red thimbleberries and, when their pink blossoms fell, hunted for the electric hue of salmonberries. In the fall I gathered apples from wild orchards and scanned the sepia leaves on the forest floor, training my eye for a pop of yellow chanterelle.

“In winter I relied more on eating lunch at school and at work, or restocking my canister with trips to the co-op near my many after-school jobs. I worked as a barista, landscaper, maid, caregiver, caterer and pastry chef. I also volunteered for Olympic National Park’s revegetation crew and as a tour guide at the local aquarium. Volunteering and working all the time distracted me from everything going wrong in my life — plus, I hoped it would help me get into a good college far away. Volunteering also meant I could spend a few extra hours indoors if it was raining or cold outside.

Despite working seven days a week, I could never save enough money to persuade a landlord to rent an apartment to a 14-year-old girl and her two siblings.

“Striving to make fewer trips to the grocery store during the coronavirus pandemic has pushed me to become more creative and less precious about my culinary endeavors. … I am making Douglas-fir fettuccine Alfredo, or fettuccine al burro, named for its rich butter sauce, because the weather has turned cold and there is not much else to forage. The bright citrus tang of Doug fir is welcome when the days turn dreary, and I use it as a wild alternative to rosemary. …

“The leaves are most tender in the spring when they are neon, but they can be harvested year round, making this literally an evergreen recipe. The first rule of foraging is to be certain that you know what you are eating, because otherwise it can be dangerous.”

Get both the recipe and the rest of the story at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: CNN
A man walking through a Vancouver tent city in March. According to CNN, “Researchers in a new study found that homeless people who received direct cash transfers were able to find stable housing faster.”

Some years ago I asked a woman who headed an excellent Rhode Island nonprofit for housing whether she gave money to panhandlers. She said she did not, and I thought I shouldn’t either. But Mother Teresa had said to smile at people in need. I found I could manage that.

The belief that giving money leads panhandlers to buy drugs has long been the common wisdom. But a new study from Canada suggests it’s wrong.

Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman reports at CNN, “You’ve heard this refrain before — giving money to homeless people is not the best way to help them because it might be squandered, or spent on harmful habits.

“But a new Canadian study makes a powerful case to the contrary. The study, dubbed ‘The New Leaf Project,’ is an initiative of Foundations for Social Change, a charitable organization based in Vancouver, in partnership with the University of British Columbia.

“Researchers gave 50 recently homeless people a lump sum of 7,500 Canadian dollars (nearly $5,700). They followed the cash recipients’ life over 12-18 months and compared their outcomes to that of a control group who didn’t receive the payment. The preliminary findings, which will be peer-reviewed next year, show that those who received cash were able to find stable housing faster, on average. By comparison, those who didn’t receive cash lagged about 12 months behind in securing more permanent housing.

“People who received cash were able to access the food they needed to live faster. Nearly 70% [maintained] greater food security throughout the year.

The recipients spent more on food, clothing and rent, while there was a 39% decrease in spending on goods like alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. …

“Said Claire Williams, the CEO and co-founder of Foundations for Social Change, ‘We really think it’s important to start testing meaningful risk-taking in the name of social change.’ …

“The 115 participants in the randomized controlled trial were between the ages of 19 and 64, and they had been homeless for an average of 6 months. Participants were screened for a low risk of mental health challenges and substance abuse. Funding for the initiative came from a grant from the Canadian federal government, and from donors and foundations in the country.

” ‘One of the things that was most striking is that most people who received the cash knew immediately what they wanted to do with that money, and that just flies in the face of stereotypes,’ Williams told CNN.

“For example, she explained some cash recipients knew they wanted to use the money to move into housing, or invest in transportation — getting a bike, or taking their cars to the repair shop to be able to keep their jobs. Others wanted to purchase computers. A number of them wanted to start their own small businesses. …

“Direct cash transfers are not ‘a silver bullet for homelessness in general,’ and the program focused on ‘a higher functioning subset of the homeless population,’ Williams said, but she believes the research shows that providing meaningful support to folks who have recently become homeless decreases the likelihood they will become entrenched. …

“The study shows there are advantages for the taxpayer, too. According to the research, reducing the number of nights spent in shelters by the 50 study participants who received cash saved approximately 8,100 Canadian dollars per person per year, or about 405,000 Canadian dollars over one year for all 50 participants.”

More details at CNN, here.

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Photo: Robin Bukson/ Detroit News
“Bag Ladies with a Cause” crochet plastic bags into sleeping mats for people experiencing homelessness. An actual home would be better, of course, but they do what they can.

I’ve been doing this blog daily for more than nine years, and sometimes in covering an activity that seems hopeful, I’ve overlooked a possible downside — or I learn later that things have changed. I try my best to add an update to a previous post so as not to have misleading information out there in the world.

The topic for today — turning unwanted plastic bags into sleeping mats for homeless people — was written up a year ago at the Detroit News and, according to Facebook, is still going strong. I’m drawn to the idea of doing something useful with the scourge of plastic bags, and I like the idea of giving people experiencing homelessness something they might want. For sure, it would be better to give them homes, so that’s an obvious downside. But I like that the self-named “Bag Ladies with a Cause” are really trying to help. Read about the initiative and let me know what you think.

Jocelynn Brown started her report at he Detroit News admitting, “Whenever I throw away a good, clean plastic bag, I’m always overcome with guilt, knowing there are groups like ‘Bag Ladies With a Cause’ that are putting them to good use as a way of making a difference in the lives of homeless individuals.

“Donna Harki of Lincoln Park and Jeannine Ayers of Wyandotte had worked with two groups … helping them turn plastic bags into what’s referred to as ‘plarn’ (plastic yarn), and then using it to crochet sleeping mats that would later be distributed to persons living on the streets of Detroit. …

“Word about the group got out. … ‘We just ask them for whatever free time they have,’ said Harki. … ‘It only costs your time, and we try to make the process fun, and keep them (the bags) out of the landfills.’ 

“Not everyone in the group is a crocheter, but everyone has a skill that will help with the assembly line-like production. …

“Each finished mat measures approximately 6 feet long by 3 feet wide, and it takes 700 bags to make just one. Additional plarn is used to crochet a strap that’s attached to the mat so it can be rolled up and carried as a backpack. …

“Harki has cranked out close to 100 mats in the past two years. She recently made one with a pocket attached at one end, which becomes a pillow when stuffed by its owner with maybe a shirt and pair of socks. If she already has the plarn, she said she can crochet a mat in a week, if she works on it every night. 

“How is plarn made? First, the plastic bag should be neatly flattened into its original shape with creases, folded twice length-wise, and then the handles and bottom are cut off. The remainder of the bag is cut into 3-inch wide strips/loops and then looped together, as you would rubber bands.

“A size Q crochet hook is used to crochet the mats, and in terms of bags used for making the plarn, Harki said, ‘We use any plastic bags, as long as they’re clean. … We (also) have an academy school in [Brownstown] that collects bags for us. … We had a fifth grader (from Summit) crochet her own mat! …

” ‘We deliver the mats. So far, we have given (to) ChristNet (in Taylor), a band of churches who alternate helping the homeless with (the) cold. We also have donated to FDDR (Feeding Detroit & Downriver) … an organization that feeds the homeless six days a week, year round. They know who sleeps outside, so they know who to give them to.’ ” More at the Detroit News, here.

Want a children’s book about women in Africa who’ve making good things out of plastic bags for years? Check out One Plastic Bag, by Miranda Paul, here.

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Photo: Larry McCormack/The Tennessean
Jackie Vandal, assistant manager at a Kroger market in Nashville, hugs LaShenda Williams, a woman hired by Kroger after sleeping in its parking lot for a year. Williams now has her own apartment.

I attended a high school that had us memorize Bible verses. In the story of the Prodigal Son — who “took his journey into a far country and there wasted his substance with riotous living” — a few simple words have always meant the most to me. “And when he came to himself, he said … .”

Those words are powerful because, in my view, it really takes a lot for a desperate person to say, “I can do something about this.”

So in the story of the homeless woman who had disabilities and had fought off addiction, I’m most impressed with the moment she got up the courage to ask about a job. True, the hiring manager at the market where she’d been sleeping outside for a year showed compassion, but the real turning point was the homeless woman’s fearful but brave decision to ask.

Cathy Free reports at the Washington Post, “LaShenda Williams woke up in a grocery store parking lot last year after another restless night in her car. On the window of the supermarket, she spotted a new flier.

“The East Nashville Kroger store where she had been living in her car for almost a year was advertising a job fair. Williams, 46, who has a learning disability and has difficulty reading or writing — and also had been addicted to drugs — saw meaning in the flier. …

“Williams went inside the store, as she did every day, to say hello to the employees. But this time, she gathered her courage and asked the hiring manager: ‘Maybe I could work here one day. You got room for me?’

“The manager, Jacqueline Vandal, said she’d help Williams fill out the application. Vandal sat with her patiently and helped her answer all of the questions on her application, then submit them on Williams’s laptop computer. When a prompt came up, informing Williams that she’d successfully applied, Vandal immediately gave her the good news: ‘You’re hired.’

‘I couldn’t believe it — I hugged her and cried,’ said Williams, who has been homeless off and on in Nashville for several years. ‘It was overwhelming. Somebody gave me a chance.’

“Vandal, 56, said Williams’s persistence in filling out the application tipped the scales in her favor.

“ ‘LaShenda had the right attitude, and I knew I needed to give her a shot,’ Vandal said. …

“In May, after working for five months as a self-checkout associate, Williams saved enough money to get a small place of her own. Co-workers and customers rallied to collect household items for her one-bedroom apartment, said Williams, and after her story was featured on Kroger’s website and in Nashville’s Tennessean last month, offers of help poured in. …

“Verlenteez Williams [no relation], who runs a food prep and catering company in Nashville, said he wasn’t surprised that people were eager to step up. ‘We were all feeling empty from the uncertainty of the times,’ he said. ‘All we really have are each other.’

“Until she put on her uniform and reported for work at Kroger, LaShenda Williams said, she felt for years that she had no one. …

“ ‘I walk with a limp because I have cerebral palsy, and I had a tough time getting hired anywhere, so I just did odd jobs like housecleaning,’ Williams said. ‘When I finally got treatment for my addiction, I couldn’t afford a place of my own. I’d live from place to place or stay in abandoned houses.’

“It was late 2018 when Williams decided to park her 2015 Kia Forte in the Kroger parking lot.

“ ‘It was open 24 hours and the lot was always lit up at night,’ she said. ‘I figured I’d be safe there.’ “

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Athiyah Azeem via Street Sense Media
Volunteers with Pathways to Housing D.C. helped homeless individuals register to vote outside the D.C. Downtown Day Services Center on September 11, 2020.

What a time we are living through! When Covid-19 shuts down businesses, workers often can’t pay rent and become homeless. Even if they believe that a change of government would help their situation, homelessness can make registering to vote impossible. You can’t win.

Except that there are always people willing to help.

For example, as Justin Wm. Moyer wrote recently at the Washington Post, volunteers in DC are standing by to ensure that the disenfranchised get the rights to which they’re entitled.

He wrote, “Tracy Lincoln doesn’t know exactly when she left her native Houston — it’s been months, she says — but she knows she wanted to ‘come and see the world.’ …

“Amid her travels, she needs to vote. She already was registered elsewhere but came to D.C.’s Downtown Day Services Center for the homeless to switch her registration to the nation’s capital. Though she doesn’t have a preferred candidate — ‘you don’t know what they’re like until they get there,’ she says — not voting is not an option. ‘That’s how you make changes,’ she said. ‘You have to hold people accountable.’

“While advocates are registering people to vote in a polarizing election held during a pandemic, they are also registering a population traumatized by, in some cases, years on the streets. It’s these barriers to voting that Pathways to Housing DC, which has registered more than 60 voters since launching the voter drive last month, is trying to overcome. …

“ ‘Our entire mission and model is based on listening to the people we serve. Listening is not always there at the larger societal level,’ said Christy Respress, the Pathways executive director. …

“Some questions on the form could be intimidating to someone without a place to stay. Lincoln doesn’t have a permanent address, but the form asks for the ‘address where you live’ and the ‘address where you get your mail.’ It also asks would-be voters about their citizenship.

“Megan Hustings, managing director of the nonprofit National Coalition for the Homeless, said … the obstacles are immense not just for [her] clients, but for anyone living in poverty. …

“Some states might require identification like Social Security cards or driver’s licenses — documentation homeless people may not have, or that may be too expensive for those living on the street to acquire.

“If cost or access to identification isn’t a problem, lifestyle can be. People living outdoors ‘lose stuff all the time,’ Hustings said. When a homeless encampment is cleared, she said, officials might dispose of belongings without preserving important paperwork.

“Other barriers are psychological. Homeless people may be embarrassed about their ignorance of the process and might not know their polling place or be familiar with candidates and political parties.

“Organizations like Pathways can provide an address for people to receive mail — crucial this fall, when the D.C. Board of Elections will mail every registered voter a ballot — but advocates worry the pandemic has compounded voting problems.

‘I’m concerned with people losing housing because of the pandemic,’ Hustings said. …

“It’s not clear how many homeless people vote, but census data shows most people with lower incomes don’t. In the 2018 midterm election, 31 percent of people nationwide living in a family with income of less than $10,000 a year cast a ballot, compared with 68 percent of those with a family income above $150,000. Eleven percent of those in the lower-income group said they didn’t vote because they had transportation problems, compared with 0.3 percent of those in the higher-income group. …

“Homeless voters are like other voters: unpredictable.

“Sam Gilliard, a 50-year-old veteran and D.C. native who registered at the Day Center on Friday, said he has been homeless for two years. He lost his job in March when the lumber yard where he was working in Northwest Washington went out of business. He sleeps in a garage and plans to get his ballot delivered to a friend’s house.

“Gilliard likes Trump, especially everything the president did ‘before corona,’ he said. He likes that Trump is unfiltered. … Other registrants, like Allen Williams — a chef who lost his job amid the pandemic and was homeless from 2005 until July — favors Biden.

“ ‘I’m so fearful of what happens if we don’t have a new candidate in office,’ he said. …

“And there were those who walked away without registering at all. One woman wearing a headscarf read over the registration form for a few minutes, then shook her head and walked away.

“Maria Gusman, a benefits specialist at Pathways who was registering voters on a recent day, said it’s easy for some to become discouraged when a voter registration form is in their hand.

“ ‘It can be difficult,’ she said. ‘People in politics don’t believe people experiencing homelessness vote. They don’t believe it matters anyway.’ “

But there are more of them every year, alas. We need to pay attention. More here.

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Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
El Jefe’s Taqueria is among the restaurants Cambridge is paying to serve hot and cold meals to homeless shelters.

One of the many interesting aspects of the Situation has been the way leaders in states and municipalities have taken matters into their own hands.

We know that individuals and both for-profit and nonprofit organizations are stepping up, but some government entities are, too. Across-the-board federal efforts would be better, especially if we don’t want to see New York suing Rhode Island and other such anomalies, but we’ll take what we can get.

Here’s a story about Cambridge, Mass., a city that some have called Moscow on the Charles mainly because it tries to help the poor.

Erin Kuschner, writes at the Globe‘s Boston.com, “With restaurants facing a sudden loss of revenue due to Gov. Baker’s mandated dine-in ban, and homeless shelters seeing a drop in volunteers helping to deliver and prepare food, the City of Cambridge came up with a solution to benefit both parties: Paying restaurants to make and deliver food to homeless shelters.

“The program launched Monday after the city reached out to both the Harvard Square Business Association and the Central Square Business Improvement District to help organize the initiative, with a goal of distributing roughly 1,800 to 2,000 meals to various shelters by the end of the week. …

“Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said that it has already brought roughly 15 restaurants on board to make meals for local shelters like the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and Y2Y, a youth homeless shelter that has seen many of its student volunteers leave following Harvard’s closure.

“ ‘It just made so much sense,’ Jillson said. ‘We were on board immediately.’ …

“Among the restaurants serving Harvard Square’s homeless shelters are Black Sheep Bagel, Cardullo’s, El Jefe’s Taqueria, Orinoco, Subway, and Veggie Grill. Jillson said that they have tried to provide a range of healthy meal options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

“The Central Square Business Improvement District partnered with PAGU to deliver meals to Bay Cove Human Services and the Cambridge YMCA.

‘We made our first delivery [Monday],’ said Michael Monestime, executive director at the Central Square Business Improvement District. ‘It was pretty humbling and sad at the same time. It’s hard enough being homeless on any given day, and then under these circumstances it’s even more difficult.’ …

“In addition to providing hot and cold meals to those experiencing homelessness, the city has set up a Cambridge Community Food Line, available to any resident who is a high risk for food insecurity.

“The delivery service provides a weekly bag of produce and shelf-stable food items to individuals and families who have experienced the following: The food pantry or meal program you used has closed until further notice; you have lost your job or part of your income and cannot afford groceries at this time; you are homebound due to illness, disability, or quarantine and do not have friends or family that can bring you food; you are at high risk for COVID-19 (coronavirus) and do not have access to a regular food source.”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Local readers, try to remember these restaurants and thank them with your business when we come out of the tunnel to the other side of this plague.

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Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Breaktime Café cofounders Tony Shu (left) and Connor Schoen hosting a kickoff launch party in Boston for a nonprofit that helps homeless youth learn job skills.

Not sure why so many recent posts have had a food angle. I’ve certainly been drawn to stories about food. In this article, a couple young guys who volunteered with homeless youth saw a way to help them move beyond homelessness with a bit of skills training and lots of moral support.

Back in December, as Max Jungreis wrote at the Boston Globe, the nonprofit was just getting set up.

Breaktime Cafe doesn’t look like much. It’s 1,500 square feet of typical office space on Portland Street, with gray carpeting, off-white walls, and tables shoved into corners. But by the time the cafe opens in the spring, its founders hope to transform the office into a resource for Boston’s homeless youth.

“The opening will mark a major expansion of a six-month pilot program founded last year by a pair of Harvard University undergraduates. It offered a handful of homeless youth on-the-job training as baristas, with the goal of bringing them into the workforce and out of homelessness. …

“The plan is to employ up to 15 homeless youth at a time. They’ll serve sandwiches, seasonal drinks, and coffee made from ethically sourced beans. That will be triple the number served in the pilot program, and a small but meaningful chunk of the estimated 325 people between the ages of 18 and 24 who were sleeping in Boston’s shelters and streets in January.

“Schoen said Breaktime has raised about $145,000, with much of the money coming from corporate sponsors and charitable trusts, such as Cambridge Trust and the Harnisch Foundation. He said the cafe also has attracted hundreds of individual donations through crowdfunding campaigns. Donated legal advice, accounting, and other services have helped defray costs. …

“Employees will earn $15 to $18 an hour. Aside from learning how to brew coffee, Schoen and Shu want to teach them financial literacy and professional skills, like writing a resume, personal budgeting, and interview techniques. Part of that will come through one-on-one mentorships with professionals from the cafe’s sponsors, many which are financial institutions like BlackRock and Eastern Bank.

“The cafe will occupy ground-floor space at 170 Portland St. Shu and Breaktime cofounder Connor Schoen, 21, are renting it from Community Work Services, the local branch of the national job-training nonprofit Fedcap, at a ‘very competitive rate,’ Schoen said. …

“The project dates to when Schoen and Shu met as volunteers at Y2Y Harvard Square, a homeless youth shelter run by Harvard students. Shu was inspired to volunteer by his mother, who as a young immigrant to Kansas from China often slept in her car.

‘I knew that it was my duty and my opportunity to use the skills and the resources that I have in front of me in order to pay it forward,’ Shu said. …

“[Schoen] learned that up to 40 percent of homeless adults identify as LGBTQ, according to one study.

“ ‘It just immediately became something I was really passionate about, and indignant about,’ Schoen said. ‘The fact that people are being kicked out of their homes for just coming out just doesn’t make any sense to me.’

“The two men realized that for many struggling young people trying to gain a foothold, there is a tricky period between the end of a work-training program and when they land a paying job.

“ ‘[Where] do they go after that to bridge them to the broader work force and sustainable careers?’ Shu said. ‘That’s what Breaktime does.’

“The business partners, who plan to run the cafe full time after graduating, impressed Brittany Butler, who runs the Harvard Kennedy School’s Social Innovation and Change Initiative, a student mentorship program that birthed Breaktime’s pilot. …

“Erica Grube-Grumt, 26, who graduated from the pilot program in March 2019 and now serves in the Navy — as well as on the new cafe’s advisory board — said it helped to build her self-confidence.

“ ‘A lot of people who are homeless, they feel unheard,’ Grube-Grumt said. ‘They feel like they’re in their own little corner on the street just begging for change, or begging for something to change. To finally be able to step on the pedestal and tell people what it’s like firsthand . . . can really make a provocative change.’ ”

More at the Globe, here.

You may also be interested to read about Land of a Thousand Hills in Lynn and Breaking Grounds (“changing lives one cup at a time”) in Peabody, doing similar work with young people and people with disabilities.

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