I’m not sure if America lacks vision in this or we are simply stuck in our ways.
But we seem to have one answer for the throwaway people in America: Warehouse them!
I’m pretty sure this says it all:
- US: 2,193,798 prisoners
- CHINA: 1,548,498 prisoners
- RUSSIA: 874,161 prisoners
The United States has 5% of the world’s population but contains 25% of all the world’s prisoners.
It’s like the old adage: “If you’re a hammer then everything looks like a nail.”
We are a lock ’em up society.
While prisoners are the most glaring example of warehousing people in America, we can see it very clearly in homelessness as well.
Whether you call it “housing first” or you call it a shelter, we are extremely focused on getting the homeless off the streets.
In no stretch of the imagination am I trying to look down on people that are doing work in any way with the homeless. I’m glad and thankful for any help people are willing to do.
I simply would like to raise the idea that a “roof over your head” is great for a quick fix. But it doesn’t deal with a larger, more long-term need that most people crave.
NPR has a great article highlighting some new research that shows white males aged 45 to 54 are dying at a higher rate in 2014 than they did in 2000.
They are calling these “deaths of despair.”
The researchers found a sharp increase in deaths by drugs, alcohol and suicide.
This is shocking because there’s been a huge increase in life expectancy and reduction in mortality over 100 years or more. But it is suddenly reversing for these people.
You can see the trend quite clearly in comparison to German, France, Sweden, Canada, U.K. and Australia. These stats are for men and women ages 50-54.
The general belief is that these people have lost a sense of status and belonging.
They are killing themselves because they feel like they don’t have a meaningful place in society.
We have a man, John, in our facility that left his subsidized apartment and is staying with us. The reason: he would just sit at home and drink all day.
At The Homeless Charity he uses his previous certified electrician roots to help make the place better. He:
- rewires old machinery.
- ran new wiring to our clothes dryer that need a 220 outlet.
- makes sure the old wiring in our 100 year old building is safe.
Here’s Brandon. He’s homeless. But he built this fence to give privacy to our people that choose to live in tents. He does a ton of stuff around here including fixing our leaking roof.
And our director, Paul. He’s homeless. Just a few of the things he does are:
- He runs the Monday and Friday meetings for all members. My favorite part of the meeting is where we all go around and say what we did today. It’s always an impressive list.
- He finds and repairs computers for our growing computer lab.
- He is currently sifting dirt (with a super cool dirt sifting machine they built) to get glass and junk out of the way for the new organic raised bed gardens that are being built (all by the homeless).
Oh… and here is our clothing room. Completely run by “Little Paul”. They give clothing away to anyone that needs it.
Here’s a picture of “Little Paul.” (Also homeless in case you were wondering.)
Little Paul also is in charge of the day center.
And that’s just scratching the surface. There are many, many more people doing amazing things. I will share their stories in future posts.
But the point of me telling you this story is:
PEOPLE WANT TO BELONG TO SOMETHING. PEOPLE WANT TO MATTER.
Paul will often tell me that during his 7 years of being on the street homeless he would often feel like no one cared.
We are now seeing very clear scientific proof that this lack of belonging is killing people.
“They found the link between loneliness and a premature death was as great as that of obesity while the effect on health was the equivalent of being an alcoholic or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
It is becoming very clear that putting a roof over someone’s head is not the end of the problem. In fact, in some cases it might be adding to depression, isolation and loneliness.
Adding to this is the fact that we are already dealing with a population with a high level of mental illness.
From here: Homeless Mentally Ill Facts and Figures – Mental Illness Policy Org
- 25 percent of the American homeless were seriously mentally ill
- 45 percent of the homeless had any mental illness.
In comparison, only 6% of Americans are severely mentally ill. (I can’t believe they say “only”. But that’s a different article.)
Both of these resources point out that mental illness is the third largest cause of homelessness.
So here we have people that are mentally suffering to begin with. And then we stick them alone in a house or put them in a shelter that just gives them a place to sleep. (Again. Please understand that I’m not ridiculing any of this. I’m just suggesting that we think about what more could be done to help address this despair.)
Less Money Works Better
We are finding that having less money has been a real benefit for us.
It is AMAZING that Haven of Rest brought in $8.6 million for the 2015-2016 year.
But our goal is to get $48,000 a year to make our place completely self-sustaining.
As it stands I’m self-funding the facility through other businesses I run. We haven’t gotten any grants or other funding for our facility yet.
But because we are run by the homeless for the homeless we have very low overhead.
$48,000 for our 16,000 square foot facility will:
- Pay the rent
- Pay the gas bill
- Pay the electric bill
- Pay the internet bill
And it still has some money to buy materials for repairs and upkeep.
We are then bringing in money through our Second Chance Store.
We sell a wide variety of items in that store and we’re going to be expanding more online.
We also made over $130 at an auction run by my auction firm: Rubber City Auctions yesterday. We auctioned donated items to the charity.
We are also organizing a silent auction and concert in June.
We are finding that by having the homeless that come here be part of the community it is giving their lives purpose and meaning.
Yes. We do have some people that mostly keep to themselves. They are staying in the tents outside. As long as they follow our Code of Conduct then we basically follow the “live and let live” system.
What’s interesting about those folks is that we’re starting to see them come in to the group more and more. Some are quitting drinking. Some are getting involved in the various projects that are going on. We’re seeing them slowly come out of their shell and be part of the group.
We don’t pressure them. But when they’re ready for us we’re ready for them.
America is the most innovative, creative country in the world. We must use that creativity and innovation in the homeless population of the country. This is even more true as our government is currently run by a party that wants to cut as many “welfare” programs as they possibly can. We live in a go it alone country. That’s fine. But if we are going to do anything about homelessness in America that just means we have to be even more creative and even more innovative.
tl;dr – It is scientifically proven that people are dying in America because they are isolated and don’t feel like they belong. Nowhere is this more true than the American homeless community. Offer them the opportunity to be part of a community that is working together to make a difference. It is very feasible that given the opportunity the homeless can help the homeless for very little money.