I thought it was time we should probably start talking.
In my idealistic and naive head I always imagined you would come by our homeless center. I’d show you around. We’d talk about cool and innovative ways to fix homelessness in America.
That never happened. But don’t feel bad. I often have unrealistic fantasies of idealism and innovation.
Now is a good time to talk because, as I’m sure you know, not this November but next November you will be up for re-election.
This was made apparent to me by someone near you that offered to be my campaign manager to run again for mayor.
My greatest adviser is my wife. She strongly encourages me to not run for mayor. Rightfully, she says I have little interest in sewers and residential tax credits for wealthy people to move into Akron.
For what it’s worth, you should know that people I speak with in the fire department are enjoying working with you. They appreciate that you will listen to their ideas.
And you should also know that I respected your position on being a sanctuary city. I’d probably have also supported the idea of eliminating taxes on new construction of residential housing that you implemented.
The fact of the matter is: we want the exact same thing. We want Akron to be great. We’re just coming at it from different directions. You are working at it from the top. I’m working at it from the bottom.
You are trying to bring in new revenue to the city. I’m trying to fix homelessness, which whether you know it or not is a big financial drag on your city.
If I was mayor I’d be focusing on poverty.
But whatever. We all have to pick and choose our battles.
Let me get back to the point of this first letter to you.
Your office has said several time that “any homeless person that wants housing can get it.”
Take this April 28, 2018 Akron Beacon Journal article for example:
Volunteers build small, single shelters for Akron’s homeless
“No Akron resident should be living in a tent or a shack – period; and they don’t need to,” Lander Nischt [City spokeswoman ] said in an email. “Unlike some other urban communities across the nation, we are very fortunate here in Akron and Summit County to have healthy, stable, clean and safe housing available for any homeless person or family who needs it.”
So let me tell you how I took this position initially.
I honestly thought you were just trying to gaslight and basically lie to Akron by saying we have housing for all homeless people.
Everybody talks about politicians playing 4D chess these days. I thought you were cleverly trying to put misinformation out into the public discourse to confuse people. While frustrating, I thought it was a clever tactic.
But just this weekend I was talking to someone who has worked with your office on homelessness and they said you actually believe this.
They said that you actually think housing is available for any homeless person that wants it.
I have to admit I was shocked. But then I quickly realized people believe a lot of crazy things.
We have flat earthers. Our current president believed our past president wasn’t born in the United States. And I began to think about all the mass stereotyping American society has done to minorities since the beginning of our country right up to this day in 2018.
Like anyone that has a belief not based in reality or any form of fact whatsoever, I have very little hope of trying to convince you that you are wildly wrong that “we are very fortunate here in Akron and Summit County to have healthy, stable, clean and safe housing available for any homeless person or family who needs it.”
But as I mentioned early on in this letter my idealism and naivete are truly boundless. So let me try swaying you just a little bit.
Imagine this scenario. You are an 18 year old woman living in a very poor part of East Akron. You have a baby out of wedlock. You never finished high school. You are living with your mom. Your mom is a heroin addict. But you are clean.
One day your mom overdoses and dies.
You mom was your only supporter. You never knew your dad. You have no siblings. The only person who ever gave the slightest damn about you just died.
You have no high school diploma or GED. You relied on your mom to take care of you and your baby.
Now you are being evicted from the house your mom was renting.
Quick! What do you do?
Well I’m going to tell you what you do.
You start going to friend’s houses. You stay as long as they’ll let you. But they keep kicking you out.
You do that over and over again.
Someone reports you to Child and Family Services. Before you know it you’ve lost your baby.
Now that you’ve lost your mom and your baby you fall into a deep depression.
A “friend” offers you some heroin to smoke. You take it.
You spend a night sleeping on the street.
Your backpack that had all your identification in it gets stolen.
You get more depressed. You liked how that heroin felt. But you have no money.
So now you try having sex for money.
You get picked up by a pimp that turns you out and starts to beat you because you aren’t performing well enough.
And that’s where we, The Homeless Charity, usually come in.
In the case of women who have been repeatedly raped, beaten and tricked, they come to us for safety.
The street for anyone is hell on earth. But for a young woman it is a complete and total nightmare.
Now before you say you wouldn’t have let it get that far if you were this woman let me tell you this fall happens quickly.
The story I just told above can happen in 2 to 4 weeks.
If you think you would have done better in that scenario you are either deceiving yourself or are just imagining coming at it from the privileged middle class white male perspective that is the only thing you’ve ever known.
Let’s say this young women is one of the strongest 10% of homeless. She is laser focused on getting a job, getting a house and getting her baby back. She is all in.
The first thing she needs to do is get her birth certificate. (You can’t get into housing without a birth certificate, photo ID and social security card.) If she was born in Ohio that’s ideal. Ohio is really good about giving people their birth certificates. She just needs to come up with the $21 and transportation to the west side of Akron to get it. The Homeless Charity will do that for her.
Next she needs a photo ID. As of yesterday, July 2, they are now mailing out photo IDs. So you can no longer get one in the BMV office. They know me on a first name basis at the Tallmadge Road BMV. I was there yesterday and I’ll be there again today getting IDs for people.
But now we have to wait for the IDs to come in the mail. I’m imagining that’s 7-10 days. An ID costs about $17. We pay for those and take them to the BMV to get them.
Then you have to get a social security card. Fortunately they are free. But they are also mailed and take 7-10 days.
At the very earliest this young woman will get all her required IDs in 2 to 4 weeks.
Keep in mind I’ve helped people get birth certificates from other states that have taken as long as 6 weeks all by itself.
And Texas is the worst. They are incredibly protective of birth certificates. That process more often than not requires a lawyer to get involved.
So, if you believe the truth that I’m telling you that you need all 3 forms of identification to get into housing, you have to believe me that we are looking at anywhere from 2 weeks to several months of homelessness just to get on the list for housing.
The next thing I’d like you to do is call AMHA, Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority. Here is their number: 330-762-9631.
They will tell you that they have over 20,000 people on their waiting list to get into housing. Ask them how many months it takes a homeless veteran to get into housing. (Because it’s months. Not weeks or days. It’s months.)
Of the hundreds of people that have come through our doors I think maybe a half dozen have gotten housing through AMHA. It’s not that they aren’t awesome. They are just inundated with need.
The program we LOVE is Home Again. They are a rapid rehousing program.
Ironically, they make me send a letter for each person that enters their program confirming they live in a tent. You see in order to be part of Home Again you must either be staying in a shelter or a place not fit for human habitation… such as a tent.
If you spend one night on a friend’s couch you get thrown off the list.
They must have all forms of ID. But I’ve seen people get into housing in as little as 2 days.
But all the stars need to be aligned properly. You have to have income or have a solid plan for getting income soon.
Home Again pays the deposit and first month’s rent. But then the entire rent is on you.
If you can’t work and don’t have any other form of income then you are stuck.
A felon with a violence charge is a hot potato. It’s really hard for them to get work. And I’m not sure if you have ever talked to a homeless 18 year old woman with no diploma about her experience getting a job. But I can tell you she isn’t really qualified for anything, including fry cook at McDonald’s. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone without a high school diploma ever get a legitimate job.
I could go on and on. But I’m sure you have more to do today than read this letter.
I do, however, appreciate you reading it.
I’m not angry that you don’t understand the reality of what’s really happening on the ground of your city. There are a lot of moving parts. You can only focus on so many things.
I just ask you to consider this: Do you think it’s possible that a person could find it difficult to get into “healthy, stable, clean and safe housing?”
Because if you could imagine that it might be at least slightly difficult for one person to navigate that system, maybe you could imagine that it would be difficult for another person of whose circumstances you don’t understand having similar difficulties.
Most of these people are street smart. But they aren’t bureaucracy smart. These systems to help the homeless are made the way they are for a reason. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t incredibly challenging for a person trying to just stay alive while they are living on the street.
We can do better. We can fix homelessness.
All I ask is for you to consider the possibility that some people are homeless and can’t get into a house tonight or tomorrow night or the night after. They have to go somewhere.
Thanks again for reading. We’ll talk more.
P.S. If you’d ever like to see our facility I’d LOVE to show you around. Just call me on my cell phone: 330-416-7519