Dealing With Safety and Security at The Homeless Charity

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We are very new.

Even as an entrepreneur who is used to moving fast and pivoting quickly, things are moving faster than maybe anything I’ve ever dealt with before.

We started with The Second Chance Store when the Summit Metro Parks told 50 homeless men and women on January 7, 2017 to move out of their camps to make way for Freedom Trail.

(I love the Metro Parks and support their trail building. But I find the name of their trail, “Freedom Trail” a little ironic given this situation.)

So people started coming to our facility.

In 5 months we have built a Day Center, Tent City, Wood Working Shop, Raised Bed Gardens, Thrift Store and Food Distribution center.

It’s the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done in my life. I’m nearly obsessed with it.

But we often find that we are getting ahead of ourselves.

We are building the airplane in midair.

We have approximately 20 people living in 10 tents in our backyard and about 8 people living indoors. The indoor people are called The Crew. They fill jobs like:

  • Security
  • Administration
  • Overseeing cleaning and organization
  • Running the computer lab, woodworking shop and gardens

They are the leaders.

One of the interesting strategies we are testing is making the facility completely homeless run and operated.

We have no “professional” administrators or outside volunteers in any position of authority.

I make it a big point to not be the deciding factor on anything. I always am pushing decisions back to them.

That has been the best decision we’ve made so far.

These people have an invested interest in making The Homeless Charity be a place that is safe and valuable to the homeless that come here.

As long as the mission, vision and values are continually discussed and internalized, you can’t make a wrong decision.

Stability is the first thing we’re trying to provide. Then we try to offer our guests a platform where they can take their next step:

  • Quit drinking
  • Stop using drugs
  • Go to the doctor
  • Get a job
  • Learn a skill

Each person here has a different path. We’re trying to give them a place where they can move down that path a little bit further.

All that said, safety and security are foundational to our program.

If people aren’t safe and secure then nothing else matters. Stability can’t happen without safety.

This becomes an incredibly challenging balance.

We don’t want to become a prison. But we don’t want to become the Wild West either.

This is a daily process we are working through.

The first thing we did was create The Homeless Charity Code of Conduct. We are very careful to not just continue to throw endless rules at people.

The homeless are, by definition, outsiders. Many homeless that come to us have issues that make it difficult for them to exist in traditional society. So we are very conscious of being understanding of the mentality of an outsider.

But we also can’t let people run wild through the facility.

To address this we’ve developed a 3 Strike System.

If you violate the Code of Conduct 3 times you are kicked out for 30 days. If you come back and get another 3 strikes you are kicked out for 60 days. If it happens again you are permanently kicked out.

Unfortunately, we have people violating the Code of Conduct regularly. (That said, most people have never gotten a single strike.)

The positive side of that is that we have continual calls for people that want to get into our tent city. So we can quickly fill spots that become open.

We never ever accuse people that get kicked out as being bad or less than others. We simply see them as not ready for what we have to offer.

We’re trying to create something innovative here. We’re trying to be the next step in these people’s lives. We’re trying to be their “Second Chance”. Which is what we call our store. 

The reason for me writing this post today is because we had an interesting issue over the weekend.

We had a person who was given a third strike. (A woman who has a crack dealer looking for her.) She was asked to leave that night.

But the issue was that she was given her third strike based on a questionable infraction.

She was accused of stealing a vacuum.

Allegedly she had taken a vacuum that belonged to another guest and hid it in the area where she stays.

There are several extenuating circumstances to this accusation:

  1. No one saw her take it.
  2. There is a question as to whether the vacuum actually belonged to the other guest.
  3. It was under a tarp in an area where other items are being stored for our store and auctions.
  4. And then we have the whole being a woman with a crack dealer bounty on her head.

Paul, our director of services, and I talked. I advocated for this woman and said that the accusation seemed iffy. But I made it a clear point that I was not the deciding factor. I made Paul decide.

He chose to remove the strike. That meant she could stay.

This happened on Friday.

The problems with this decision were brought to me almost as soon as I walked in the door this morning. (I did get to go to the bathroom first which I was very thankful for.)

The problem is that this undermined the authority of our security people.

It also suggests that perhaps the rules don’t actually matter. That there is no real “Rule of Law” at our facility.

You should also know that we are extremely vigilant about adhering to traditional laws. We are very, very sensitive to our relationship with the police, fire and EMS. We want them to feel very welcome here and that we are great supporters of them.

So, all regular society laws are strictly enforced here.

But what happens when a strike is given for which the accused may be innocent?

So later today Paul and I will likely talk about this. I’m going to suggest that people can be given one appeal if they choose. The appeal process would possibly include the security officer who gave the strike, the defendant and then our director, Paul. Paul would then make the final decision.

I also feel like the safety of women and people under 18 needs to be a priority. I would like to see us have a transition solution for these people. So maybe we could try to get them into another facility and they wouldn’t have to be put on the street.

The larger problem with that is that these people that cause trouble are often kicked out of other facilities and programs as well. So it’s quite feasible that we would be forced to put them on the street because they have no other options.

It’s a difficult process. But it’s also extremely interesting and meaningful.

We have so many people in America that just want a safe place to put their tent. (I have to make a call right after this post letting a woman know that we don’t have space right now.)

If we can’t give people a place to put a tent in America then what can we do? This is the great American tragedy of the 21st Century.

The difficulties that come with creating this community are far outweighed by the opportunities we are giving to those Americans who have absolutely nothing.

It’s all worth it.

 

 


TAKE OUR 4 WEEK PANHANDLING CERTIFICATION COURSE.

Whether you are on the street. Whether you are out of work. Whether you would like a new skill.

Or if you’d just like to learn more about this controversial topic.

THIS CERTIFICATION COURSE IS FOR YOU!

Click here to learn more.


 

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