Manchester NH

Manchester NH

why are we "NH Under The Bridge"?

NH Under The Bridge is an organization founded on the principle that in order to end homelessness, people who are homeless must become an organized, effective voice for systemic change.

Our position is that if you lose your housing and chose to live in public spaces rather than go to shelter the police should not abuse your constitutional and human rights! We fight to end selective enforcement of Quality of Life regulations (we ask "Whose Quality of Life" is improved by moving homeless people from public spaces?)

It's not a homeless crisis - it's a housing crisis!

The city's best hope for reducing and preventing homelessness is a commitment to addressing the skyrocketing rents and general housing shortage that plagues NH and drives people by the thousands into homelessness. Yet at the same time as the homeless population continues to escalate, landlords and the city continue to keep buildings empty and gentrify our neighborhoods.

We are a citywide organization and our constituency includes homeless people living in shelters as well as those living on the streets and in other public places. We serve a broad population of people because homelessness cuts across all boundaries: race, ethnicity, culture, gender, family composition, age, sexual orientation, language, etc., but what all homeless people have in common as a community is extreme poverty and social stigmatization.

There are currently over 5000 people in the NH shelter system, In addition the 14.000 people who came forward to ask for help but found no room at the shelters. These numbers do not include street-dwelling homeless people, or the hundreds of families waiting for placement in a shelter, or the doubled-up households throughout the state that go uncounted.

Our outreach targets individuals from within the shelter system, as well as those who are unable/unwilling to live within it. We meet them on their turf and their terms.

NH Under The Bridge was founded on the principle that homeless people have civil and human rights regardless of our race, creed, color or economic status. NH Under The Bridge Was founded by homeless and formerly homeless people. We refuse to accept being neglected and we demand that our voices and experience are heard at all levels of decision-making that impact us.
We oppose the quality of life laws that criminalize homeless people in any form by the city, state and national governments. We work to change these laws and policies as well as to challenge the root causes of homelessness. Our strategies include grass roots organizing, direct action, and educating homeless people about their rights, public education, changing media stereotypes, and building relationships with allies.

"Under the bridge isn't just a place, It's a way of life some have to face cold and alone outside the fortunate can’t live life, cause they can't afford it. Under the bridge isn't a place, it's a feeling you get when you are all alone, no rescue in sight and The only thing on your mind is where you'll sleep tonight"-Jamie Kupchun 1999

about the project

Under The Bridge is self supporting through our own contributions and it survives on God's Providence, through your generosity. We are not a non-profit and do not give tax receipts. Nothing comes in that does not go out directly to the people in need. We dont need money, we need goods and food to distribute.

We can’t measure smiles; how many weeks it takes for someone to finally trust us and tell us their name.
Some get financially better off; they become employed, sober, or qualify for other programs.
Some get off the street,Some don’t. Some die.
We are not in charge of the final outcome but we are able to help along the way with a little compassion and a lot of understanding. Anyone can do what we do.It starts with a smile and a greeting.

We have found that one of the most important things you can offer is your time and friendship. We see the same people every day and make sure we know their name and begin to find out their story. That way we can find out what they need and want instead of having to guess what they could use. Each person is an individual, one may need new socks and someone else would need a toothbrush.
Your friendship is invaluable. Your experience, strength and hope is all you can offer at times, it is essential.

As homelessness continues to increase, so does the outrage of death on our streets. Having a permanent roof over one’s head, an adequate income and health care would greatly reduce the number who die homeless.
Having treatment programs with available drop-in beds would further facilitate the addict into recovery from the street, as is is not normal for a street person to be able to call for a bed daily, as is required now.

I Stand at the Door

By Sam Shoemaker (from the Oxford Group)

I stand by the door.
I neither go to far in, nor stay to far out.
The door is the most important door in the world -
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There is no use my going way inside and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where the door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it.
So I stand by the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for men to find that door - the door to God.
The most important thing that any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands
And put it on the latch - the latch that only clicks
And opens to the man's own touch.

Men die outside the door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter.
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live on the other side of it - live because they have not found it.

Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him.
So I stand by the door.

Go in great saints; go all the way in -
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics.
It is a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in.
Sometimes venture in a little farther,
But my place seems closer to the opening.
So I stand by the door.

There is another reason why I stand there.
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them;
For God is so very great and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia
And want to get out. 'Let me out!' they cry.
And the people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled.
For the old life, they have seen too much:
One taste of God and nothing but God will do any more.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.
The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving - preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door
But would like to run away. So for them too,
I stand by the door.

I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door.
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply and stay in too long
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him and know He is there,
But not so far from men as not to hear them,
And remember they are there too.

Where? Outside the door -
Thousands of them. Millions of them.
But - more important for me -
One of them, two of them, ten of them.
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
So I shall stand by the door and wait
For those who seek it.

'I had rather be a door-keeper
So I stand by the door.

Friday, December 12, 2008

9 years

outreach is a dance on their turf and their terms. So what were the terms in this case?
this gentleman is vietnam vet he never wanted to get a disability check, it was a dignity issue. He worked for Labor Ready the first few years out here, then when that fell away he started " canning" recycling to support himself, it was just enough for basic needs. He had little expenses living out in a tent.
He had offers to live in tent community with others, but liked his solitude; especially after his comrade (see story Cornflakes) of 8 years passed away this spring.
So this fall the vet turned 62 and decided it was time. His terms: early retirement which he was entitled because he had paid into the system.
I am happy to report that once he made the decision to ask for help, and we had him in the Social Security office, he became willing- that is the essential key- willingness.
He allowed me to gwet him to DHHS and recieve emergency food stamps and make applications for other services in which he is entitled. Then took him over to VA medical center and spent time with new homeless liasion, because he wants off the street and thinks he could get subsided housing.
In order to get there from here, he needs to go to detox and then to transitional program. He agreed.
Lisa Winn, Homeless Liasion for VAMC made a plan with him to go to Bedford for Detox then go to Harbor Homes in Nashua
Happy to say last night he was received into VA medical center in the middle of the ice storm. ( otherwise living in a tent on privite property where demolishion and construction is taking place)

Now comes the problems. Lisa says bring him in drunk and they will send him to detox immediately. She said bring him Friday morning so he can get medical clearence and then catch a shuttle.
He agrees.

then I get a call from Lisa, dont bring him Friday morning because the shuttle leaves at 7 am and he wont be ready for shuttle. Bring him thursday night.

So I go out to Vet's camp and give him news- he becomes confused and worries that plan wont happen, is he still willing to do whatever he needs to do, yes, but more worried now.

I was at VA for my own medical stuff on thursday morning and bumped into Jack C. Counselor and formerly in this job position. He told me that Harbor homes is full and has a waiting list. dont bring him in drunk, but rather as sober as possible because they wont put him on the shuttle. He also said they cant keep him overnight because VA is a clinic and not hospital so that I should ask that he stay in observation bed until shuttle on friday AM.

When I went to urgent care desk with Vet to get him checked in for medical clearence, the clerk otld me stories that I guy was shipped over to Nashua Harbor Homes and was stranded calling from the streets because no beds were available and VA detox sent him off there.

Questions, if programs are full, though there is thousands of dollars going to Vet Homelessness where is case management and if this guy ends up on a bus back to New Horizons because the system is broken, he will be dead on the street before too long, as he will return to his tent, in ill health and total loss of hope.

I will keep you posted.

Monday, December 1, 2008


The current foreclosure crisis is affecting the entire housing market, including rental properties. Dependent on their landlord to inform them of a foreclosure, renters are most at risk of being evicted with little notice. With lower incomes and fewer resources, their options after an eviction are often limited.

"Homeless rolls grow, worry local agencies"
Needs may be greater than resources
October 19, 2008
A lot of people are a paycheck away from becoming homeless, homeless advocates say. But John Patten wasn't.
After he lost his job, Patten received unemployment payments for 13 weeks. He had skills to fall back on - as a carpenter, electrician, plumber, machinist and automotive technician. He had a network of previous bosses and colleagues. The need to support his wife and their 3-year-old daughter gave him all the incentive he needed to look for work. It took several missed paychecks before Patten became homeless.
"When everything's stacked against you and you do whatever you possibly can, use every resource available to you, where do you go from there?" Patten said.
Patten, 30, is one of a growing number of the "newly homeless" in Concord and across the state. As the economy worsens, service providers and homeless advocates say they are seeing an influx of families facing foreclosures, evictions or unemployment who need services, often for the first time in their lives. As opposed to the "chronically homeless" who have lived without regular shelter for years and know how to use the system, the newly homeless can be left adrift, reliant on city and state services and struggling to navigate an unfamiliar network of resources. More and more often, they are families. And with winter coming, providers worry that their resources are quickly becoming inadequate to meet the need.
"The sad, sad, sad thing is that we don't have the capacity to help the number of folks that need it," said Maureen Beauregard, president of Families in Transition, which has 16 apartments with supportive services in Concord for those at risk of becoming homeless. "Unfortunately, people call Families in Transition, we say we don't have openings, perhaps you can go to a shelter or to the city. But all those services are overwhelmed." Families in trouble
Patten's descent into homelessness began with a default budget - one of many that voters across the state passed last spring in an attempt to stem rising taxes. For three years, Patten held a job in buildings and grounds for the Weare School District. As a supervisor, he earned $12.44 an hour, enough to rent a Weare apartment. His wife stayed home with their daughter.
Last spring, Patten's position was cut. He collected unemployment and looked for a job. "I looked everywhere," he said. "It went from good to okay to worse in a few months."
He worked as a grounds manager at the apartment complex where he lived until the complex was sold. He filled out more than 500 handwritten job applications and thousands more online. He contacted his former boss and others at the school district. He went to temp agencies. No one was hiring. "Now that the economy stinks, it's impossible to find any kind of decent employment," Patten said.
Although New Hampshire's unemployment rate remains below the national average - about 4.1 percent compared with 6.1 percent nationally - state experts say that those in the housing and automotive industries, like Patten, have been hit hardest.
Three months ago, Patten and his family moved into the Friends Emergency Shelter in Concord. "It was difficult," Patten said. "I never witnessed, never knew anyone in this type of situation. It was difficult to accept the fact that this was above and beyond my own control, not from bad choices."
Since then, Patten has found three jobs, paying $8 to $10 an hour - and lost them all, due to downsizing and budget cuts.
Many families face similarly difficult economic times, in Concord and statewide. Concord's human services department has seen applications jump by 15 percent over last year, and the average voucher issued has risen from $300 to nearly $350. About 90 percent of the department's assistance goes to rent, said Human Services Director Jacqueline Whatmough. "I've been here since 2001, and it's the worst I've seen by all accounts," she said.
The Friendly Kitchen, a Concord soup kitchen, used to feed an average of 65 people an evening. In recent months, the kitchen has served an average of 85 a night, said manager Jennifer Lombardo, including more families and young people. The food pantry at First Congregational Church has been serving more than 4,000 meals a month to more than 800 people - approximately double the rate of last year, according to the Rev. David Keller.
"The need at this level is increasing in ways that are alarming," Keller said. "The economy pushes downwards, and what happens to the people at the bottom? We used to say you're a paycheck away from being homeless. Now you're a flat tire away from being homeless."
Local shelters and service agencies are already seeing an increase in the number of people seeking help, as well as a change in the population.
Through June, the most recent data available, the state's homeless population has consistently been made up of about 32 percent families, according to Maureen Ryan, administrator of the state Bureau of Homeless and Housing Services.
But anecdotally, the number of families is growing. Often, these are single parents or large families facing foreclosure or eviction. In previous years, the state's homeless hotline, run by the Community Services Council of New Hampshire, averaged seven to 10 calls a day from individuals. Now it averages 10 calls a day, mostly from families.
Deziarae Lapierre, 20, who grew up in Franklin, comes from one of those families. Lapierre's mother is disabled and in debt, and gets $300 a month in disability payments. Lapierre's brother, who is in school, receives $99 a month in child support from his father. Lapierre has been looking for a job unsuccessfully since she graduated from high school. She lost her mother's Social Security benefits when she turned 18.
"That's not enough to feed three mouths, clothe them and take care of rent," Lapierre said.
About two months ago, she and her mother fought, and her mother kicked her out. She has been living in a tent ever since.
"I hope it gets better, but it's only a matter of time that people who are near homeless become homeless," Lapierre said.
Spike in foreclosures
Those who work with the homeless say that rising rents and increasing numbers of foreclosures and evictions are among the biggest problems. Joia Hughes, who runs homeless outreach programs for the Community Action Program for Belknap-Merrimack Counties, said she recently saw a family with six children facing foreclosure after their father lost his job. Sometimes, renters suffer from foreclosures too, when landlords can't pay the mortgage.
"There's a lack of affordable housing, and people are in apartments they can't afford," Hughes said. "When the economy starts to go down, they might have been scraping by, now they can't make ends meet."
Concord has seen 49 foreclosures between January and September, compared with just nine during that time in 2006, said city Finance Director Jim Howard. Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Concord averaged $1,036 as of April, according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority - a figure that has risen steadily since the mid-1990s.
Beauregard said it is the "worker bees," the people working in retail downtown or at the Steeplegate Mall, who are having trouble. "Even if rents go down to $800 a month, if you're making $20,000 a year, it's hard to pay $800 plus utilities," she said. "There's been a decline in the amount of (federal) housing subsidy that goes out to poorer families, and you really need subsidy to pay rent."
Rent has become the sticking point for William Rider, 31, a welder and painter who used to make up to $30 an hour. The last couple of years, Rider has found it tougher and tougher to find steady work. His skills, he said, "are not high demand" anymore. He has gone to Labor Ready, and has even filled out an application for McDonald's - to no avail. Six months ago, he gave up his $800 a month one-bedroom apartment and moved into a tent.
"You go from the best thing in the world to nothing, sitting in a soup kitchen," Rider said, eating dinner at The Friendly Kitchen.
Meanwhile, costs of food, gas and heating oil are also rising. Lapierre said her boyfriend's food stamps are not enough to get through the month.
Seeking shelter
Patten was lucky: Friends Emergency Shelter had a vacancy when he called. Pauline Lambert, 29, who lives in a tent in Concord, has been less fortunate.
"The shelters are full every time I call," Lambert said.
One shelter Lambert has called is the Edna McKenna House in Concord, which houses 21 single men and seven women. Shelter Director Lorrie Dale said she turns away five to 10 people a day, and women's beds are rarely available.
Dale said residents stay longer than they used to. "Three to six months is turning into six to nine months," Dale said.
Beth, 47, who works as a housekeeper, recalled the struggle she faced to get a bed at McKenna House. Dale would not let residents give their last names for fear of employment discrimination. Beth, who is from Sunapee, had been working at a pizza shop, and her boyfriend was a subcontractor. They were evicted after a dispute over a loan, sold all their possessions and used the money to buy tents. The weather got cold, the boyfriend was wanted for child support payments, and the couple got drunk and argued, she said.
Beth started looking for help, but "I got turned down by every shelter I called."
She ran to the Bradford police station Sept. 25. "The Bradford officer spent two hours looking on the internet," Beth said. "Other shelters had answering machines. They said refer back to the police department. He said 'Who do you think I am?' " Finally, at McKenna House, a person picked up and took Beth in.
The 37 state-sponsored shelters serve an average of 720 people a night, according to Ryan of the Bureau of Homeless and Housing Services. An information and referral specialist at the state's homeless hotline said last week that there were approximately five free beds in the state.
"We're already unable to find shelter beds anywhere," Whatmough said. "We're hearing from all kinds of people with emergencies, and this isn't even winter yet." If Whatmough cannot place a person in a shelter, the city must pay for a motel. For the past four fiscal years combined, Concord paid $237 in motel costs. This year, it paid $1,626 in the first quarter.
Keller said that even when beds become available, it may be difficult for residents of one city to move to a shelter elsewhere. "You've gone homeless in Concord, your doctor's in Concord, your job's in Concord, getting a shelter in Dover isn't really going to help you," Keller said.
The state's homeless hotline can refer people to resources, as can local welfare offices and the Community Action Program. A new revolving loan fund has been set up through the Bureau of Homeless and Housing Services to help provide first month's rent and a security deposit to those who are homeless and have an income.
Looking ahead
With winter coming, the biggest worries for many are heat and hot water. "Our concern is if utilities are shut off this winter," Hughes said. "You may have a home, but if you don't have heat or electricity, you really can't stay."
Although it is too early to know the impact of heating oil costs, Whatmough said that in fiscal year 2007, the Concord Human Services Department had just two requests for oil, with a delivery charge of under $250. In fiscal year 2008, which ended in June, the city got 15 requests, costing around $300 for delivery. This year, that same delivery will cost $560, she said. She also worries that the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable, will be embarrassed to apply for assistance even if they need it.
The service agencies themselves are also facing tighter budgets. Whatmough's budget for this year is $388,000, a $10,000 increase over last year. But she worries that it may not be enough - she spent 26.7 percent of her budget in the first quarter. If her budget runs out, she will have to dip into a city contingency fund.
Shelters such as McKenna House are being hurt because donors have been affected by the economy.
Ryan said that during the last recession, in 2001-'02, New Hampshire saw an 8 percent increase in residents using shelters. This year, she expects a similar or greater increase. And with a large budget deficit looming, she does not anticipate that additional state funding will be available for shelters.
For many, the emergency shelters at First Congregational Church and South Congregational Church in Concord are lifesavers. The shelters open in mid-December and can host 30 people a night, with more squeezed in if necessary. Most tend to be those who have been homeless for years, Keller said.
At Friends Emergency Shelter and McKenna House, residents do chores and community service and are given resources to help with apartment hunting or job hunting. At the church, Keller said, there are no support services or expectations for residents, just a warm place to sleep. Anyone is welcome - including those with substance abuse problems or mental illness. "We start with the premise we don't want anyone to die in the winter time outside," Keller said.
For newly homeless families, Keller said, the church may not be the best place. "If a family shows up, we're going to put them up for the night, then we'll get on the phone the next day to see whether there's a place more appropriate than crashing in a Sunday school room," he said.
For Patten, this story may have a happy ending. Tomorrow, he starts a new job doing building and grounds maintenance for the state liquor stores, at $11.85 an hour. When he gets his first paycheck in two weeks, he and his wife will start looking for an apartment. He hopes to reapply for some professional certifications. One day, when he has enough saved, he wants to buy his own home.
Patten is optimistic for himself, but he has little hope for the country's overall economic situation. "Everyone's trying to fight through it just to survive."
And Patten now knows other homeless people. He sees those in the shelter, struggling in the same way that he has. He worries about the others.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

returning IRAQ vets

saw a young guy downtown, just back from war. He had laptop and had made himself a dvd graphic pictures of what he had witnessed and put it to rap music. He was watching it in the park and showing others.
It saddened me. How is he going to return to his family.
I said, Hey guy you should really get rid of that thing, or you will wind up shooting yourself. He looked at me puzzled, as if to say, rid of it? these are my postcards.
told him about VA med center and counseling services available.
havent seen him around for a couple of weeks now, hope he is okay

Thursday, May 29, 2008

top 10 early warning signs that you have been living outdoors too long


10. You consider it "affordable housing" when you find a sale ontarps at the 98 cent Store.
9. You find you enjoy waiting in long lines. It's a great opportunityto get reacquainted with others who have been living outdoors toolong.
8. You finally get an apartment, you pitch a tent in your bedroom,first off. You don't consider buying light bulbs since you have aflashlight with batteries and a candle for backup. You remove thescreens from the windows.
7. You can't go anywhere without seeing someone you know or have goneto lunch with.
6.The cops no longer have to ask you for your ID.
5. You regularly pretend to be drunk when the paddywagon comes around, just for a place to stay for the night.
4. You don't need an address book because none of your friends havean address.
3. You don't check into the shelter anymore because you've already stayed there for their maximum two weeks this year (back before the rains started)
.2. Even though you don't do drugs or drink alcohol, you go to NAmeetings to qualify for transitional housing programs.
1. Sprinklerphobia

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

HoBo jungle no more

Historically, a site for resting the body, mind and spirit of travelers by rail,
"Homeward bound".
There between the railroad tracks and river they found comfort; companionship
They lit a barrel aflame to cook meager meals
warm their hands; hearts, after a day of labor
at odd jobs that no one else would do.

Tents and makeshift shacks would appear through the barren trees of autumn.
Mothers warn their kids to stay off the tracks away from hobo jungle,
My own mother's voice echoes.

In Years past Police wandered down looking for a man or runaway youth
checking ID of tramps.
Passing over the bridges in the dark, sounds of people
Just living, music from a guitar accompanied by a mouth harp,
a few good belly laughs and snoring.
In the distance a dog barks a train whistles.

Jungle people bound together through the wounds that brought them to the river.
A kind of baptismtakes place: The downward spiral from dreamers to bums.
Labeled by society they struggle:with condemnation of outsiders;
They struggle to keep hope alive,
searching beyond each new horizon closer to home.

As time passes"home"becomes no more than a word,
an image ofwhat once was, or should have been.
Now Home is where they lay their head.

A new word is introduced,"shelter" temporary!
Some stay, some return to the river fronts,
claustrophobic within the brick and cement walls
small windows that block out the star lit sky.

Now, Hobo Jungle is no more.
The romance of life on the side of the road or by the river is gone.
No more songs for "the king of the road".
The river still runs the seasons still change,
Train whistles can still be heard.

Police and city workers ravage the camps;
Havoc! Front loaders scoop little possessions one had;
thrown into dump trucksto be hauled away.
at the request of citizens
Who are bothered by your freedom?
The same freedomthat we all have Constitutionally!

And I wonder When will they come for me in my poverty?
Survivors us all the resilience and fortitudeof veterans of many wars.

Gone: the sounds of living
replaced by chants
protests of the poor for "equal protection under the law"
forced eviction; seizures
people hiding to survive.

a sleeping bag under a bridge still warm,
soldiers that never quite returned;
troubled youth that never had a chance
a rent increase a myriad of reasons
Outcasts but Citizens still!

Now "the haves" walk comfortably downtown to the city parks ;
the sounds of People living.
You'll still hear a mother tell her child to behave"Stop acting like a bum!"
Meanwhile the child playing with hers is living in a campground or lucky to have a shelter bed.

They come to visit the city during the day looking for affordable housing,
returning to their tent and campfire each night.
As time passes "home" becomes no more than a word,
an image of what once Was,
or should have been.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

William Viens 2-26-48 to 4-16-08

Oh it is hard hard to figure out a persons histroy before they became homeless. I have know Bill since 1989. He has always lived outside, mostly under the 293 overpass. This much I know. He was a marine and served in Vietnam. He was wounded in his heart and spirit and he drank to push away all his bad memories.
Through the years he had many health emergencies, 2 heart attacks and still he got cleaned up enough to get himself back under the bridge. He was sick and tired of this life. He asked me several times through the years if I came upon him and he was having a heart attack or was down for the count could I please just sit with him and let him go.
I asked him if he had a DPOA, who was his next of kin, he would say my siter, or my daughter but never gave up the names.
When he arrived at the hosptial his body tempature was 81 degrees. He was warmed and put on life support. He didnt make it, I was there honoring his last wish, sitting with him and letting him go. It was humbling and an honor to help a brother pass on to his spiritual path.

Here's to you Bill, may you find the peace that you sought for so long.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

She directs traffic downtown, everone knows her, but do they really?

Karen began directing traffic two years ago when she lost her housing. I have known her for about 7 years when she was serving as a peer advocate for manchester mental health. She had been working to open a day drop-in.
She is a compassionate person and has suffered muc, understands the issues of the people experiencing homelessness. She was great advocate.
She has a disability caleed aspeger syndome it is a form of autism. It effects her communication and social filters.
Previous to this she served as the director of the Sargent Museum in Manchester, that held relics of the native people in the area. Karen is mixed blood desended from Passamoquoddy tribe in Maine. She often says "how I can I be homeless on my own land?" The native tribes were here long before anyone and Karen holds the river and the city limits as part of her land.

Though Karen looks to be in her late 60's or early 70's with her white hair, she is a mere 59 years old.
In her career Karen served as the director of admissions at Lawrence Hosptial and also nursing assitant to a dentist.
there is so much more to Karens history, trauma she has expereinced and pains of her life, but she is a woman without supports in the community. Because she is one of our very visable homeless people have taken an interest in getting her off the street. Not becuase they want to help her but they want he to go away. One such person made the statement, "I want her to go away and I dont care where, because she frightens our tourists" Of course this person works for a a destination Manchester agency.
Karen is so well known in the community that she sleeps on the the steps of the police department, eeven during the day and the police pay her no mind. She has been beaten up, suffered extreme frostbite, now her hands have gray skin sluffing off from last winters bitter cold. Because of her advocacy for others it makes it difficult to stay at the shelter, she is very outspoken about the treatment of others, and they told her to leave for fear of her inciting a riot.
She has been outside far too much, the questions then become what is her quality of life and who gets to decide.
I asked Karen about medications to control her disorder and she refuses to go that route, complains she has already been pumped full of crap that caused her to have thyroid cancer and other serious illnesses.
I see only Karen the women that I know and care for, who was managing on some medication, who was housed and advocating for herself and others. Karen today directs traffic, screams at people, stand halfway into the street and when cars slow down thinking she wants to cross, she scrams at the and hit them with her coat or kicks the car. She has been assualted bu passer-bys and other homeless men. One could say she is a danger to herself, possibly others, but Karen simply wants the freedom to be free and live the way she wants.
In speaking with family members they said, unless she becomes gravely ill, she should be left alone to live as she wants.
The discussions from my college class with Dr. Flint keep coming into my mind, quality of life, who gets to decide?
Surely Karen could be institutionalized somewhere perhaps eventually be in a group home, but our system is broken and one cant get there from the street unless we cause her further trauma by having police pick her up in restraints, because I know Karen and she wont go willlingly. Then there will be the medical restraints, piles of medication.
In my culture, native, if we had Karen with us in a village, we would let her be just who she is, we would make sure she is fed, had warm safe place to sleep and allow her to live her life.
This culture ofgreed and materialism says Karen is a burden on society and want to rid us of her, then the programs that are set up as helpers cant help because she is not the right duck for their rows. They place her in the catagories of "chronically homeless" though she is not. How can she be homeless on her own land?

Monday, March 10, 2008

outreach report sunday March 9.08

Terry and I were joined by Marinane today. She is LPN interested in the welfare of people who dont have access to mainstream medical care. We spoke about triage, and the guidelines used by the National Health care for the Homeless Coalition.
It is always interesting for me to watch a new team member as they are introduced to the many people that we know. Sometimes the indivdual has no prior knowledge about what homelessness looks like, or where people live. When walking into camps, ( not always tents) the newcomer can be seen with expressions of surprise, compassion or grief. Sometimes they come from traditionl educational backgrounds and would ask questions like, " what wrong with her/him?" as if being poor isn't enough.

Some people join the team and find out the work is too much for them, perhaps as they think to themselves I am cold, or hungry and then how can I feel these things in the face of those who really understand cold. No hot showers to be had.

It was interesting day and we'll see if Marianne joins us again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

mental illness

Why is the mentally ill walking the streets?

The temperature last night was below freezing 18 or 20 degrees with wind chill making it 8 degrees below zero.
About 8pm a gentleman whom I have seen a few times walked into a location where I was at. He was wearing three coats, blue jeans and boots two sizes to big. He wore a dark colored ski hat pulled down his forehead shading his eyes. His hands were glove bare.
He quietly sat in a chair.
When we all stood to leave I noticed he had difficulty walking, his gate was off though he didn’t appear intoxicated.
I asked him if he was ill.
He didn’t respond.
I asked him if he was having trouble with his feet, thinking surely if he has been out in this he might have frostbite.
He pointed to his legs.
I asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital and he indicated yes.
I didn’t have my car that night and had driven over with my friend Karen, whom trained me in homeless outreach in 1998.
We put him in her car with great difficulty. He couldn’t figure out how to get his legs in first or sit and pull his legs in after. He turned his face away as he winced in pain.
I asked him if he was a veteran. He said yes, I asked if he wanted to go to VAMC, he shook his head NO. I asked if he wanted to go to CMC or Elliot hospital. He said Elliot Hospital so we drove to ER.

During the ride across the city he was non-verbal though Karen and I tried to engage him in conversation.
At the hospital he couldn’t or wouldn’t speak. Karen asked for his ID and it took a few minutes for him to process what was required, he began digging in his pocket. We explained to admissions staff why we brought him there.
He was so unsteady walking that they put him in a wheel chair and set him in the waiting room.

The wait was long as the room was full of folks suffering flu symptoms, the man next to us had been waiting 4 hours already. We settled in for a long night.
C sat in his chair hunched over shading his eyes from the light and stares of curious others.
Karen was going to walk over to Dunkin’s. She asked C if he wanted coffee. He nodded. She asked how he takes it, “Black” he answered softly.
She asked did he want a donut, “Chocolate” he said.
I went to the vending machines and got diet coke; caffeine being my friend late a night when I had to keep going.

Another man who I recognized from the street came in and sat down in the chairs across from us. I asked him if he had the flu. He said, “No, I’m just going to sit here and read for the night and stay warm. I can’t sleep at the shelter I saw fleas on the mats.” I explained to him that lice look like fleas in the adult stage and that he needed to check the seams of his clothing for larva stage white bugs. He was certainly scratching enough to indicate he might be infected. I suggested he check in for treatment while he was here.

C was called into nurse for preliminary medical assessment. She helped him take off his boots; again he winced and turned his face away.
She took his pulse in his feet. Then she took his blood pressure and temperature. She estimated his weight as 125 lbs. She held a picture chart of smiling faces to frowns and asked him his pain level. He pointed to a picture indicating 1-2 level pain.
She said “this doesn’t really help because these guys have such a high tolerance to pain they walk around with it all day and night and I can tell he is in pain.”
She rolled up his pant legs and looked at his legs.
Then we went back into waiting room.

At 11pm he was called into the back. The nurse told him that he needed to remove his lower clothing so they could look at his legs. She gave him a Johnny and I helped him pull his coats off. I was amazed of how heavy they were and couldn’t imagine the same weight across my shoulders all day and night.

The nurse pulled the curtain across. I was sitting in a chair on the other side of the curtain wondering how he was doing. I saw only his feet and then his hands beginning to struggle with his boot laces. I asked him if he needed help and he grunted.

I on one side of the curtain and he on the other; I reached underneath and unlaced his boots and he lifted his leg slightly so that I could also remove his socks. It was a humbling experience and my heart filled with compassion. This is someone’s loved one, but too whom does he belong? He is my neighbor, my brother.

I thought of a time when I found a wounded dog on the side of the road and when I touched his paws he whined. How I rushed him into the local vet and he was immediately treated and the police were called to help identify the owners. This doesn’t happen with people. They don’t call looking for whom they belong only to local homeless shelters to see if there is room.

The doctor came in to examine him. She said he had pulse in his feet and while he was cold there was no frostbite. He lifted his legs up when she asked and therefore she saw nothing wrong with him. She did not do any further tests. She asked where he had been sleeping and Karen told her that he has been outside. Check in for the shelter had already passed and C has no concept of time. The doctor then asked for the number to the shelter and asked one of the nurses to call.

The nurse came back to report “he could not go to the New Horizons shelter until he could come in and talk to his case manager.” The man can barely talk he has gone so far inside himself.

The streets are a mean place. People walk by the homeless and act as if they are invisible and finally one begins to believe that they are indeed invisible. I have seen many who want to shrink so far inside that no one can touch them. Like one of the Four Noble Truths on suffering “if you remove desire, you remove suffering”

But there is still suffering and too much of it. People are not animals and because of the reasoning mind one thinks that “there must be something wrong with me” If one is strong enough and get the right supports they can believe they are worth more, that they deserve care and help that they can move out of homelessness. But when the support is absent the victim has nothing else but to fend for him/herself the best way they know how and in this case to protect themselves by giving up; Stop asking, stop expecting, stop wanting, stop waiting, stop believing.

The doctor asked where C could go for the night if he couldn’t go into shelter. Karen and I responded in chorus, “nowhere but into the street.”
Doctor said, “Its freezing temps out there!”
I said, “Yes it is, but the shelter can ban people for life even if the behavior that got them kicked out is related to their disabilities. They have to make all the ducks fit in a row to maintain control.
She said, “C is not a duck! I will allow him to sleep in the waiting room for the night but he must leave in the morning with no trouble. And she explained to C that if there was any trouble that the nurse would call the police on him. I thought what possible trouble could a very cold non-verbal man in a wheelchair really cause?

She had him sign discharge papers.
They stated “Transient feet pain-Homeless” Dr. Nicola Dirito Herbert

History of medications - none
(Though he has receipts in his pocket from rite-aid pharmacy dated from December from Concord State hospital)


I noted that on his prescriptions he had NH Medicare program number which means that he may also have social security. As Medicare program typically comes when SSA has been approved. He may have a guardian who receives his disability checks but for some reason he is left in the streets.

We tucked him into a chair, got him some blankets and prayed for the best in the morning. It was 2AM when I got home.

The next morning I began calling social services about C. (how much money would I have to use if I were the client calling from a payphone?)

The first place I called was Manchester Mental Health Homeless outreach. I was told that the outreach position is currently empty. I asked if there was anyone else I could talk with and was passed to emergency services.

After explaining the night’s events, I was told that they knew him and that C must contact the office himself.

I called NH Dept of Behavioral Health and left a message for M. Young because the NH DHHS shelter rules that we advocates put so much into writing and getting passed in the law 2000, state that when a person is asked to leave a shelter it can only be for violence or a danger to themselves or others. The shelter must file a report with dept of Behavioral Health regarding whom and why a banning takes place. And they must provide help with alternative housing options including calling police for protective custody if need be.

I called the Homeless Hotline 1-800-852-3388 and the recording said “if you are experiencing homelessness or this is a homeless related issue please press one”.
I did and received another recording that said, “There is no one to take your call please leave your name and a call back number and we will get back to you as soon as we can.”

Since there is an outreach worker for Southern NH Services, whom I know I called his office. I was told that Pat Carney is no longer in SNHS and the gal gave me a different number.

I called the number and it was not valid.

I heard rumor last week that Pat moved to Latin American Center and called there. I was told yes, but he is not here please leave a message. I asked if she could page him and she said no but he periodically picks up his messages.

It is now midnight; I have no idea where C. is and I answering machine at home and I have no gotten any calls from Pat.

I sent this post out as email to every continuim of care homeless provider in manchester. Its been over a week and I still havent heard from the official outreach person, but I did get email back from the executive director of the NH Coalition to end Homelessness (

"Cindy, I don't know what to say. The system is so broken. Its like calling 911 and being put on hold. Marriane Savarese said that the fact that we have chronically homless is basically society saying that we don't care about those with mental illness. I sadly agree. Keith"

Saturday, February 9, 2008

In Memorial -Steven Aliberti

Homeless man loses battle with alcoholism
Family says he was devoted to his son
Feb 9, 2008

Steven Aliberti seemed to know he didn't have long to live.
His body was deteriorating, damaged by a decades-long battle with alcoholism and other illnesses. Homelessness was a further strain: For about seven years, Aliberti spent his days and nights outside, punctuated by occasional stays in jail and, when the temperature dipped, visits to First Congregational Church's emergency cold weather shelter. "He must have known he was really bad off," said Brenda Aliberti, Aliberti's ex-wife.
The morning of Jan. 26, Aliberti was found lying in the snow near a site frequented by Concord's homeless. Suffering from severe hypothermia, Aliberti, 52, spent several days in Concord Hospital's intensive care unit before dying Jan. 30, said David Keller, the pastor of First Congregational Church, where Aliberti had been sleeping.
Several days after arriving at the hospital, Aliberti's body seemed to begin shutting down, and he was placed on life support, Keller said. It's unclear how long Aliberti was lying in the snow before he was discovered.
Since First Congregational Church began opening its doors to Concord's homeless during the coldest months, Keller has presided over several funerals for shelter guests. Like Aliberti, there have been other men who died in middle age, often after years without a stable home. Aliberti's memorial service will take place this afternoon, at the church where he spent so many nights.
"We're just not ready," Brenda Aliberti said. "He kept making it through the winters, so we had hope."
Aliberti's years of homelessness belied his family ties. Unlike other shelter guests, Aliberti had a network of relatives and friends, several of whom lived in Concord. He doted on his and Brenda Aliberti's 10-year-old son; before becoming too ill, he took his son swimming and bike riding. After Brenda Aliberti helped her former husband purchase a cell phone, he called almost daily, she said. She repeatedly attempted to find him an apartment, making calls to landlords. When he went too long without checking in, she went searching.
"He had a family that continuously reached out to him," Keller said. "It's not a lost person. It's a person with a family and with connections and with love." Shortly before Aliberti's death, he spent time with his father and stepmother, who visited from Vermont, Keller said. Shelter volunteers and hospital workers also attempted to help.
Despite those links, Aliberti never managed to break free of his addiction. He drank heavily, imperiling his health, those who knew him said. Living without a home in Concord, he was surrounded by other drinkers.
"It's very hard for people to understand how overwhelming this illness is, especially if you're homeless and you have no hope," Keller said. "It's your coping mechanism."
Attempts to recover
But Aliberti's is also a story of attempted recovery, and the hurdles facing those seeking treatment. Just before his death, Aliberti made two attempts to enter a treatment facility, only to find that there were no open beds, Keller said.
On one occasion, employees at Concord Hospital helped Aliberti search for a treatment center opening - before they found one, however, Aliberti was discharged from the hospital, and he started drinking again shortly after, Keller said. After that first attempt, shelter workers helped Aliberti make more calls.
"I really believe that Steve was making as best of an attempt that he could to get sober, but (there was) no doubt that his addiction had gotten the best of him," Keller said. "But that's not to say he didn't want it," Keller added, referring to treatment.
The state contracts with six crisis sites in the state, where those addicted to alcohol or drugs can go for residential non-medical detoxification and counseling. The six sites provide a total of 54 beds, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Waiting lists are common, according to those who work with the homeless. To find an open bed, those seeking treatment need to call the crisis sites daily. Unlike private facilities, these centers admit patients regardless of their ability to pay.
"I know there aren't enough beds," said Keith Kuenning, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness. "Here you are, a homeless individual with no internet access, no phone, and you're supposed to make a daily phone call.
"The thing that's upsetting about this is that we know how to help these people," added Kuenning, who advocates the creation of permanent housing for the homeless, which make counseling and other support services available.
Stay-at-home dad
Alcohol didn't always hold such sway over Aliberti, who was born in New Haven, Conn.
He worked off and on as a mechanic before injuring himself, his former wife said. When he and Brenda Aliberti met a dozen years ago, he was a recovering alcoholic devoted to his treatment program. The first year of their son's life, it was Steven Aliberti - who had recently undergone a knee replacement - who stayed home to care for him. When Brenda Aliberti returned home at the end of the day, Aliberti would have the whole house clean, she said.
But when their son, Robert, was a toddler, Aliberti relapsed. His former wife suspects that a medication he was taking for Hepatitis C, which he likely contracted during a blood transfusion decades ago, may have harmed him. Depression is one possible side effect of the drug, called interferon.
Aliberti's drinking occasionally led to violence. Several years later, the couple divorced.
After Aliberti moved out of their Concord home, "he was never able to really get himself up again," Brenda Aliberti said.
Although Brenda Aliberti said that, "we begged him to get an apartment," Aliberti remained on the streets. He loved the outdoors; as long as the weather wasn't too cold, "it didn't really bother him," she said. From time to time, he was picked up for small thefts, including a 30-pack of Coors Light on one occasion and $60 worth of beer and wine on another, according to news reports. He spent time in jail.
When Brenda Aliberti tried to find him a room or an apartment, Aliberti told her that he was scared of the responsibility. He began frequenting the shelter at First Church several years ago, and became a regular guest again this winter, after spending time at the Red Roof Inn in Loudon, Keller said.
There were sober stretches - he spent time in a treatment program, and he couldn't drink while in jail. Brenda Aliberti wouldn't allow drinking in her home. Illness would send him to the hospital, and Aliberti would be temporarily sober.
"He was always trying to change through the years," Brenda Aliberti said.
But as Aliberti aged, his health declined. Apart from alcoholism, he had trouble with his blood pressure and other ailments, such as frostbite, according to his former wife. After being released from jail this winter, Aliberti was beginning to say that, "I'm too sick; I don't see a way out for myself," Keller said. "People were imploring him to believe that there really was a future for him."
Even as Aliberti felt increasingly ill, he helped family and friends, sharing money from his Social Security checks and, when he had it, alcohol, Brenda Aliberti said. "He would rather give and have everyone be happy," she said. Keller also knew Aliberti to have a reputation for buying things for others, even though he had little money for himself.
"He was very grateful and very respectful," Keller said. Aliberti was also a "person of profound faith," the sort of man who carried a Bible, Keller said.
Throughout, Aliberti's family and friends knew that, "Robert was who Steve lived for," Keller said.
Aliberti "really thought highly of his boy," said Charles, a friend of Aliberti's who is also homeless, and didn't want to give his last name. "He had some really nice sides to him."
For Aliberti, this winter brought frequent visits to the hospital; Keller estimates he was admitted three or four times in January. On one occasion, hospital employees helped refer him to a detoxification site, but there were no available beds. On another occasion, shelter workers took Aliberti to the hospital.
Aliberti didn't show up at the shelter the night of Jan. 25. The next morning, another shelter guest found Aliberti in the snow, Keller said. According to several people, Aliberti was discovered near Stickney Avenue. He was rushed to Concord Hospital.
"He was just a very caring, loving person," Brenda Aliberti said. "And it's very sad that he has to have this disease of alcoholism."
A memorial service will take place today at 2:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in Concord. Memorial donations may be made to the church, which is located at 177 North Main St., Concord, New Hampshire.
------ End of article

Sunday, February 3, 2008

job wahoo

one of our guys that has been living in a tent all winter with his wife, got himself a job as a mechanic for the cab company. looks like the might be housed by spring, god willing.

I went to the drop-in center as I found it was open for football today. There in the back corner of the room was S. He was sitting at a table all by himself. I asked him how he was feeling and he said he has been a bit sick. I know there is a little bug going around so I asked him if he went in to see the nurse to get some medication. He said, " the only thing that is wrong with me is I drink too much."
Okay, we finally got to the place that he needed to reach. Admitting.
I told him there is another way.
He said he knows all about AA his father had many years sober.
Good that hurdle passed.
I asked him if he was willing to go to any lengths to stop drinking and he said yes.
We drove to the hospital and brought him to ER for accessment.
Before I left him I told him I was an alcoholic in recovery and that as he sits there waiting and his alcohol levels drop he will have physical cravings. It is at the point that he needs to decide if he is sick and tired of being sick and tired.
I also told him that if he left the hospital that it wouldnt mean that I wouldn't stop talking to him, because I am an alcoholic and I understand.
Now I am not saying these things to boast I am telling you that outreach works when it is done by peers rather than professionals. Preofessional counselors have learned to keep their distance, bounderies in tact so they dont talk about their lives or how similar they are to other people.
But by developing relationships with people, through mutual interests and likes just like you would with an acquaintence, we break down the barrier between us and them.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

corn flakes

Outreach today Jan 26th

B. is vetnam vet and former cop. He's been outside for a as long as I have been doing outreach. He's one of the guys that you see collecting cans for recycling. He wasnt born homeless war sometimes makes people not be able to recover from their wounds in their heads and souls.

Had a conversation today about food. He said he got some MRE's from a food pantry.
"it was real good, meatloaf and potatoes, not like C- rations in vietnam."

Then he said, I miss corn flakes. I nice bowl of flakes with milk.

People who live in homeless situations often get canned goods, an other non-perishables. Sometimes a good loaf of bread or other day old pastry. But how simple is teh dream of a bowl of corn flakes with milk.

B. has a court date in manchester district court on feb 14th 8:15 if you are interested in how manchester treats people experiencing homelessness, come on over as we have ACLU attorney for B at this point as they disregarded a finacial affidavit he signed saying he is unable to pay court "fees" and theymade him go to jail for 4 days paying $50 a day with his body. This is against the supreme court order that you cannot jail someone who has the inability to pay, " only if they are able to pay and are willfully avoiding payment."
He has done anything to hurt anyone, only slept outside for the last 10 years, he got criminal tresspass for sleeping under the 293 ramp.
this is how we treat our veterans.

outreach crew

the current UTB crew

Ben, newly sober, newly housed and highly spiritual, he believes that all people are children of God and deserving of shelter, safety, security, medical and food.
It is amazing to watch him interact with his peers and watch him grow in the process.

Paul, has been clean and sober almost a decade. He states that he is alcoholic and heroin addict. While he was never homeless in his life, he has had his share of challenges. He says he is looking for his sense of prupose.
He once owned an apartment building, though he lost it as a result of his addictions. He now lives in a small over-priced apartment and works daily to maintain his housing and his serenity.
When he first went out to the homeless camps he remarked " its like when I was a kid and I needed to isolate from my crazy family, the difference is when I got sick of being out there, I went back home"


Terry, has been clean and sober for over two years and believes that by working at a grassroots level, great things will and do happen. He feels a connection to our homeless brothers and sisters and hopes to be able to make a difference in their lives and grow even more spiritually.

Samatha is a college student from UNH she joined us in spring 2008 because she needed 15 hours of community service, she is long done her hours. She stated that working with the people is like caring for her granparents and and other relatives, and she was wholehearted saddened when a man she had developed a friendly relationship died that summer.
she says, ignorance was never really bliss, but now there is no going back.
We love her youthful enthusiasim.

Joe started out in the street right where he is serving now. He has a year and more of sobriety. He said he could easily romantize that it was like on the street, hot days and hard times in apartment, could make him think of the coolness by the river, but by attending to peers he not only keeps himself sober but he is a role model for others who knew him before.

Others come and join us on a drop by basis

and then there's me learning that consistency is essential to building trust.

death on the street

Our friend Joe was a diabetic Christian man who lived outside for the past 10 years. He found that he wasnt comfortable at the shelter because people used profanity. When I first met him he told me if I wanted to know who he was I would have to read the book of Job from the bible. He read the New Testament everyday and at Homeless Memorial Day vigils he sang "Amazing Grace"like an angel.

I wish that his story ended the way of Job when God returned him to renewal and prosperity. "And Job died being old and full of days" I do not know the ways of God, perhaps Joe lived to teach us compassion.

Joe was found in his camp, passed away on May 24th, 2008.
This picture was taken the year he went with us to "Gimme Shelter" a sleepout on the NH Statehouse.

The figures behind him are a visual representation of the persons who had already passed away in NH while homeless.

'Word was he died on the street'
Homeless to honor their friend 'Razor'
October 21, 2008
Monitor file Raymond “Razor” Luoma, who was homeless, died last week. He was well-known to other homeless people in Concord.

The homeless community will remember one of their own, Raymond "Razor" Luoma, at an event Friday night.
Luoma, 50, died last week. "The word was he died on the street," said the Rev. David Keller, pastor of First Congregational Church in Concord, which houses a winter shelter where Luoma had stayed.
The Monitor profiled Luoma last year. He had been homeless for most of his life. Keller said Luoma was a survivor of Eastern equine encephalitis and had been interviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "He wore that like a badge," Keller said. "He thought he was some kind of stuff for having CDC researchers talk to him."
He is survived by two daughters, a brother and a sister. A graveside service will be held at 11 a.m. today at Maple Grove Cemetery in Concord.
The American Friends Service Committee will include a memorial to Razor in its annual program Give Me Shelter, which will be held Friday night. The program will include a group of mostly high school and college students sleeping outside to dramatize the plight of the state's homeless population, said Arnie Alpert, the state's program coordinator for the AFSC. The group will set up about 4 p.m. in front of the State House, then will go to the Friendly Kitchen for dinner and return to the State House Plaza for a discussion that will include people


Photo By Preston Heller

Structural Causes of Homelessness

Structural Causes of Homelessness

Betty Reid Mandell
ALTHOUGH THERE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN some homeless people, their numbers increased dramatically during the Reagan Administration. The federal government cut back on building houses and subsidizing housing for low-income people as well as social assistance programs. Urban renewal and gentrification forced people out of low-rent housing, and wages declined with deindustrialization and outsourcing. Cities used land use policies to help corporations and real estate interests squeeze out the poor.

Even with low wages, many poor people could afford housing if they had access to government-subsidized public housing. However, the federal government has been cutting back on building housing and providing subsidies for housing since the early 1980s. There is a 5-year waiting list for Section 8 vouchers even in special circumstances such as disability or veterans, and no more are being given out. The federal government chose to subsidize private housing for poor people through Section 8 vouchers rather than build housing because it did not want to interfere with private real estate interests. Real estate interests have decimated rent control in most cities, as rents continue to rise beyond the ability of low-income people, and even middle-income people, to pay them.

Many homeless individuals will not go to a homeless shelter because they are crowded and dangerous. If there is no place to store belongings, they often are stolen. Some of the residents have emotional problems which are exacerbated, or caused by, their homelessness. To avoid these dangerous conditions, some people sleep in the streets, in parks, in their cars, RVs, or in train or bus stations. Some live in tents in the woods or build temporary shelters in out-of-the-way spaces in the city, which are often torn down by the city. Some homeless people prefer the freedom and privacy they have in their own encampments to rigidly controlled shelters.

Shelter programs are shaped by prevailing views of the poor, who are considered to be generally inadequate and incompetent and in need of reform.

In "A Roof Over my Head," Jean Calterone Williams expresses this well:
"By making many aspects of their programs mandatory . . . shelters give the impression that homeless people will not take the initiative on their own to look for work or housing, enroll their children in school, or keep their living spaces clean. They must be forced to do so. By mandating budgeting classes, shelters suggest that people become homeless in part because they are irresponsible with their money. It is in a sense a symbiotic relationship: shelter programs influence the ways housed people think about homelessness, the views of the housed public -- whether ordinary citizens or policymakers -- affect the formation of shelter programs and how such programs treat homeless people."

I AM BEMUSED by announcements that come over the radio from time to time by foundations or institutes saying they are studying the causes of homelessness and seeking cures.

In fact, the causes are quite simple and have been studied quite enough. Homelessness is caused by poverty, insufficient affordable housing and insufficient money to pay for housing, and a weak or nonexistent safety net of income maintenance and support services.

It is true that many of the homeless are alcoholics or drug addicts, but they need a home while they are coping with their problem, and they need treatment programs, and both are in short supply.

It is also true that many of the homeless have emotional problems. Who wouldn't have emotional problems if they were homeless? But they need a home while they are coping with their problems and they need support services. Both are in short supply.

A disproportionate number of foster children who have "aged out" of the foster care system are homeless.

A disproportionate number of veterans are homeless. It is the fault of the government that they are in this condition, but the government has deserted them.

A large percentage of homeless women have been abused. While they may need a temporary refuge to escape the abuser and counseling to help them heal, they also need permanent housing, childcare, a job that pays a living wage, and social supports.

The focus on individual problems shifts attention away from structural problems and obscures the real causes of homelessness. It leads to stereotyping of homeless people as deviant and degenerate, drunk or drugged, or crazy. When these stereotypes are embedded in people's minds, they view every beggar as a scammer.

Stereotyping leads to criminalizing the homeless, allowing cities to sweep them from the streets. It gives implicit permission to delinquent thugs to beat them up.

Stereotyping leads to ever-changing policies geared to fixing different target sub-populations of homeless people. There are "periodic calls for local homeless plans based upon the newest policy flavor (and) temporary and local responses to homelessness that fail to address its systemic causes."

"New words on the horizon, Shelter plus Care. Transitional Housing, Permanent supportive housing, work force housing. These words devalue people though they may get grant monies for them. They imply that the people need to be fixed and that the latter workforce housing, is the better deal for a community." Cindy Carlson

The public stereotypes become internalized by the homeless, causing them to try to distance themselves from the "undeserving Other," however they visualize the "Other."

I met many people in the welfare office who told me that they were "not like those others" who are lazy and don't want to work. I told one woman that what might look like laziness is actually depression, and she admitted that she was depressed.

Homeless men resist being categorized as "homeless" because that conjures up the image of a drunken bum.

Homeless women resist being categorized as "homeless" because that conjures up the image of a crazy disheveled "bag lady."

Battered women resist being described as "battered," preferring to see themselves as "survivors."

There is a hierarchy of deserving vs. undeserving in the public's mind. Battered women are seen as deserving because they are victims. Parents and children are more deserving than single men because children are innocent victims.

Homeless men are the least deserving, because they should be working. These images of the homeless help to shape the way shelters treat their residents and the way the residents view themselves.

Even though many women who have been victims of domestic violence are not in battered women's shelters, the women in battered women's shelters often see themselves as superior to homeless women in family shelters.

I end with this

In the book Poor peoples movements Piven and Cloward conclude:
One can never predict with certainty when the "heavings and rumblings of the social foundations" will force up large-scale defiance, although changes of great magnitude were at work. Who, after all, could have predicted the extraordinary mobilization of black people beginning in 1955? Nor can one calculate with certainty the responses of elites to mass disruption. There are no blueprints to guide movements of the poor. But if organizers and leaders want to help those movements emerge, they must always proceed as if protest were possible. They may fail. The time may not the right. But then, they may sometimes succeed.

lost and found

lost and found
joe and Razor dearly missed

Illegal to be homeless-we made the list
Meanest Cities

1. Little Rock, Arkansas
11. Sarasota, Florida
2. Atlanta, Georgia
12. Key West, Florida
3. Cincinnati, Ohio
13. Nashville, Tennessee
4. Las Vegas, Nevada
14. Berkeley, California
5. Gainesville, Florida
15. Dallas, Texas
6. New York City, New York
16. Fresno, California
7. Los Angeles, California
17. San Antonio, Texas
8. San Francisco, California
18. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
9. Honolulu, Hawaii
19. St. Paul, Minnesota
10. Austin, Texas
20. Manchester, New Hampshire

The Criminalization of the Homeless-Homes Not Jails

The civil rights of people experiencing homelessness are continually violated, whether it be by endangering their right to vote, by hate crimes committed against them, by denying children in homeless situations an equal right to education, and even by unjust laws making it illegal to be homeless. NCH is concerned about this illegal disenfranchisement of people experiencing homelessness, and the Civil Rights Project exists to protect the civil rights of people in homeless situations.

July 6, 2004 Union Leader Newspaper
Ex-homeless Mom named to state post

A local advocate for the homeless has been selected to serve as the state field coordintor for the National Coalition for the Homeless Civil Rights Organizing Project...The organizing Project seeks to stop policies and practices that discriminate against the homeless."

And so the work continues.

Manchester's City Ordinances Arbitrarily Used against Person’s Experiencing Homelessness

(B) Exemption: This section shall not apply to the area of a sidewalk encumbered by resturants

Public Urination

NH RSA 645:1, III
Indecent Exposure and Lewdness
Charged as a sex offender

CHAPTER 47 POWERS OF CITY COUNCILS Bylaws and Ordinances Section 47:17
47:17 Bylaws and Ordinances. – The city councils shall have power to make all such salutary and needful bylaws as towns and the police officers of towns and engineers or firewards by law have power to make and to annex penalties, not exceeding $1,000, for the breach thereof; and may make, establish, publish, alter, modify, amend and repeal ordinances, rules, regulations, and bylaws for the following purposes: I. IN GENERAL. To carry into effect all the powers by law vested in the city….XIII. VAGRANTS, OBSCENE CONDUCT. To restrain and punish vagrants, mendicants, street beggars, strolling musicians, and common prostitutes, and all kinds of immoral and obscene conduct, and to regulate the times and places of bathing and swimming in the canals, rivers and other waters of the city, and the clothing to be worn by bathers and swimmers…

Everyday people experienceing homelessness are ticketed for doing things outside that they would not have to do if they lived in their own homes.


Lawmaker wants to outlaw public peeing
Published: October 01, 2007
By The Associated PressCONCORD – A New Hampshire lawmaker says peeing in public exposes a flaw in the law.
Strange as it sounds, Democratic Rep. Stephen Shurtleff says making public urination a separate crime could really help people out.
Currently, there is no state law specifically addressing public urination; it's prosecuted under a patchwork of local and state laws, indecent exposure among them.
Shurtleff says because indecent exposure is a sex offense, multiple convictions could land habitual public urinators on a sex offender registry, a penalty he feels is too severe for the crime.
"I think some of the stigma attached to that is greater than the offense," he said. "It's public urination, and they should be charged with it."
As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Shurtleff, of Concord, is working to rewrite New Hampshire's sex offender laws to comply with a new federal law. Under federal law, those convicted of indecent exposure twice in three years would be forced to register as sex offenders.
Shurtleff said he will push for a law making public urination a misdemeanor.

NH has acute shortage of housing stock 2009
NH has an acute shortage of housing stock, especially of housing (both for home ownership and for rental) affordable to households earning less than area median income. In the past decade we have built fewer than 900 new multifamily units, and some of those have been luxury apartments.
Rents in the southern half of the state have increased as much as 37% over the last 5 years. The state median rent is $978/month, and over $1000 per month in Manchester, Nashua and Portsmouth.
Based on projections from the NH Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, 65% of new jobs will pay less than the state level "housing wage" of $18.81, the amount needed to afford a typical apartment.
6553 people were sheltered in NH's emergency shelters in FY03, but 13,529 were turned away because there were no available beds. That doesn't count the number of people doubled up with friends or family.

Because of HUD cuts in funding, the NH Housing Finance Authority, among others, have closed their waiting lists for Section 8 Housing Vouchers and will not be able to issue any new vouchers for the foreseeable future. This means that low income families do not have access to subsidies for their rent. where do they go now?
Because land cost and construction costs are so high in most of the state, new construction of affordable housing can generally only be done using various federally funded housing production programs (Low Income Housing Tax Credits, HOPE VI, Rural Housing, project based Section 8, etc.)