Homeless People are Dying Every Day: A Candlelight Vigil and an Excerpt from my Memoir.

Cities across America observe the annual National Homeless Persons Memorial Day on the day which has the shortest daylight hours. This year it was Friday, December 22. It is in memory of those who have died as a consequence of homelessness.

Led by The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, we met at Washington Park in Cincinnati on this evening for a candlelight vigil and remembrance, naming each person lost. No less than 109 Cincinnatians experiencing homelessness died during 2018.

Over 3 million people are without shelter each night, here in America. These statistics –numbers behind real people— are alarming. It is also unnecessary. For comparison sake, that is a close approximation to how many people live in Los Angeles. Picture that many people homeless!

Lack of affordable housing is one obstacle which pushes people to live on the streets. In Cincinnati, nearly 10,000 people lack a stable, permanent residence. These are individuals and families with children. These are hard-working adults who either go to work each day, yet don’t earn more than minimum wage, keeping them from affording housing. These are also hard-working adults who can work yet are currently unemployed; without money to afford housing.  

Here in Cincinnati, advocates are joining forces through grassroots efforts, lobbying, and educating the public, all with the ultimate goal to eradicate homelessness. Housing should be available and affordable to everyone.

Cincinnati is not alone in these problems and efforts to make a viable change. A YouTube channel, Invisible People, has an ongoing vlog which shows the personal stories of people all across America; people who either go to work or who are looking for work and who do not have a place to call home. They are living out of their cars, in tents on the streets, or in shelters one night at a time when available.

In my job at the public library in downtown Cincinnati, it seems at times that we are overrun with homeless persons who hang out in our lobbies. Often, I catch myself wondering why they don’t use our library’s resources to pull themselves up. Then, I stop myself from judging. Some are not only homeless but also mentally ill or suffering from substance abuse and addiction.

Residential treatment centers for those caught up in the unending cycle of homelessness and substance abuse are limited in their availability. And many treatment places are a for-profit business, with an expense which can bar people from seeking help. Those who are both homeless and mentally ill can easily be unaware of their risks on the streets. They too could be helped; even if moved into an assisted care home facility.

And I see that a few people do use our library computers and help from the tech center. Librarians make themselves available to help people learn how to use email, how to write a resume, how to complete an online job application, and so much more. With the influx of people experiencing homelessness who turn to our library for shelter during the daytime, it is my daily reminder of why I am grateful today and that it is up to me to build upon my life.


An excerpt from Chapter 22 of my memoir, “Out of Chaos”….

I moved into a boarding house in downtown [Klamath Falls] at a flat rate of $350 a month, with no move-in deposits and that month prorated. For a little more than one hundred dollars, I was in my seven-by-ten room to figure out my next move. It came furnished with a twin bed, the headboard at one wall and the foot of the bed butted up to my jimmy-rigged pantry shelf. The shared bathroom was right next door to me, so the toilet wasn’t far, but the shower-head sucked so I bathed in another floor’s bathroom.

The location was perfect. I could walk to the State Career Cen­ter or the public library in under ten minutes. A laundromat and my morning AA meeting were a little farther away, but doable. Fred Meyer’s was the nearest grocery store, which wasn’t so close. I became a regu­lar at the library where I checked out DVDs [for my seven-inch portable DVD player] so I could take a break from my Lost reruns.

Express [temporary employment services] finally called me one afternoon at 2:00. “Can you be on assignment at five?”

It was for two nights, dinner shifts, washing dishes at the hospital.

Mid-shift on the second night, the kitchen supervisor asked me to join him in his office. Even his office seemed bigger than my apartment. He grabbed a dish towel and wiped away a bead of sweat from his forehead where dreadlocks fell forward. His dark brown eyes captured my attention. He said, “Thank you for coming in on such short notice. Our regular guy is out sick, and we can’t go with­out a dishwasher.”

I said, “You’re welcome. I’m glad Express called me to help you.”

He tossed the dish cloth in a dirty rags bin. “Most people could care less about washing dishes.”

“It feels good to work,” I said.

“I see that,” he said as he sat down on his desk. “You’re handling those pots and pans without any complaining.”

“I’ve been looking everywhere for work. I’ve got a college de­gree, but I can’t even get a fast food place to hire me,” I said.

“Yeah, in this town, sometimes it’s a matter of knowing the right person. If you didn’t go to school here or aren’t in someone’s hood, then people don’t know you,” he said.

“Working tonight is a nice change from looking for work,” I said.

“Check in at our personnel office. I haven’t heard of any open­ings at all, but if there is something, they’ve got my word that you’re a good worker.”

“Thank you. I was in here last week, and a month ago. You all have a hiring freeze.”

He grabbed a binder and a pen and got up off his desk. As he walked me out of his office, he added, “Yeah, that’s the recession for you. Keep up the good work. I’ve got a meeting to catch.”

–end of excerpt–



Although it felt good to work those two nights, I still didn’t have a real job and no earthly idea how I was to come up with $350 for the following month’s rent. I was at risk for becoming homeless again.

For us as a community to connect with people who are at risk for, or are experiencing homelessness, our awareness of this issue and our preventive action will help in the fight to eradicate homelessness.

A few ways to make a difference:

*Contact nonprofit organizations in the community which raise awareness of homelessness. Many have events and fundraisers.

*Volunteer where you can, from soup kitchens to shelters.

*Donate. Community organizations which help the homeless most often accept monetary gifts, food, clothing, and hygiene items.

Being homeless is not only an uncomfortable situation, it is also risky. Many people die from lack of shelter. Here is a video recap of the candlelight vigil in observance of National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, 2018.

It was not the first year that my friend, Tommy and I participated. For those of you who have my book, “Out of Chaos: A Memoir,” this is the same Tommy from page 476; my acknowledgements.

Link here for my blog post, Homeless People are Dying Every Day — Remembering Them and Advocating for Change. (December 27, 2017).

Statistics from above were retrieved from https://cincihomeless.org/about/education/fact-sheet/

Resources:
Invisible People: a vlog documenting the lives of homeless persons across America.
Affordable Housing Advocates (Cincinnati)
The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless

Please share in the comments how you will make a difference today. Together we can strive to eradicate homelessness.

If you like what I post, please join my reading community by subscribing to get blog post updates. Link here.

-Elle-


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Dinner at a Soup Kitchen

Community means joy, laughter, and rejuvenation.
Community enables a reconnection to the world and  human spirits.

(Quote as narrated in video,
Security Dignity Community in
a Place Called Home at Tender Mercies
.)

Schools, churches, and community groups volunteer hundreds of meals and thousands of hours to the residents of Tender Mercies. It is a supportive and transitional housing environment, located in Over-the-Rhine on 12th Street, here in inner city Cincinnati.

Last Thursday, I joined friends to share dinner with these folks. A few of my friends got together ahead of time, cooking lasagna and preparing other dinner items. I left work early that day (using “vacation time”) to meet my friends in the kitchen at Tender Mercies.

We served dinner to about sixty folks. I recognized some folks who came through our dinner line, as folks who hang out at the public library where I work.

One gentleman resident, Cleo, was already a familiar and friendly face for me. On Wednesdays, I pass through “his” street corner, where he sells the Street Vibes, a bi-monthly informative newspaper about the homelessness plight in our community.

Each Wednesday, I buy a paper from him and in return he tells me a joke.

And each Wednesday, Cleo and I exchange a big friendly hug. Thursday evening, I got another hug out of him (smile).

 

 

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 ”Tender Mercies transforms the lives of homeless adults with mental illness by providing security, dignity, and community in a place they call home.” (Tender Mercies mission statement.)

Resources

Tender Mercies: If you are in our Cincinnati community and would like to know more; perhaps volunteer, visit Tender Mercies’ website.

Volunteer Needy: If you are in other parts of America and need a resource to point you where help is needed, this website is user friendly. It opens with a map of the United States—click on your state and from there, find out where to go and who to contact.
Link here for their directory. 

Please share in the comments your community experience. What is it like for you to share a meal with those in need?

If you like what I post, and haven’t yet subscribed to my newsletter, please do. Link here.

-Elle-

 

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“The Public”, my review of a film by Emilio Estevez

Last winter, the public library in downtown Cincinnati was all abuzz. That’s where Emilio Estevez spent many over-night hours—during the filming of “The Public.” A small ensemble cast joined Estevez, as well as many library employees—my coworkers. This public library is where I spend many days—in my job as a library page.

And last Thursday evening, I attended a private showing of this movie. It released January 31, 2018 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in California. It has yet to be found in box-office theaters.

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, who stars as a librarian, Mr. Stuart Goodson, it is loosely based on a true story and brings a comic relief with its true-to-life dramatization of the life of homeless folks and their daily reprieve in urban public libraries.

Emilio Estevez wrote its script based off a piece in the LA Times from April 1, 2007. That piece was aptly titled, “Written Off: A librarian’s days among the chronically homeless,” by Chip Ward, a librarian, and at the time of printing, recent past assistant library director of the Salt Lake City Public Library.

“The Public” is about more than just the plight of homelessness. It is about the role of librarians and other library workers who welcome all patrons into the library. It is about an awareness of this social issue and how two librarians (one played by Jena Malone and the other played by Estevez as Mr. Goodson) reacts. The story takes place overnight as the library is turned into a de facto shelter on an especially cold night in Cincinnati. Actor Alec Baldwin helps bring the movie to its climax, in his role as a crisis negotiator.

The personable and even at times, likeable characters can pull you in, but what is most fascinating to watch is the tension that builds when these characters are faced with their dilemma—leave the library when it closes for the night—at the risk of succumbing to freezing weather—or demand help from society.

These likeable characters, though, were almost stereotyped. The homeless folks who turned the library into a de facto shelter were entirely men. Where were the homeless women and families? Then again, families tend to be let into shelters before men are, provided there is room for them. And, as this film portrayed, many homeless men are mentally ill, incapable of changing their way of life.

I could relate to the frustration felt by these homeless men, even though I am not mentally ill. When the Red Cross helped me following an apartment building fire, their help was limited. When the recession hit hard, I was affected, unable to secure gainful employment, even with a college degree. When homeless back in the 1990s, social service agencies seemed tough to navigate.

I could also relate to our librarian in this film, Mr. Goodson. During the unfolding of this story-line, we come to learn more about this character—his history of personal problems and his corrective action to make good of his life, even by becoming a public servant despite his brushes with the law.

My bold truth, centering around my years of homelessness, brushes with the law, and other equally wrought problems are shared in my memoir, coming soon. Like Mr. Goodson, I took corrective action and like him, I too am today a public servant. While the character of Mr. Goodson is fiction, it felt real to me. It is much like my real story.

The ending to this film was a voice-over, saying, “It takes a miracle.” I say it takes action. Our country needs to talk about these topics, and if the push to get us there takes Emilio Estevez’s movie, so be it. This well-directed film about a topic not well-talked about in our day-to-day activities is a must see for all of us.

Resources:

LA Times, April 1, 2007. “Written off: A librarian’s days among the chronically homeless” by Chip Ward. http://articles.latimes.com/2007/apr/01/opinion/op-ward1

Trailer for  “The Public” (Click image, below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For a glimpse of my working day as a library page: (Click image).

 

 

 

 

 

In your day-to-day activities, are you affected by those experiencing homelessness? What are your thoughts on bringing this social problem to the forefront?

-Elle-

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Home

HOME FOR WOMEN IN NEED

Ahead are the front doors of The Esther Marie Hatton Center and Shelterhouse for Women. Rain is in the air on this overcast day. Two women are sitting at a table, talking, in the courtyard I pass by. They look up and smile. I smile back. Inside, more women are congregating. Some are in the computer room, which has see-through glass walls. Some are waiting for dinner, more than an hour away. This place is their home.

The place sparkles with cleanliness. After checking in with staff, I join my friends in the kitchen. Savory spaghetti sauce is simmering on the stove top. Two of my friends have their hands in a big bowl of hamburger meat mixed with onions and stuff. I wash my hands then dig in to help make meatballs.

 

DINNER AND MORE

 

Come dinner time, women residents line up at our kitchen counter, eager for their home-cooked meal. We made so much spaghetti that there was enough for seconds for everyone. These women, each in their own way thanked us with words of heart-felt gratitude.

I’m thankful that today I have a home and I know I can eat when I want to eat. I’m thankful they invited me into their home, letting me help them. You see, I haven’t always had what I have today.

 

A fact sheet on the website for Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition,  says nearly 6000 women in my community are homeless.

 

This shelterhouse encourages and empowers those without resources to move from homelessness and destitution to shelter and stability.

If only I had this place to come to when I was down on my luck. But, I wasn’t in Cincinnati then. I was out west and in a town that only helped men.

I survived my hard luck times by putting one foot in front of the other (literally, ending up here). Any resources I could get back then were invaluable. As my friends and I joined these women, as part of the Feed the Need Program, it gave me a means to give back.

More than just meals, this place does so much more. On an individual basis to sixty women, it offers a social support system and connection to community services. And housing assistance and aftercare services. Medical care, too are part of the services, provided by a community area clinic (Deaconess Health Check Clinic) and other supporting health professionals.

 

HOW TO HELP

 

Nationwide, there are no less than 4000 shelters. We have a lot of homeless people in America. Too many! A great resource for discovering where in your community could use a helping hand is the website for Homeless Shelter Directory.

From its front page, click on the map, picking out your state. From there you will be taken to a page which lists not only places in need, but also the contact details.

 

HOME

 

The sun is out. It’s the morning after helping out at The Esther Marie Hatton Center and Shelterhouse for Women. Spring is finally here. My drapes are open. Birds are feeding in the bird-feeders right outside a window on my bright yellow doll-house.

My pet finches chatter back when the outside birds cackle. We had scrambled eggs for breakfast—I spoil my finches—they love their egg casserole with a hint of honey and crumbled egg shells. Across the street is a lake. Ducks squawk, also happy its finally spring-time. -Elle-

 

RESOURCES

The Esther Marie Hatton Center and Shelterhouse for Women, Cincinnati.

Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition

Homeless Shelter Directory, a nation-wide resource.

What does home mean to you? Please share.

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Homeless People are Dying Every Day: Remembering Them and Advocating for Change

Over 500,000 people are without shelter each night, here in America. (More than a half-million!)

In memory of those who have died as a consequence of homelessness, cities across America observe National Homeless Persons Memorial Day on December 21, the day which has the shortest daylight hours.

The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, here in my greater Northern Kentucky community were among those who observed this event.

We met at Washington Park on this evening for a candlelight vigil and remembrance, naming each person lost.

A video recap, broken into three videos is at the end of this post. My friend, Tommy starts the Open Comments, singing his heart out. And when the camera zooms in on the last person during open comments–that’s me. So, for my heart-felt spoken thoughts on this terrible problem, see Video 3.

As for the raw and cold hard facts, here’s some awakening news:

Those of us who are securely settled in mainstream society, with an income, home, and family or other support network have it easy. We have resources to prevent problems and to fix difficulties. Whereas, those living in poverty, and especially homeless men, women, and children lack these resources.

Think about the last time you caught a miserable cold. For me, I bought cold medicine at the nearest drug store, and took sick time off from work, then snuggled into my warm house, cranking the heat a bit.

Then, my friend called me and said, “I hope you feel better, get some rest, and know I’m thinking of you.” At least I know my cold is only a cold and not something serious, because I recently had my preventive health check-up at the doctor’s office.

Think about the guy living on the cardboard box in downtown, or the family in a tent in the undeveloped land behind the mall. They have none of the privileges which I have. They are vulnerable to worsening health conditions, from a cold to the flu, infections, and contracting a contagious disease.

Substance abuse and alcoholism, mental illness, and post-traumatic stress (PTS) are additional factors, found predominately among homeless people because they lack access to resources and a support system of family or friends.

Aside from illness and disease, homeless people are at greater risk for other life threatening circumstances:

*Criminal behavior.  Some homeless people resort to theft or robbery to get what they need. This puts them at risk of the victim fighting back, resulting in injury or death.

*Rape.  Homeless people—and not only women—are vulnerable to human trafficking and sexual assault, leaving the victim physically and emotional traumatized.

*Violent crime.  Reasons abound, not limited to intolerance, aggressiveness, and cruelty, which find some homeless people attacked, stabbed, shot, or beaten up.

*Extreme weather conditions.  When without shelter, people are at a greater risk to succumb to hypothermia in overnight plummeting temperatures under a freezing snow fall. And are at risk to heat stroke and heart attacks when facing skyrocketing summer heat and humidity.

Many people die from illness, disease, injury, and violence, even though our country has resources which can save people from succumbing. Yet, to connect people to these resources involves awareness of the problem, preventive action, and community involvement.

 

*Contact nonprofit organizations in the community which raise awareness of homelessness and make a difference. Many have events and fundraisers to take part in.

 

*Volunteer where you can, from soup kitchens to shelters.

*Think of them when shopping. When you have a coupon for “buy one-get one free,” donate that freebie. When you buy your tube of toothpaste or package of socks, grab an extra one—donate these or hand it to a homeless person.

That toothpaste can help prevent tooth disease. Warm socks or gloves can make a life-or-death difference on a chilly night.

*Take a friend with you and walk the streets where homeless folks are prevalent. Talk to these people—get to know them as people—

and do what you can, whether it’s giving them a warm coat or clean dry socks, buying them a cup of coffee, letting them know where help is at, or offering to give them a ride to a free health clinic or a shelter.

Maybe, they need a bus ticket home to family—can you help? Listen to them, as each homeless person is an individual with individual needs. Offer help as they need it.

*Donate. Community organizations which help the homeless most often accept monetary gifts, food, clothing, and hygiene items.

Video Recap of vigil, held at Washington Park in Cincinnati on December 21, 2017 with the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Video courtesy of and retrieved from Scott Fantozzi.xxx

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Please share in the comments of how you will help save a life. This could help us become more aware of other ways each of us can help.
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