How do we treat people who are experiencing homelessness?
By Lisa Fulmer
I recently attended a community conversation about homelessness here in Contra Costa County. It was a very informative and inspiring event that the Concord Library hosts each November for Homelessness Awareness Month. In addition to learning about county services, we heard about the various programs offered by Shelter, Inc. There were members of the City of Concord staff and council on hand to answer questions and address concerns as well.
Perhaps the most eye-opening part of the panel presentation came from John Warden, a man originally from Lafayette who was homeless for a few years. John shared his experience and the circumstances that led to a life on the street. He spoke about the harsh realities of homelessness and offered great advice to help us to shift our perspective and treat people who are homeless with more compassion and respect.
The conversation definitely got me thinking more about how a community of people can come together as equal partners, regardless of who is or isn’t living under a roof, to solve a problem like homelessness. It’s often the small things that any of us can easily do that matter the most.
Here are my top ten take-aways from this event:
Contra Costa County has made it easier for people to access homelessness services – just dial 211 or walk into a care center. If you’re concerned about someone else in your area who appears to be homeless, the county has Core Outreach Teams who will go check on them and try to get them the help they need.
Shelter, Inc. has a variety of programs to help all kinds of different people who are experiencing homelessness - including the unemployed, our veterans, people on probation after being released from incarceration, people receiving CalWorks benefits, senior citizens, and more.
Free legal assistance is available from Bay Area Legal Aid to renters who need help appealing an unjust eviction notice or a rent increase that is more than 10%.
People who suffering from addition to drugs or alcohol may NOT have been addicted before they became homeless. Addiction often becomes a survival mechanism while they’re on the street or in a temporary shelter.
Feelings of isolation are stressful and being mistreated or ignored is incredibly damaging to the psyche - it can lead to a severe lack of motivation and distrust of others - or even worse, self-harm and self-neglect.
Pandering is a bigger problem than we realize – people who are homeless are often targeted and preyed upon for “favors” in exchange for meals, showers, money or a room for the night.
PTSD is prevalent, even well after housing and income is procurred. Homelessness is a problem that not only requires resources and commitment from all sides to solve, it also requires lots of support for recovery time.
Homeless people who are perceived as “not wanting help” may be dealing with undiagnosed or neglected mental health issues. Others just need some time to build trust until they feel ready. The process of getting back on your feet can be arduous and even complicated – paperwork, waiting lists and rebuilding lost self-esteem are a whole other level of stress.
The longterm solution to homelessness is building more affordable housing. One of our short term solutions is finding more spaces that can become daytime and/or nighttime warming centers. For example, the Concord Library works to build positive relationships with many homeless people who spend time there on a daily basis.
People experiencing homelessness are also experiencing loneliness – a simple hello or a little conversation can do a world of good.
We are all equal - but too many people are struggling every day for the things that many others take for granted - a place to work, a space to live. By simply shifting our perspective on homelessness and plugging into our community resources more, we can each become agents for lasting change.
Photo by Corey Motta