The “worthy” homeless

A few days ago, I wrote a post in response to a News & Record story about Mark Hoffman, a mentally ill homeless man who used to sit on a bench near a church in Greensboro, but now sits on a bench by a church in Catonsville, Maryland — his hometown.

Here’s what Sam Spagnola wrote about it:

“It’s too bad that the panhandlers and the drug addicts give a bad impression that often overshadows sympathy and compassion for people like Mark.”


And… scene.

July 10th news update: homelessness, day center, cops and more

Random thoughts and updates for this week:

1.) I’m very thankful for the “housing first” initiative that is moving chronically homeless people from the street to permanent housing, butI’m growing increasingly frustrated with the all-too-frequent staff and program changes among community support providers, as well as the limitations of available mental health services. (I know — money, money, money — but still…) Giving chronically homeless people an apartment is great, but being homeless isn’t the root problem — it’s a symptom of other problems. How do we define “success?” More homeless people in apartments than on the streets? Or more lives transformed? (I know how I define it…)

2.) We had another day center meeting today. There’s some exciting, forward movement involving players and places, some of which was revealed in the meeting today, but none of which I think I’m supposed to write about yet, so that’s all I’ll say about that for now. I hope to see more involvement from currently and formerly homeless people at future meetings, and I spoke up about that. (I know! Imagine ME speaking up… 😉)

The desire of the homeless folks and homeless advocates that I’ve spoken to is to have currently and formerly homeless people be directly engaged in planning and running the day center. (Repairers of the Breach is a model of this kind of day center.) We can have bureaucracy or we can build community, but I don’t think we can do both. I’m going to keep advocating for and working toward community. (And I have some kindred spirits in that effort.)

P.S. It was a lunch meeting, and the leftovers (BBQ and chicken) went to Food Not Bombs for tonight’s dinner at St. Mary’s. That’s usually a vegan meal, and I have some friends who were no doubt happily surprised. (No offense, vegans. I don’t do BBQ or fried chicken, either.)

3.) After the day center meeting, I went downtown to see some of the bike cops from GPD’s Center City Resource Team. One had called to tell me about the death of a homeless man whose camp I first visited with police officers during a homeless count. (Very sad. I hope to share more soon.) Another had called to ask me to meet with a homeless man who just got out of jail and wants help so that he doesn’t end up back behind bars. (Please pray for him!) In the few minutes that I stood outside talking to the officers, I counted more than half a dozen homeless friends walking by or sitting on benches along Elm Street. Hopefully, I’ll soon be seeing them at a day center. And instead of sitting around or walking aimlessly, they can become active participants in a life-transforming community.

4.) A group of high schoolers from Westover Church went out and did street outreach today. They did a water distribution in the downtown/Lee Street area where our homeless friends hang out. I wasn’t able to ride along this time , but I heard through the grapevine that their efforts were much appreciated. :)

» Read about their previous outreach.

Making an economic case for housing the homeless

In an ideal world, we’d all do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. But this is the real world, and sometimes people need incentives. Jehan Benton, director of Guilford County’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, talks to the N&R’s Joe Killian:

“You can break it down where you end up spending $20,000 in public resources on one person, with no change. They’re right where they were when you started. Or you can spend $10,000 and they’re in a home, they have services and they’re not using thousands or tens of thousands in public resources.”

Jehan also discusses education, job training, stereotypes, and more. Read the whole article here.