Last night, Guilford County Commissioner Paul Gibson brought a group of County service providers to meet with about 100 homeless Greensboro residents at Grace Community Church. This was a follow-up to a meeting Gibson arranged last week between County staff and a smaller group of homeless folks as part of the Winter Series, co-sponsored by Food Not Bombs and the public library. Representatives from Public Health, Mental Health, DSS, Veterans Services and Moses Cone were at the meeting to hear concerns and answer questions.
The idea behind the series of the meetings is to allow homeless people to speak out and advocate for themselves, and to let those with the power to make changes to the system know what’s working and what’s not working in the system from the perspective of those who are accessing services. The first meeting produced tangible results within days — changes are being made to the way that unsheltered homeless people access care at HealthServe.
Last night’s first question was about programs for unemployed single men who don’t have substance abuse or mental health issues — who are just unemployed. The perception is that there are more programs for women. (I’m not sure that’s true, though.) This was more a question for the homeless coalition than the County folks, though, so I offered to ask them and get back to him.
One homeless woman is new to Greensboro from out of state. She is a nurse and needs to get her license transferred here so that she can work, but she doesn’t have the money. She said that she’s not looking for a handout, just a “hand up.” She said that if someone would help her she is willing to “pass on the blessing,” and that she is willing to volunteer.
She also asked about transportation, which was covered in the previous meeting at the library. One gentleman spoke up and and gave the phone number for the county’s transportation service and mentioned that the list has been posted at the Weaver House shelter as well.
One man spoke about the need to “to get the monkey off your back” — referring to addiction — before you can work or get housing. He talked about his own struggle with crack cocaine, about spending seven months in rehab to get clean, and said that he was offered a job by the state of Georgia, where he was then living, because no one else would hire him. That job obviously made a big difference in his life, and his story emphasized the need for substance abuse treatment and for employers who will give second chances to people with criminal histories.
I asked how many people knew about Bridgeway, the new county treatment center that’s just opened. Few people raised their hands. Bridgeway will eventually offer medical detox, intensive outpatient treatment, and residential rehabilitation services. Joe Fortin from Guilford Center explained how to access services at Bridgeway by calling Guilford Center’s toll-free 24-hour phone number: 1-800-853-5163.
A woman asked about the needs of homeless youth and said, “They don’t need to be with older people.” She talked about their need for education, employment, health care and help dealing with sexual abuse that happens after they become homeless. She talked about homeless teens turning to prostitution. She stressed the need for a specific shelter and specific services for homeless youth — which we do not have now. As the woman spoke, a very recently homeless young lady was kneeling beside me, listening intently. A Christian ministry just moved her off the street, where she had been on and off since her early teens. After hearing the older woman speak passionately about the needs of homeless youth, the young lady looked up at me and said, “Well, I guess she covered it all. I’m going to go.” She seemed relieved.
The subject of a day center for homeless people came up again, and there does appear to be momentum on this issue, although Gibson said that it wouldn’t happen overnight. A formerly homeless gentleman asked, “How long? Three years, a lot of them be dead.” Another man spoke up and said that if money was the issue holding up the creation of the day center, then homeless people themselves could get involved in fundraising: “Bake sale, chicken, fish fry!” The group applauded in agreement. Liz Seymour of Food Not Bombs then invited the group to an upcoming meeting about a day center at the HIVE. It will be “for homeless people and by homeless people.”
After about an hour of dialogue, the group moved next door for Grace’s weekly community dinner, where the conversation continued during the meal. Stay tuned…