News stories about 2009 homeless count

Counting the homeless: Volunteers try to find them all
GREENSBORO – On Wednesday, a man who would only give his name as J. stood along Battleground Avenue holding a sign: “Homeless. Please Help Me. God Bless You.” A smiley face punctuated the plea…

Volunteers Count Homeless People In Greensboro (no longer available online)
GREENSBORO – Police officers and volunteers took to the streets Wednesday night to count the number of homeless people in Greensboro…

Communities identify homeless numbers (no longer available online)
GREENSBORO – Hundreds of volunteers in Greensboro hit the streets, shelters and soup kitchens just before dawn Wednesday to count the number of homeless in their communities as part of a federal mandate by Housing and Urban Development…

Answer: It takes more than a home…

Question: “Can a home save the homeless?” That’s the title of Amanda Lehmert’s 11/16/2008 News & Record article on the housing support team program — an initiative to move chronically homeless people from the street into housing.

Vincent Sims used to sleep under the Lee Street bridge. He spent some of his Social Security money on drugs and booze. Banned from city shelters for schizophrenia- and drug-fueled outbursts, he sometimes got arrested just to have a warm, safe place to spend a few hours. And when he got out of jail, he’d go right back to sleeping by the train tracks or in abandoned buildings. Then one day last year, the Rev. Mike Aiken approached him with an offer: a no-strings-attached apartment through a new Guilford County program…

I met Vincent years ago. He is one of dozens of my friends who has moved off the street and into a home in the past year through the new housing program.

…The housing support team, a partnership between Family Service of the Piedmont, the Greensboro Housing Coalition and Open Door Ministries with help from local social service agencies, started searching for homeless residents in mid-2007.

“They had to be someone who is cycling through the system a lot,” said Mitch McGee, the housing support team coordinator. “In and out of jail, in and out of the hospital.”

Folks who continue to live on the street no matter how many times police pick them up or nonprofits feed them a hot meal. Folks like Reid James.

In the summer of 2006, James, a 47-year-old who suffers from bipolar disorder and depression, ran out of friends willing to take her in….

» Read “Can a home save the homeless?,” online at the News & Record
» Printable PDF of article
» See a slideshow of Vincent’s photos here.

Reporter Amanda Lehmert doesn’t address the program’s major flaw — serious problems with the availability and delivery of supportive services — a fundamental component of the program, and a necessity for the long-term success of the program’s participants.  YES! Weekly’s Jordan Green reported on that issue earlier in his 09/24/2008 article, “Formerly homeless clients find services lacking.”  Jordan interviewed some of the same folks that Amanda did, and my friend Reid James is featured in both newspaper’s articles.

I’d suggest reading both articles to get a fuller perspective on the housing support program — the good and the not-so-good.  I’m thankful for the program, but I want to see all the supportive services issues addressed so that our friends can truly experience recovery, health and wholeness.  Housing alone will not end homelessness.

Currently and formerly homeless helping homeless — and teaching me

Tonight was the Food Not Bombs dinner at the HIVE. A lot of the people who eat at the FNB dinners are homeless, and some are formerly homeless. Tonight, one of my formerly homeless friends came and brought her daughter. They went in the kitchen and got out the biggest serving bowls, then came back to the meeting space and pulled out huge bags of candy that they’d brought with them, and began filling the bowls. There are lots of Glenwood neighborhood kids at the HIVE and at the FNB dinners. You should have seen their eyes!  My friend and her daughter passed out candy to the kids and to all the adults. I got a Milky Way. It was so good.

Then my friend came and sat on the couch beside me, and a group of us talked about the emergency winter shelter situation.  A currently homeless friend — who has been feeding other homeless people with take-home food from his catering job — sat on the other side of me, and they talked about helping homeless people. She told him about buying and cooking food and taking it to homeless people who sleep under bridges. This Thanksgiving, she’s planning to cook a turkey and invite anyone who doesn’t have a place to go — homeless or homed — to come and eat.  I have a place to go, but I think I’d rather be there.

I was with another homeless friend last night who is constantly gathering things for other homeless or hungry people — clothes, furniture, resources.  She cooks and serves with FNB.  She volunteers with DayWatch.  She is consistent, reliable and tireless.  She puts others first and herself last.  Always.  I am in awe of her.  I love her.

I’ve spent a big part of my day with another close friend, who is formerly homeless.  He devotes most of his time to feeding homeless and hungry people, through FNB.  Every time we have a crisis and need to mobilize and feed or serve people, he’s there.  Whenever we do DayWatch, he’s there.  When I need someone to move furniture, clean and organize spaces, shop for bulk stuff and load it on my truck, or just talk through the moving parts of street outreach ministry, he is there — consistent and faithful.  He’s my friend.  And he’s a friend to homeless and hungry people in Greensboro.

I like to help people, to serve people, to do things for people. But I also have the gift of a family who makes sure that I always have everything that I need. (Not want, but definitely need.) So I am operating and giving out of an abundance. My currently and formerly homeless friends, who are the experts on homelessness because they are or have been homeless (I am not an expert, just a  grateful friend of the experts), are giving and serving out of all that they have.  Every day, they teach me what sacrifice means.  I cannot express to you how thankful, how honored, how overwhelmed I am to have these friends in my life.  I hope that you have friends like mine.  If not, I’d love to introduce you to mine sometime.  I’m so not worthy of them, and yet so thankful that they keep letting me hang around.