Homeless on Halloween – A Cold Night, Scariest Place On Earth

Republished and revised since first posted on 11/1/14 from The Fifth Chapter Blog

This was written six years ago during a house remodel. Much has changed, but unfortunately since then, California is facing an even larger homeless crisis.

Let’s start with empathy, add some facts, and take action where we can. Be warm tonight!

Last night my feet were so cold it took me all the way through my morning cup of coffee to warm up. My dogs and I are spending a lot of time on the bench outside Peet’s Coffee & Tea these days. I have been homeless for the past month. Yes, this has been by choice. 

No shower; cold nights; carrying my stuff from place to place; keeping dogs fed and safe; and earning money. How do the 44% of the over 1.7 million homeless in our country manage to earn money and keep the basic necessities going? Or how do the 25% of the homeless who hold down a regular job do it? It’s hard to find a free shower.

I am blessed. I am living out of a suitcase in a temporary tent trailer by choice but I have a home to return to when the remodel dust settles. I am blessed. I have a car to hold my stuff and carry my dogs around. I am blessed. I chose this and it is temporary. Really honey, this remodel project can’t go on much longer, can it?

During this past month, this small glimpse into the lifestyle of the homeless in our country has really opened my heart to the difficulty they face. I have often assumed that people I see staying on the city streets are either in a drug/alcohol haze or mentally unhinged and prefer to live without a place to call their own.

In fact, only 6% of the homeless suffer from a severe mental disorder that requires institutionalized care. Don’t get me wrong, a majority of those who are homeless (66%) do suffer from alcohol, drug abuse or mental illness, but there are also a lot of folks just trying to survive.

Without a place to call your own, you start to feel disoriented and stressed about where to find such basic needs as a toilet or a free shower or a warm place to spend a few hours (the laundromat at the end of the evening is a good choice).

COVID-19 is creating a health and economic crisis in America and throughout the world. Many are homeless because of domestic violence. Or they are vets who can’t find work. Or they are families who just could not find or keep a job that would provide enough for rent. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than 200,000 people in America are forced to sleep outside or in other unsanitary locations due to experiencing unsheltered homelessness. The state of homelessness continues to worsen as the pandemic impacts this vulnerable population. It takes at least 2- 3 years waiting for a Section 8 affordable rental apartment or rental house. What do they do for those years? Where do they live?

Some choose to save resources and live out of a car for a while. Others drift from shelter to shelter. Most shelters are filled to capacity each night. Most shelters are first come, first serve.

The nights are getting cold. My toes can tell you about it.

For the growing number of elderly who are living on Social Security and food stamps, it could be difficult to find adequate housing. According to statistics reported by the Homeless Research Institute, April 2010, “Researchers studying the street homeless population in San Francisco found that from the period 1990–1994 to 2000–2002, the representation of those ages 50 and over went progressively from 11.2 percent to 32.3 percent.” The State of California has predicted at least a 150% increase in our elderly population in most counties from 1990 – 2020. This means we are now seeing an even higher number of homeless elderly than the study cited above.

We could fix this problem, today.

– If states with a large percentage of manufactured homes provided incentives for seniors and working adults to buy or rent a mobile home, these families could live in a heated shelter for much less than it costs to build low-income apartment housing in high-crime urban areas. It costs, on average, $40,000 for a newer single wide mobile home. It could be as little as $20,000 to buy an older home and refurbish. For $20,000 per homeless family or elderly person, we could keep them from freezing in the streets at night.

– If the federal government provided assistance to insulate these homes and install solar energy wherever possible; the over 9 million mobile homes in the U.S. could easily accommodate the 1.7 million homeless and reduce the energy costs to heat these homes.

– Ask your representative what we can do to help alleviate the problem of homelessness in this country. Ask them to talk to people who are already doing something about it but have not been included in the discussion, mobile home park owners. It’s not that hard. It just takes empathy.

– While we wait, and wait, for the government to help, let’s take action. I urge you to give thanks for your home this year, by giving funds to the Bay Area Rescue Mission or other shelters in your community. Help some folks have a warm night while they work to get back to a place they can call their own.

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