“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”: Tom Fair's Column 10/14

“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”  - Irish Proverb  Many times when I am “accidentally” eavesdropping on folks who are aimlessly chatting about politics, both local and national, the part that catches my attention is where they talk about homeless people as if they are a tightly knit organization of people with their own policies and/or hierarchy. In some ways that could be true, but I assure you, any semblance of organization is not deliberate. Mostly, it is groups of strangers who just happen to be in similar circumstances, frequent the same places along the free bus route, and congregate in public spaces around town. Like the rest of society, the homeless population is a great cross-section of people from every culture, upbringing, and social strata; they form friendships, have territorial disputes, and in many cases, just plain don’t get along with each other.  The friendships seem to mean a lot more in this context, as having a friend in hard times is most welcome. Territorial disputes are frequent and can escalate very quickly depending on someone’s upbringing, as is evidenced in the differing registers whereby people choose to address each other. Some people are quick to forgive, but many times fleeting friendships are exactly that: fleeting.  Even on your best days while being homeless, those days when you feel hopeful and confident that your life work is still within reach, those days when all the stars seem aligned and you feel like yourself again, there are still trap doors all around you. These are the obstacles that come with the territory - the weather is changing, nights and mornings are getting colder, something that you acutely notice when you are “sleeping rough”. November 1st - the traditional date when shelters open - is a long way away when the skittish northeast winds come and go as they please.  There is no single formula as to why someone ends up on the streets. The reasons are as varied as the people are, but the reasons for homelessness are in fact irrelevant if we adopt a “solutions-based” strategy that enables people to work together towards the common goal of finding those in need the right livelihood, and a permanent place to set up a home and to continue on their own personal path on their own terms. Everything comes with a price - no exceptions! That price needs to be paid by both the homeless person and the caregivers who are assisting the homeless person – it takes hard work, perhaps harder work than any of us are used to, but it takes a near miracle sometimes to change a lifestyle that has been thrust upon you, which many times is no fault of your own.  The price is paid with varying currencies; for goods and services we exchange cash or barter, for long days filled with labor we exchange physical energy. What is the price of compassion? Moreover, what is the currency that we exchange for compassion? It ultimately rests on the individual to make that heroic effort to meet those in the position to help more than halfway – ultimately, do people want to get back to work? Do people want to be inside with their few creature comforts to repair and rejuvenate?  Homelessness is exactly that - a state of being without a place to protect you from the weather and a place to bathe, eat, and sleep. Of course we know it is a lot more than that, but the individual is the architect of their own life; and that is where the real hard work has to begin.

“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”

- Irish Proverb

Many times when I am “accidentally” eavesdropping on folks who are aimlessly chatting about politics, both local and national, the part that catches my attention is where they talk about homeless people as if they are a tightly knit organization of people with their own policies and/or hierarchy. In some ways that could be true, but I assure you, any semblance of organization is not deliberate. Mostly, it is groups of strangers who just happen to be in similar circumstances, frequent the same places along the free bus route, and congregate in public spaces around town. Like the rest of society, the homeless population is a great cross-section of people from every culture, upbringing, and social strata; they form friendships, have territorial disputes, and in many cases, just plain don’t get along with each other.

The friendships seem to mean a lot more in this context, as having a friend in hard times is most welcome. Territorial disputes are frequent and can escalate very quickly depending on someone’s upbringing, as is evidenced in the differing registers whereby people choose to address each other. Some people are quick to forgive, but many times fleeting friendships are exactly that: fleeting.

Even on your best days while being homeless, those days when you feel hopeful and confident that your life work is still within reach, those days when all the stars seem aligned and you feel like yourself again, there are still trap doors all around you. These are the obstacles that come with the territory - the weather is changing, nights and mornings are getting colder, something that you acutely notice when you are “sleeping rough”. November 1st - the traditional date when shelters open - is a long way away when the skittish northeast winds come and go as they please.

There is no single formula as to why someone ends up on the streets. The reasons are as varied as the people are, but the reasons for homelessness are in fact irrelevant if we adopt a “solutions-based” strategy that enables people to work together towards the common goal of finding those in need the right livelihood, and a permanent place to set up a home and to continue on their own personal path on their own terms. Everything comes with a price - no exceptions! That price needs to be paid by both the homeless person and the caregivers who are assisting the homeless person – it takes hard work, perhaps harder work than any of us are used to, but it takes a near miracle sometimes to change a lifestyle that has been thrust upon you, which many times is no fault of your own.

The price is paid with varying currencies; for goods and services we exchange cash or barter, for long days filled with labor we exchange physical energy. What is the price of compassion? Moreover, what is the currency that we exchange for compassion? It ultimately rests on the individual to make that heroic effort to meet those in the position to help more than halfway – ultimately, do people want to get back to work? Do people want to be inside with their few creature comforts to repair and rejuvenate?

Homelessness is exactly that - a state of being without a place to protect you from the weather and a place to bathe, eat, and sleep. Of course we know it is a lot more than that, but the individual is the architect of their own life; and that is where the real hard work has to begin.

UMass Study on Food Stamps

A study was conducted by UMass Amherst students on the homeless/low-income population of Amherst, MA. The purpose of the research was to analyze how individuals felt towards SNAP (food stamp) benefits in relation to purchasing organic and having their nutritional needs met. 

The goal of the intervention also was to generate awareness of how benefits such as SNAP need to be improved if a stable population is meant to be produced by such benefits.

fs1.png
fs3.jpg
fs2.jpg

Congratulations, Kevin!

“I am a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying political science, history and music. Also I was an intern at Amherst Community Connections last summer. I have performed with the UMass Chamber choir and have done shows with Opera Workshop at UMass. My teacher at school is Marjorie Melnick and I have been taking lessons with her throughout my four years at UMass. I have put on a recital that has songs that I have done throughout my four years at UMass. There is some musical theater, German and English art song, and some folk tunes. Music has always been a large part of my life and I could not really live without it. If you are around I would love to see you at my recital which is March 1st at 7:30 in Bezanson Recital Hall. Here is a video of my singing so you can get a sneak peak of the recital.”

00001.jpg

Affordable Housing: The only solution to Homelessness

With the recent tragedy of a homeless couple in Greenfield freezing to death and the growing struggle with shelters’ limited capacities that was highlighted by the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s January 19th article headlined “‘No backup option’: Shelters at their limits during winter,” the problem of homelessness in this community looms larger than ever. As an intern at Amherst Community Connections and as a member of this community that has failed to support and protect some of its most vulnerable members, I feel obligated to share my views on the current crisis, in the hopes of drawing attention to some of its most important yet overlooked aspects. In my opinion, both news on the deaths and shelters’ failures point to a single, straight-forward truth: Emergency shelters on their own can no longer maintain their efficacy as buffers to homelessness. Rather, they must be used in tandem with a more fundamental approach towards solving homelessness, that is affordable housing.  

Affordable Housing.jpg

The key difference between emergency shelter and affordable housing lies in their respective stages of intervention. In the chain of events leading up to an individual becoming homeless, emergency shelters come in at the very end, as a final measure to provide immediate, short-term relief. Affordable housing, on the other hand, tackles homelessness from its very roots, by preventing an individual from becoming homeless to begin with, or returning an individual who has become homeless back to his or her initial stability. If shelters aim to “manage” homelessness, affordable housing aims to “solve” it—Ultimately, the only solution to homelessness is to provide the homeless with homes, and affordable housing is the most direct means to achieve that end goal. 

Affordable housing also comes with cost benefits. According to the Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance, average Medicaid, shelter and incarceration costs are known to drop by approximately $13,000 per tenant each year once the individual is introduced to stable housing and support services.[1] This evidence suggests that affordable housing measures are more cost effective than emergency shelters due to their long-term stabilizing effects. Homeless people, including those at shelters, are more susceptible to mental and physical debilitation, which lead to more frequent medical mishaps and incarcerations. Affordable housing cuts down on these additional expenses through providing the mental and physical stability that homeless people need to rehabilitate themselves. In this way, one of the greatest advantages of affordable housing lies in its conduciveness to rehabilitation. In contrast, shelters are limited via their very construct as temporary spaces intended to provide a night’s sleep, rather than a long-term support system. 

 In light of such efficacy of affordable housing, public policies and programs become ever more significant in making affordable housing accessible. The Gazette article’s mention of the “Housing First” program hints at ongoing local efforts to promote permanent housing. The Housing First Program organized by Amherst Community Connections is one example of such efforts that tackle homelessness at grass-roots level. The program works by providing chronically homeless Amherst residents with housing vouchers that include wrap-around supportive services. 

On the other hand, efforts to solve homelessness on the state level tend to be more diluted across numerous initiatives, including shelters and affordable housing. In a 2016 MASSlive article about homeless shelters in Western Massachusetts, Friends of the Homeless shelter stated its average cost to be around $42 per bed per night, out of which approximately $26 is financed through state funding and the rest through fundraisers and grants.[2] This indicates that the state’s funding for shelters falls far behind the actual needed amount. More importantly, it is notable how the shelter’s cost of supporting an individual amounts to a total of around $1,260/month. The fact that this exceeds the typical monthly rent of a one-bedroom apartment in Amherst illustrates the problem with emergency shelter as a long-term intervention: it would be more cost-effective and beneficial to those concerned with homelessness to invest in affordable housing and other interventions that address the affordable housing gap, rather than emergency shelters.

With the abundance of organizations, policies, and systems that are already in place for tackling homelessness, it is imperative to see how these individual components may work most effectively in relation to one another, and to allocate our resources accordingly. While shelters are an indispensable part of the support system for homeless people, they should be perceived and utilized as intermediary sites with the active aim of connecting their beneficiaries to affordable housing. Only through tackling homelessness from its roots, that is the scarcity and inaccessibility of affordable housing, can we resolve the current strain placed on emergency shelters, as well as achieve long-term advances towards eradicating homelessness. Whether that be through bolstering local, grassroots efforts like those executed at Amherst Community Connections, through increasing federal and state funding for housing, or something different all together, is left to the consideration of all concerned individuals and communities, as well as the state and nation as a whole.

 

Esther Yoojin Song

Research Intern

Amherst Community Connections

 


References

[1]Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance, https://www.mhsa.net/homelessness-massachusetts

[2]Schoenberg, Shira, Mar 14, 2016, “State funding leaves WMass Homeless shelters needing more,” https://www.masslive.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/03/state_funding_leaves_wmass_hom.html

 

Government shutdown afflicts homeless population

The government shutdown is beginning to hurt some of the most vulnerable Americans including homeless people and low-income renters that are dependent on subsidies.

With the Department of Housing and Urban Development being one of the federal agencies hardest hit by the shutdown, their usual efforts to increase access to affordable housing via providing subsidies and financial support to nonprofit groups that help low-income renters, have been reduced drastically. The impact of such reductions is residents facing fear of eviction, nonprofit groups tapping into their emergency reserve funds, and more and more people’s lives being put at risk.

If the shutdown continues, all these organizations will be left having to consider a spectrum of bad to terrible options, including staff layoffs and, in the worst-case scenario, evictions,
— Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition

The article by the NY Times linked below explains the current situation in more detail. Give it a read to find out how the government shutdown is affecting individuals, nonprofit organizations, and the nation as a whole.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/21/us/politics/government-shutdown-housing-services.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

ACC joins Big Y Giving Tag Program!

We are excited to share that ACC is now participating in the Big Y Community Bag and Giving Tag program!

To support us in this initiative, all you have to do is follow these simple steps:

  1. Visit any Big Y store.

  2. Buy a reusable Community Bag.

  3. Follow the instructions on the attached Giving Tag.

  4. Wa-lah! We’ve received a $1 donation!

This is a great way to protect the environment and raise money to help us continue supporting homeless people. Watch the video below to see Linda share the exciting news!

Donations from First Congregational church!

Huge thanks to the First Congregational church of Hadley, MA, for donating this colorful collection of hats and scarves. We will be distributing them to people in need. Donations like these go a long way to keeping those without a home warm during the winter !

The blankets under the hats and scarves are hand-made by our long time benefactor Sharon Carty who has crocheted blankets and donates to ACC since 2013. It takes upward of 20-40 hours a blanket. It is a house-warming gift for anyone who got off the streets and found a place to call home. On average, she donates 30-40 blankets a year and we give away just about that many a year!

Screen Shot 2019-01-21 at 12.24.24 PM.png

My Dad and I, And His Pottery

Bill and his Dad, and Pottery Making

 

On June 27th  ACC invited Bill Clock to come in and talk about his father and the making of pottery. Before, Bill went into his discussion, Hwei-Ling started an ice breaker where people introduced themselves and shared something funny about their father or a father-like figure in their life. I was intrigued by the different stories and upbringings of all of these individuals. The stories ranged from pranks to smoking on a plane to wrestling. There was a large range of ages and backgrounds represented, which made the stories very interesting.

Bill Clock is a musician and pottery maker who lives in the area. He mostly talked about his dad, specifically the profound influence he had on his life. His Dad was one of the most interesting people I have ever heard of. His dedication to arts and crafts led him to a very adventurous life, traveling to England with his family to continue his craft. Bill was gracious enough to bring in his father’s  collection of pottery and artwork in for everyone to look at. Just by looking at the beautiful pieces of artwork on display, you could see the devotion and time his father put into his craft.

The amount of respect that Bill had for his father was something to behold. Moreover, every word describing Bill’s father held some kind of reverence. He was very proud of his dad for being so dedicated to his craft and basing his life off of something he loved so dearly. The love between father and son was a part of his talk that made me listen very intently. Even when his father was losing his abilities and getting into many political arguments in later years he still viewed his father as a stand-up guy. When Bill’s father passed away, it was very hard for Bill because their relationship was so strong. His father gave them many different opportunities like being able to live in England on and off for many years. Bill Clock’s life was one that was very unique and something that many kids around the world would love to have. There were many incredible places he traveled to, and many unforgettable like experiences to speak of.

At the end of the incubator meeting, Hwei-Ling had each member of the audience state different aspects of their father’s personality that they themselves have inherited. The answers were quite varied but all had a similar theme. Many of these individuals had something bad that they gained from their father like being stubborn or inheriting bad habits. However, they also inherited some very important personality aspects like discipline, hard work, being positive, and not judging people at first glance. One inheritance from a father figure that struck me was a father who was emotionally present for everyone in the family. This man said his father always exhibited, unconditional love and compassion to everyone he knew. I thought this statement was incredibly poignant because we desperately need these two things in our society today. Without these two things, people experiencing homeless and low income individuals will continued to be ignored. Also something else that struck me was the fact that two individuals opened up about not having a father growing up. In their eyes their mother was both the father and mother figure in their lives. As someone who grew up in a very stable heteronormative household I could not imagine being raised by only one parent. However, both of the individuals who spoke up were still able to become strong wonderful people in their own right. It was nice to hear Bill Clock’s words on his father and pottery making and we wish him the best in the future.

36856099_1313285875472560_446156800367001600_n (1).jpg

ACC hosts free incubator workshop on Wednesdays from 10 am to 11:30 am. Free lunch for all. For a list of the weekly incubator workshops, go to ACC's website, http://www.amherstcommunityconnections.net/new-events/

 

By,

Kevin Hanley