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Lessons Learned from Paula C. September 19, 2012

Posted by abhomeless in Uncategorized.
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There was an early afternoon memorial service this past Monday in Asheville, a crowd of people scurrying to enter the sanctuary under gray, rainy skies.  A few folks drove up in nice cars – BMWs, Toyotas, Hondas, Subarus.  Others walked through the rain, backpacks closed as tightly as possible to protect belongings, a few had raincoats, a handful wore baseball caps in an attempt to stay dry.  Settling into the pews, it was quiet, somber, as is often the case when the altar holds photographs of someone no longer within our reach.  Several people were crying, everyone attentive to the sacredness of the space surrounding those pictures, aware of the loss they represented.

Paula C. died last week.  Unlike most of us, though, Paula died without having keys to a place to call home.  She was known to many who worked in the homeless services’ system here in Asheville, because she had been homeless and in and out of the Asheville area since 2007.  In the many stories told on Monday, her life in Asheville took shape.  A woman of few words, she spoke only when she had something she deemed worthwhile to say.  One of her trademarks was the walkman radio/music player attached to her almost all the time, with headphones constantly on.  She was a camper, unable to manage the rules and close quarters of night shelters because of on-going struggles with fragile mental health and substance abuse.  That was Paula’s life here, until just a few months ago.

She showed up at Homeward Bound’s A HOPE Day Center last spring, almost unrecognizable to staff who had known her for years.  Drastic weight drop, bad color, shaky arms and legs: clearly sick, and also clear.  Clear, as in sober, and truly cognizant of what was happening around her.  She’d been gone from Asheville for a few months, and had come home sober and ready for something else.  Ready for stability, ready to create a life with mental and physical health support, looking for the community essential to living out her sobriety.  With help from Homeward Bound, the Western North Carolina Aids Project and others, Paula did just that: began a new life.  Paula’s new life was a life marked by clearness, sobriety, and – still – only a few words.  There were some other differences, too.  She took off her headphones.  She smiled.  She laughed.  She became a loyal friend.  She came into Homeward Bound’s Room in the Inn shelter, sleeping each night in a local faith community’s building surrounded by warmth and care, and safe from the dangers of the streets.  Paula was even in line for an apartment of her own, scheduled to move in literally a week from the morning she died.  She almost got those keys.

During Paula’s memorial service, the Room in the Inn Director, Sharon Blythe, talked about the lessons she learned from Paula: to speak only when really necessary; to listen to those around you; to care for the people you are with day in and day out; to understand family includes all kinds of people; to advocate honestly for healthy decisions about safe sex; to seek support from your community.  I was fortunate to know Paula these past few years as well, and I want to add one more lesson to those: impatience.  Paula got impatient with those whose intentional violent and aggressive behavior made it difficult for her and others experiencing homelessness to be safe.  She was impatient with the limited resources available for affordable housing for her and the many in our community whose income comes no where close to what the rental market demands.

Paula C. leaves us with many lessons.  So do the 9 other individuals who have died in our community this year without a home of their own.  Let’s take Paula’s impatience and allow it to fuel advocacy.  Advocate for affordable housing for everyone in our community, support the work of the City Council’s Affordable Housing Committee, volunteer with homelessness service providers who work day in and day out to help our neighbors move out of night shelters and off the streets into safe, stable housing.  Find your place in the work to end homelessness here in this place we all call home.

The Importance of Collaboration June 13, 2012

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Police ensure community safety in the context of a larger collaborative of City Departments and agencies that work to find long-term solutions for people who experience homelessness.

The Asheville Police Department (APD) has an obligation and responsibility to enforce the law.  Unfortunately, enforcement of the law can create a negative perception which is reflected on those carrying out the law.  This has been the case in our community, especially as it relates to those experiencing homelessness.  Sometimes, the relationship between the police department and those experiencing homelessness is positive, but many times, the relationship needs repair.  The APD, City partners, and service providers working with the homeless, are strategically working together to tackle this issue.

Homeless camping gives a vivid picture of the dynamics between the police and those experiencing homelessness.  As summer approaches and the weather warms up, more and more individuals choose to camp outside as oppose to sleeping in shelters.  As a result, the clash between police and homeless campers becomes more apparent.

The police have the authority and duty to carry out the law against illegal camping.  These laws are in place for a reason, which is to protect the health and safety of those camping and those in the community.  The purpose is not to criminalize the homeless.  Camping itself is not an illegal activity; campers only break the law when they don’t have a camping permit or permission to camp on the land, or when their campsite does not comply with building and safety codes.  The police have the obligation to make sure campers abide the law, so when campers break the law, there will be consequences.

The City’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness was inspired by people who have no other place to call home and therefore sleep outside; this plan has implemented successful strategies and assisted in many people who were once campers get into housing. This plan is carried out through partnering with agencies in the Homeless Coalition.  These agencies collaborate together to prevent or end homelessness for everyone experiencing a housing crisis by building relationships with people and focusing on removing barriers to housing while offering services and resources that can sustain housing.

The Homeless Initiative encourages communication and collaboration with the police and service providers so that those experiencing homelessness are able to navigate resources available to them. In order to have a sustainable impact, the police work with other departments in the city and community service providers so that people who camp outside are connected to information and resources that can lead to housing. Service providers currently partner with the APD by connecting those in the camps with resources available in our community. Through communicating with service providers, the police are educated and aware of the vulnerability and particular needs of those living in campsites.


Getting the Community Involved January 11, 2012

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Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day

Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day was held on December 21, 2011 – this was a very special time to honor those who experience homelessness.  Our community united together at Haywood Street Congregation to remember those who have died while experiencing homelessness in the past year, support those who currently experience homelessness, and commit to ending homelessness for all.

The contributions of many people made the service memorable, so thank you to everyone who participated. Even if you were unable to attend this year’s service, there are many opportunities ahead to be involved with the Homeless Initiative’s efforts.

Community-Wide Involvement

Participants and sponsors for the following events represent hundreds of people and groups with different creeds, resources, and goals, all of whom are committed to ending homelessness in our community:

  • Faith Summit
  • Homeless Coalition
  • Homeless Initiative
  • Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day
  • Homeless Summit
  • Project Connect & VA Stand Down
  • VA Summit

To learn more about our past and upcoming events and projects, or to contact us about sponsoring an event, please visit our website.

Want to volunteer?

Facts about homelessness.

@MountainXpress

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