Monthly Archives: February 2009

Supporting the Homeless

By Dr. Chad Audi

In many cases, the homeless and disadvantaged are not looking for a “handout,” but rather a “hand up.” They simply need a helping hand and spiritual nourishment to get back on their feet and stay the course. That’s why supportive housing and services are so important. The homeless need physical and moral support, as well as services that help them grow in mind, body and spirit. Only then will they be ready and able to tackle the road to recovery and the many challenges along the way. They must learn anew to live independently. Recovering from homelessness, drug addiction, abuse or any other hardship requires a step-by-step process that takes time, discipline, hard work, direction, and a love of the Lord.

Think about it. A person who gets keys to his or her own apartment after years of living on the streets has to learn how to pay bills, wash clothes and maintain a clean, functioning home. It may be second nature to you and me, but it’s different when all you’ve concentrated on for years is simply surviving. At Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM), we feel it isn’t enough to provide one night of temporary shelter and food and then send a homeless individual back on the street the next morning. There is an urgent need to help the homeless beyond emergency shelter. Our transitional and permanent housing programs gradually give our clients the structure they need to become productive, independent members of the community and enable them to jumpstart their lives with a fresh outlook.

Men, women and children at DRMM can receive housing, meals and support services for up to two years. This transitional program does just that — helps them “transition” into the mainstream society. It teaches them about responsibility and gives them a foundation to build upon. While maintaining a temporary residence, the client can search for a job, go to school and learn about finances and budgeting. At the same time, residents continue to receive support such as case management, child preventative services, substance abuse treatment, mentoring, health care, transportation, life skills training, and much more. After successfully completing the transitional housing program, clients can be placed in our permanent housing. We make sure that they have progressed to the point where they are prepared, comfortable and ready to move forward to this next phase of their recovery process.

Homelessness is a huge problem in the United States. And there is no fast and easy fix. You must treat the root issues that have caused the persons to become homeless and gradually integrate them back into society. Supporting their growth and stability is a great first step.

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TV vs. Reality

By Dr. Chad Audi

When you think of the homeless, what comes to mind? Do you picture a poorly dressed, unshaven man standing on the corner holding a sign that reads, “Hungry – Please Help,” and gripping a plastic cup containing donated dollars and coins? Do you picture a woman lurking in a dark alley next to a dumpster in search of food when the sun goes down? Or do you think of average people, like you and me?

There are several misconceptions and stereotypes about homeless people that are perpetuated by the media. The types of people I’ve described above are very likely to be seen in movies. Most times, homeless people are depicted as old, dirty, scraggly, and drunk. In real life, that is often not the case. In the movie, “Hancock,” Will Smith plays a homeless superhero. The moviemakers created a character that is dirty and rude. Movies like this tend to keep alive perceptions about homeless people, but the reality can be quite different.

At Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM), people of all backgrounds come through our doors due to a variety of circumstances. Many are not at all like what we see in the movies and on TV. More and more, we are seeing a new class of homeless that I call the “working homeless.” They have jobs and don’t stand on the corners begging for food or digging through trash cans. They have hit unfortunate bumps in the road that forced them to seek shelter, food and other assistance. We give them a safe place to sleep and a warm meal and in many cases, they return to work the next day. Others are sidelined by job layoffs or medical conditions. Watch this story about two men who came to DRMM for help: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/1294260/the_new_face_of_the_homeless/.

So, as you can see, not all homeless people resemble the homeless characters often portrayed on TV. Sometimes, just an unfortunate and untimely situation can lead to a need for a helping hand. And that can happen to anybody.

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Stimulating the Economy

By Dr. Chad Audi

President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package is currently being debated and revised on Capitol Hill. The projected $827 billion package is a wide-ranging plan that offers some financial assistance to the nation’s homeless. Although a final bill is still a little ways off, one version of the package included $1.5 billion to help alleviate homelessness. That’s double the amount of the current annual federal funding for emergency shelters. The original bill also included $200 million to help people who are behind on mortgage or rent payments.

Undoubtedly, the provisions in the stimulus package will help many Americans. Many of us are only one or two paychecks away from homelessness. Just think about your own situation. What would happen to you and your family if you lost your income today? How long could you maintain your home and lifestyle without a regular paycheck? Would you have somewhere to go temporarily if you couldn’t pay your mortgage? These are tough questions that thousands of families have to think about as a result of our weak economy.

The current economy is triggering a “domino effect.” Unemployment is causing people to lose their homes. Families who turn to the rental market as an option are seeing sharp rises in rents because of an increased demand. Those who become homeless are finding that homeless assistance programs are getting less funding and therefore have to cut back. The need for food stamps is approaching an all-time high, yet rising food prices cause the financial assistance to run out much sooner.

The proposed economic stimulus plan needs to address all of these critical concerns. Hunger, homelessness and unemployment are on the rise across the nation. Congress should make sure that assistance is available for those who need it. That includes addressing the need for more affordable housing units for low-income families.

I sincerely hope the final stimulus plan will jump start our economy and provide hope for the future. We all need it.

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Homelessness on the Rise

By Dr. Chad Audi

Recently, I blogged about the current economic environment and how it has led to a decrease in donations to non-profits, while the demand for services offered by non-profits is steadily increasing. This trend was echoed in a recent national report by MSNBC.com. The story titled, “Homelessness surges as funding falters,” documented how reduced funding for service providers is being accompanied by a surge in demand. The situation is having a huge impact on homeless shelters, non-profits and churches. Reports from around the country indicate more people are seeking emergency shelter and more are being turned away.

So what options are left for providers like the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM)? Should we reduce the amount of food served to the hungry? Must we turn away people standing in line for hours to get a warm place to sleep? Should we stop providing medical and dental care for people who desperately need it? None of these is a good option in my mind.

When a shelter is forced to close because of inadequate funding and donations, what happens to the man or woman who is entering his or her ninth month of sobriety but suddenly is put back on the streets, usually to relapse? What happens to the woman and her children who have nowhere to sleep, eat or shower? It’s a huge setback in efforts to rebuild lives.

MSNBC reported that experts believe homelessness will continue to rise, most notably among families with children. Already, the number of homeless students identified in school districts across the country in the first few months of the 2008-09 school year are the same number or more than in the entire previous year.

What can we do? There’s a bill awaiting approval on Capitol Hill that may increase funding for emergency shelters. I’ll write more about that soon.

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Everyone Counts

By Dr. Chad Audi

On January 28th, teams of volunteers fanned out across the country to count the homeless. In 2007, there were 671,888 homeless people across America. With the depressed economy, it’s likely that this year’s final count will top the last census. Philip F. Mangano, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, told the Associated Press, “You would have to be naive to believe that the loss of over 850,000 homes and over two million jobs wouldn’t have an impact.”

As I see the lines of people get longer and longer here at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM), I know firsthand the impact the economy is having on our community and the nation. More and more people are looking for a place to sleep and a warm, nutritious meal. It is an unfortunate reality that we must face. There are thousands of people who are sleeping in alleys and abandoned buildings because they have no place to call home. They suffer nights with no food and are put in dangerous situations because of the recent wintry weather conditions.

Here in Detroit, our community partners — the Homeless Action Network of Detroit (HAND) and the University of Detroit Leadership Development Institute — assembled about 150 volunteers to go out and count homeless people on the street, in abandoned buildings, under bridges, in cars, and in shelters and transitional housing. The count helps organizations like HAND and DRMM better understand the conditions of those in need and allows us to effectively evaluate our services. Once the official numbers are tallied across the country, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will determine federal funding for programs like ours that help the homeless.

Almost everyday we hear about thousands of jobs being cut. As a result, more and more people are being forced to give up their homes because they can’t pay the mortgage or utility bills to keep the lights and heat on. That is sending them out onto the streets. But whatever the cause, the homeless need our support. Everyone counts.

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Surviving the “Golden Years”

By Dr. Chad Audi

There’s a particularly disturbing news story coming out of Michigan. A 93-year-old man froze to death in his home just days after the municipal power company installed a “limiter” device that restricted the man’s use of electricity, because he owed more than $1,000. The device limits power to the home and shuts off the electricity when usage rises past a set level. It’s not known whether the elderly Bay City man — a World War II veteran — had been told how to reset the device to restore power. When his body was discovered, the temperature in his home was below 32 degrees.

What a heartbreaking story! The golden years are supposed to be times of rest, relaxation and joy for our seniors who have spent the majority of their lives working and raising children. But too often they find themselves in situations where they face life and death choices, such as whether to have heat or buy groceries. Or whether to buy medication or pay utility bills.

At the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM), we see senior citizens who are experiencing these painful circumstances. They may need a good, nutritious meal. Or they may be unable to pay their heating bills and need a warm place to sleep. Sixty-five year-old “Jonathan” came to DRMM after a fire destroyed his home and he had nowhere else to turn. Medical problems, including a cancer diagnosis, made the future even more frightening and lonely for him. We provided Jonathan with a roof over his head, clothing, food and access to medical care.

Our seniors have a lot of pride. It’s difficult for many of them to ask for assistance. After all, they’ve survived life-changing events like the Great Depression, World Wars, civil rights disturbances, and natural disasters. Through it all, they made a way for themselves. Don’t we owe them some compassion in return?

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