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Guest Post: National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness

Today’s guest post is from Dr. Norweeta Milburn, Professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Milburn chaired the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2009 Presidential Task Force on Psychology’s Contribution to End Homelessness.  The task force released a great report, and NCH is proud to partner with the APA’s Public Interest Directorate to raise awareness among psychologists of how we can all work together to end homelessness.

As I walk my daily early morning route up Westwood Avenue from the parking garage to my UCLA office in the old Neuropsychiatric Institute, it is impossible not to see what appears to be bundles of clothing in doorways are actually people sleeping. Homeless people have found a place to sleep that provides some security and shelter in the doorways of office buildings and store fronts in a relatively safe area.

In the mild Southern California October evenings, the doorways do not seem like such a bad spot to spend the night, but people will still be there, layered deeper in their worn clothing, when our weather turns wet and cold.  In the late afternoon, homeless people are sitting on benches or walking on the sidewalks; some are seriously mentally and actively psychotic, but some are not.  Other homeless people come to Westwood to panhandle but do not sleep on the streets.

Photo courtesy of davco9200 on Flickr

There is a man that I exchange “hello, how are you and have a nice day” with every day who gets off a bus in the morning to walk to his “spot” to stand with a cup asking for donations.  His cup says he is a homeless veteran.  There are other homeless veterans on the street in wheelchairs.  In the shadow of one of the world’s great universities, Westwood is no different from urban areas in many other cities where homeless people seem to be everywhere.

Before we accept this as the inevitable result of the new normal, what can be done to move public policy further in the direction of ending homelessness?   The American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Psychology’s Contribution to End Homelessness, it ‘s report “Helping People without Homes: The Role of Psychologists and Recommendations to Advance Training, Research, Practice and Policy,” advocates for  federal legislation to create supportive housing and safe low-income housing across geographic areas (e.g., urban, suburban and rural) and for legislation that provides  for mental health and a range of other needed services for homeless people: low-income housing, supplemental income, food and benefits.  Even in this era of limited funding, the needs of people who are homeless cannot be ignored.

What do I do personally?  Sometimes I put money in their cups. I try to always acknowledge homeless people who approach me – say  hello when greeted with a hello, and say sorry, no, when asked for spare change and don’t want to give it.  I also carry granola bars in my car (as suggested by another psychologist).

I wasn’t sure about this tactic, but one day after I had parked my car on the street, a rather sullen homeless young person sitting in a doorway by the parking spot asked for spare change.  I said no, sorry, but asked if he would like a few granola bars.  He actually perked up, lost his adolescent attitude and said yes.    His entire demeanor changed – I don’t think it was just the food, it was the fact that another person had taken a few minutes to stop and connect with him. Sometimes that is all we can do daily – continue to remember that homeless people are fellow human beings just like us and those brief social connections do matter.

Homelessness in the Back Yard : Yay or Nay?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Outreach

The epidemic of homelessness is no longer ignorable. The rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness are on the rise in the nation people can no longer turn a blind eye. Just recently the US Census Bureau released figures that indicated that 46.2 million people currently live below the poverty line, the highest it has ever been in the 52 years that the Bureau has been publishing the number. And while giving a few bucks to those in need might help, further and more long-term solutions are needed.

That’s why Pivot, a homeless advocacy group located in Vancouver, has started sending out a “Yimby!” (Yes in my backyard) toolkit to counter local resistance from residents arguing that shelters and other services in their neighborhood are a detriment to society. The toolkit includes instructions on spreading the word of the need for mental health facilities, needle exchange programs, and supportive housing.

Most locals believe that by supporting these various programs – most notably the needle exchange program – their neighborhoods would become a haven for the homeless. NIMBYism (the “not in my back yard” pejorative) represents those who seek out a comfortable distance between the homeless and their neighborhoods. Locals are afraid that if they open their areas then a flood of the stereotypical homeless will rush in.

The YIMBY initiative is essential for progress to be made in the fight to end homelessness. I grew up in Lakeview, Chicago – about an 8 minute drive from downtown – and the plights of homelessness were abundant. My family and I also spent summers in Turkey where the “beggar culture” was rampant. As I compared the approaches of the two surroundings during my upbringing with Chicago having a more volunteer-based effort and Turkey being more faith-based, I found that interaction with community was key for solutions to be made. For example, most people ignore the homeless in Turkey but on certain holidays like “Sugar Feast” (?eker bayram), members of the upper class will slaughter lambs and cook them along with other traditional dishes to feed the local victims of poverty. Memories of my father and his family cooking the meal helped teach me that charity – a pillar of faith in Islam that I hold the dearest – is vital in community. My American mother also fostered in me a desire to volunteer, that if you are more fortunate than others it is your duty to contribute to help uplift society.

YIMBY defines this perfectly. The most effective way to end homelessness is when communities come together in the most appropriate way possible. Whether that is slaughtering a lamb on holidays or organizing different places of aid (needle exchange programs, shelters, and so on) it all brings us closer to the end of homelessness forever.

– Melis Solaksubasi, Fall 2011 Intern

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Police Charged with Murdering California Homeless Man

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Healthcare, Mental Health, Violence Against the Homeless

Santa Ana, California — Every American has the right to self defense, even against police officers, and no one in law enforcement has the right to use unreasonable force in the performance of their duty. That was the final determination made by Tony Rachauckas, Orange County’s (CA) District Attorney, after examining evidence of the July 5th beating murder of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man whose life was brutally cut short by at least two on-duty Fullerton police officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli. A total of six officers were put on paid administrative leave after Thomas’ death and prior to today’s charges.

Ramos was charged with second degree murder for craven acts that “were reckless and created a high risk of death and great bodily injury” said Rachauckas. Cicinelli, the second officer charged, is now facing involuntary manslaughter and felony excessive force. The California prosecutor further described Kelly’s last moments in excruciating detail, recalling his numerous pain-filled pleas of “I’m sorry. I can’t breath. Help, Dad.”

The district attorney described the crimes against Thomas as a “violent and desperate struggle”. A full description of the event by witnesses described the shocking extent of Thomas’ injuries and the brutality of the officers’ acts. Thomas died from brain injuries, as a result of overwhelming head trauma. Thomas suffered a variety of broken bones to the nose and cheeks, head and ribs. During the assault, Thomas was shocked repeatedly by police tasers to the head, face, back and chest cavity. The medical report showed that Thomas suffered internal bleeding, causing him to choke of his own blood.

This inhumane assault on Thomas was conducted by no less than a half dozen officers responding to a call of vehicles being broken into. Following the beating, no evidence could be found in the area of vehicles burglarized, nor was any stolen property found on Thomas.

Thomas died because six officers of the Fullerton Police Department didn’t know how to react or respond to a mentally ill person in distress and crisis. When faced with a situation that caused confusion, law enforcement at the scene chose brutal force to subdue Mr. Thomas. This was not an example of appropriate police procedures gone awry. This was a clear case of criminal ignorance, which caused the death of anther human being. This could have all been avoided by the appropriate training of law enforcement in engaging a variety of types of individuals with various mental illnesses. It should have been avoided by Mr. Thomas receiving the appropriate treatment in a place he could call home.

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