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I Chose to be Homeless: Reflections on the Homeless Challenge

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Poverty, Public Education

From October 10-12, I participated in the National Coalition for the Homeless’ Homeless Challenge. I spent 48 hours living on the streets disguised as an unhoused person—sleeping outside, panhandling, and walking blocks and blocks to access food, a bathroom, transportation, and other services.

Emily Kvalheim Homeless ChallengeOn our first night, my partner and I walked for hours in the rain. We slept in the rain with minimal coverage. My shoes and socks and waterproof jacket were soaked; my skin became like prunes. Despite the cardboard we collected, I shivered throughout the night, completely unprepared. I lay awake for hours. In the middle of the night, I got up, in need of a bathroom; I went to a fast food restaurant—like I have done in the past—but I was denied, even when I offered to purchase something. Shocked and discouraged, I walked to a fancy hotel, where I was given a key to the bathroom. For the first time that night, I felt like a human being.

The next day, I experienced this similar feeling of overwhelming gratitude when strangers helped me. I was allowed to sleep on the floor of a worship center because it was raining, and two hours of sleep at night is not enough to compensate for all of the walking we had to do. A kind volunteer at a feeding program gave me crackers, peanut butter, and cookies. One woman slowed down her car and offered us a ride and food. In the afternoon, four or five strangers reached into their wallets and gave me what they could. I made $9.43 while panhandling, and I was relieved to know that I could eat again that day. In the evening, I was welcomed by a sit-down restaurant’s owners, despite the disgust of the other customers. A $5.00 salad had never tasted so good.

Some people were less empathetic. I was kicked out of a fast food restaurant and into the rain on our second morning. Strangers sneered and laughed as they watched us. When we went to the library, I was sprayed with some sort of perfume (without my consent) due to the aroma I had acquired after not showering, applying deodorant, or brushing my teeth for three days.

I recorded the names of the businesses that treated me like a second-class citizen (as well as those that treated me as human). I wanted to expose them and take revenge. They made me feel angry and lonely because they could not see past my stench and my grime and my grimace. They were privileged enough to ignore me, and they did.

But what good would it do to retaliate? I, too, have not been compassionate enough, and I have allowed my prejudices to distort my view of the homeless. One woman, who sat across from me at a feeding program, talking to herself erratically, may have seemed strange to me before the Homeless Challenge. But when I really saw myself as her equal, and when I took the time to watch her get up and laugh as she danced to the music playing in the background, I thought she was beautiful. She had found her own happiness, amidst despair.

I met some pretty amazing people on the streets. Unlike me, they could not quit homelessness after 48 hours. They were not able to pick up their belongings, reach into their wallets, and take a taxi home. They did not get to shower or wash their clothes. They could not shut the door, turn out the lights, and climb under my pink sheets and blankets. They were left outside to sleep on the concrete, vulnerable, exposed, and ignored. They did not choose to be homeless, and I hope I will never really know how difficult it can be.

What I do know is that homelessness is a horrible situation. It is horrible after 24 hours, it is horrible after 48 hours, and I am guessing that it never really stops being horrible. No matter how many nice people and charities there are, no matter how appreciative I am of the people who helped me complete the Challenge, homelessness will always be horrible. We, as housed people, must do everything we can to eliminate homelessness and show the same compassion to those who helped and protected me on the streets.

One way you could help is by asking your family and friends to donate to the National Coalition for the Homeless, perhaps even through a fundraising page like mine. You might also consider hosting events for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week 2013 (November 16-24) to raise awareness in your community. For more information, visit the NCH website.

No one should have to live the way that I did. Together we can end homelessness.

By Emily Kvalheim, NCH Intern and American University Class of 2015

The Controversial “Safety Net” (1981 to 2012)

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Policy Advocacy, Poverty

By Michael Stoops

Over the past several decades, the usage and connotation of the term ‘safety net’ has changed, but the need has only increased. The ‘safety net’ encompasses various programs, such as Medicaid for children and families, Medicare for the elderly, Food Stamp Programs and more. The National Coalition for the Homeless has always been in support of safety net services as vital resources for preventing and ending homelessness, and giving our neighbors the dignity to feed and care for themselves and their families. NCH’s support of the safety net is best illustrated through our newsletter, Safety Network, which was sent out from 1981 through 2006. Although the name for the newsletter was chosen based off former president Ronald Reagan’s quote on the safety net, the usage and attitude towards the safety net has undoubtedly transformed over the past few decades, as demonstrated by the quotes below.

When he announced his budget proposals Feb. 18, in an address to a joint session of Congress, President Reagan declared: ”We will continue to fulfill the obligations that spring from our national conscience. Those who through no fault of their own must depend on the rest of us, the poverty-stricken, the disabled, the elderly, all those with true need, can rest assured that the social safety net of programs they depend on are exempt from any cuts.”   President Ronald Reagan, February, 1981.

Former U.S.  Rep. Cynthia McKinney, Green Party Presidential Candidate 2008, at a Citizen’s Commission on 9/11, stated that “this time, not just for supporting me, but also for not being bamboozled into submission by questionable insider backroom characters who want to take away our freedoms, send our children off to war, and rip to shreds the social safety net for the American people.” September 2004.

President Barack Obama, during his senator years, said that “Privatization is not something that I would consider. And the reason is this: Social Security is the floor. That’s the baseline. Social Security is that safety net that can’t be frayed and that we shouldn’t put at risk.” July 2007

Ron Paul, Republican Presidential Nominee, is opposed to the safety net. He thinks that “it does work for some people, but overall it ultimately fails, because you spend more money than you have, and then you borrow to the hilt. Now we have to borrow $800 billion a year just to keep the safety net going. It’s going to collapse when the dollar collapses, you can’t even fight the war without this borrowing. And when the dollar collapses, you can’t take care of the elderly of today. They’re losing ground. Their cost of living is going up about 10%, even though the government denies it, we give them a 2% cost of living increase.”  Newsweek interview by Howard Fineman, December 2007.

“For people who have for been putting their hard-earned money into the system for years, the president’s idea would replace their safety net with a risky gamble with no assurance of a stable return of investment.” – U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano  for California’s 38th congressional district March 2009.

 “I understand that during this financial crisis, when countless numbers of our family members, neighbors, colleagues, and friends have seen their retirement savings disappear, the safety net of Social Security is more important than ever. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that next year, for the first time since 1975, beneficiaries will not get a cost of living adjustment. I support emergency measures to ensure that beneficiaries receive a cost of living increase, ensuring that social security’s promises are kept. As Senator, I will fight to keep the promise of Social Security and preserve it for future generations. I am committed to ensuring that benefits are not reduced, and that those paying into the system now will be guaranteed their benefits later.”  -Martha Cloakey, Democratic nominee from MA for special election in the Senate and current Attorney General of MA, December 2009.

“Democrats know that the simple math of health care will eventually shred the social safety net they seek to protect.’” National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), Washington Post, June 2011.

California U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, former chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, said she has faith in Obama’s ability to cut a fair deal, but when asked about potential cuts to Medicaid, Lee said, “No, you can’t cut that.” “That’s a safety net, really,” Lee told POLITICO.  – U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, U.S. Representative for California’s 9th congressional district, June 2011.

“Social Security is America’s social safety net for the elderly and disabled. The program was enacted in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression as part of the New Deal. While it initially sparked controversy, it has over seven decades proved to be a success, providing needed benefits to millions of Americans in need and serving as a source of retirement income for America’s middle class.” – Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry’s Proposal to turn Social Security over to the States, from White Paper, September 2011.

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there,” Romney told CNN. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.” Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, January 2012

“What the poor need is a trampoline so they can spring up, so I am for replacing the safety net with a trampoline.” – Republican Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich, February 2012.

Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West (FL) is disturbed that food stamps buy much more than food these days.  “I happened to drive by a gas station in Pompano Beach, Fla., in the heart of Congressional District 22, the district I represent.  In front of the gas station were large banners proclaiming, ‘We accept EBT SNAP cards.’  This is not something we should be proud to promote,” the Florida Republican said.  “Now we see a growing number of businesses in this country, including sit-down and fast food restaurants, standalone and gas station convenience markets, and even pharmacies eager to accept SNAP benefits, Rep. West observed.  “The measure of success for our social safety net programs should be that fewer and fewer Americans must rely on them, not more and more,” he added.  – Washington Times April 2012.

Crisis Hidden in Plain View

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Poverty, Speakers' Bureau

Homelessness is quickly becoming America’s “forgotten tragedy”. All around us, we are encountering historic levels of economic hardship, childhood hunger, terminal illness, domestic violence, disabled veterans’ languishing on the streets, as well as a rising tide of lethal hate crimes. But we can make a difference.

The National Coalition for the Homeless is proud to announce a new campaign, Crisis Hidden in Plain View, a campaign to encourage outreach and engagement to families and individuals who are homeless or at-risk of becoming un-housed.  Watch the video.

We need your help today!

NCH is working each day to prevent and end homelessness, while ensuring that the needs of those experiencing homelessness are met. We do this by…

  • Bringing America Home. Ending homelessness is a national problem with local solutions: NCH’s is ending homelessness by creating affordable housing; growing living wage jobs; improving access to affordable healthcare; and, protecting civil rights.
  • Protecting the Human Right to Shelter & Housing. Everyone deserves a place to call home. NCH is working to establish and preserve the human right to shelter & housing.
  • Helping Hands. Homeless families and individuals can use support: NCH has placed 60 VISTA volunteers in 24 sites across 6 states, giving people in need a helping hand.
  • Keeping an Eye on Justice. Poverty is not a crime: NCH is protecting workers rights in the courts and in the field and making certain that homelessness can’t be criminalized.
  • Speaking Truth to Power. NCH issues twelve annual reports with in-depth analysis and reviews on housing, healthcare, jobs & benefit income and civil rights.
  • Protecting Voting Rights: Homelessness can feel dehumanizing. NCH is fighting for the right and ability to vote by registering 25,0000 voters living in persistent poverty.
  • Sharing Our Stories: The homeless experience is best told in the first person; NCH’s Speakers Bureau is dozens of speakers, 100’s of thousands listeners, and 30 bureaus.
  • Grassroots Organizing: Homelessness is not community-less. NCH brings homeless stakeholders together to organize, act in their own self-interest and create durable power for many tomorrows.

Your donation today will be matched dollar-for-dollar through a time-limited $30,000 matching contribution.

Contributions to housing the homeless have never been more necessary, and investments today have never more effective. NCH is Bringing America Home and we need your support now.

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