Thursday, May 26, 2011

REBUILD: The Last Resort Homeless Shelter

I have been a resident at the Homeless Voice shelter in Hollywood, Florida for over a month. I became homeless on purpose on April 11, 2011 in order to teach the readers of my women’s empowerment website that they can overcome their biggest fear of losing everything. I wanted to show them how to survive an extreme life transition or loss by researching and exposing survival skills, resources and the mental strategies for success. I gave away everything that I owned and terminated my lease so that there would be no turning back once I began this project. I planned to catalogue my journey to rebuilding my life and pull other women with me by organizing a job fair specifically for homeless women.

I planned to sleep in a park but was told by the police that I couldn’t sleep there. I wandered over to the Homeless Voice Homeless Shelter and asked for help. They gave me dinner and a mat to sleep on. I’ve been sleeping here ever since.

While I am here I have had the opportunity to speak with many of the residents about their lives in the shelter. These are not your average crisis transition homeless people. Most residents of the Homeless Voice Homeless Shelter, have made the reformed motel their home.

It wasn’t my plan to explore homelessness, my plan was to showcase how to rise from it, but what I’ve learned shocked me and enlightened me; homelessness is actually a lifestyle for many.

How can homelessness become a lifestyle? It seems to be a plateau that many can rest in or rise from, depending on their personal desire. It becomes a lifestyle once the homeless person becomes comfortable in understanding that there is little responsibility and surprisingly, there are more compassionate people in the world that care about those who they deem less fortunate.

I have stood on the median for 8 hours a day, clad in my bright yellow vest, holding my donation bucket. I smile and I wave and I ask for donations and many empty their ash trays full of change into my bucket. Most days I collect at least $100. People care. Many people do. Entire agencies are built around the promise of helping the less fortunate, but none do it to the degree that the Homeless Voice Shelter does.

Most of the residents of the Homeless Voice shelter are disabled, mentally ill or drug & alcohol addicted. Some of the residents are simply down on their luck and in need of a place to recuperate after an extreme loss. As I sit here and look around, I realize that these are the misfits of society. No other shelter will have them. No program will help them. They can not re enter society’s workforce on a consistent basis for a number of reasons. They either lack the physical or mental capacity, they have been aged out of their professions or they cannot find an opportunity to work due to a past criminal history. Of course, there are those whose recreational addictions take priority over their personal well-being.

These are the people who have fallen into the cracks of society. Their families have turned their backs on them due to the extreme demands of caring for a person with mental illness or substance addictions. They can’t afford to live in an assisted living facility on the disability and SSI checks they receive. Their lack of insurance won’t afford them the medical attention they need.

They sit and wallow in their misfortune day in and day out, smoking cigarettes and bickering like jealous siblings. They can’t rise up out of this situation, they have no idea how. Who cares for them? The community does and Sean Canonie does. I’ve watched him go into his personal wardrobe and pull out clothes for a young man who is overweight and can’t find anything in the donations bin that will fit him. I have seen him provide shelter to desperate families who need a safe place to sleep at night.

I have heard that many question what the shelter does with the money from the able bodied vendors who are required to sell the newspapers on the corners. I have heard that there is speculation about what really goes on in the shelter. I’m not surprised. People have a tendency to criticize and reject the unfamiliar. Most people refuse to see the good in life. That is the difference between myself and most others- I am always on the look out for miracles.

From what I’ve seen, the mission to rescue has been fully realized by this shelter.

There is a miracle in this mess and Sean Canonie, regardless of his flaws and inconsistencies, is holding the magic wand.


The editor of “My Savvy Sisters” has done something quite interesting and brave here – voluntarily becoming homeless, and, for those who have little experience with homelessness, it’s yielded some surprising and unexpected insights about homelessness, i.e., how could someone “choose” to be homeless?

First, few people “choose” to be homeless. The National Coalition for the Homeless routinely publishes "Who is Homeless?" which looks at the reasons for homelessness, and few, if any, would deliberately chose to be homeless.

It’s probably more the case that people, especially the chronically homeless, simply give up and then the main struggle is to cope with being homeless, because they see no other way for themselves.

This is exactly the reason that Eva's Village has three sheltering programs: Emergency Overnight Shelter for Men, Emergency Overnight Shelter for Women and Hope Residence for Mothers and Children.

When a client enters one of our shelters an intake process is completed which includes a screening for substance abuse and co-occurring conditions (e.g. mental illness).

For clients with substance abuse issues a service plan is put into place to help them get into a program. If they also have a co-occurring condition referrals and services are coordinated with local organizations.

All clients are also referred to our Job Readiness Program. A unique feature of this program is that clients receive job training, workplace skills and on the job mentoring.

In the end, while there may be a few highly unconventional and unusual individuals who “choose” to be homeless, most of the chronically homeless require comprehensive services to move from poverty to self-sufficiency, and our goal has always been to assist people in crisis with services that move them toward a better life.


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