Posts Tagged ‘Veterans’

Why does society reject, neglect and otherwise disavow – the homeless?

Why are the homeless the ‘Great Outcasts’ of our society and creatures which ‘normal’ citizens have nothing to do with?

And then, why do we ask, knowing the apparent answers to such questions… “Why?”

“Why are the homeless the products of our ‘Great Society’, and what can we do about it?”

Most of American society does not want to see or acknowledge the existence and/or plight of the homeless.In most people’s minds encounters in the park are to be avoided, as we do not want to have to ‘explain’ to our children as to “Why is that man over there carrying all that stuff?” (sleeping bags, etc.) “Why doesn’t he just leave it at home?”

Or, while sitting in the park, we don’t want to see the homeless person, when we are by ourselves sitting there enjoying our lunch on a park bench. And we don’t want to run into the homeless on the street or anywhere else, because they might be ‘panhandling’ for change or asking for a hand-out and such a confrontation makes us uncomfortable, feeling that we are being robbed of our last change for bus-fare or coffee at Starbucks. They’re such an inconvenience!

They remind us that there are the rich and that there are the poor and deep down inside ourselves, in our human conscientiousness, we have this uncomfortable feeling that there must be some fundamental wrong, or problem, with the system, when there exists a human society that cannot take care of its own desperate people.

Anyway, here in America, most Americans will just walk past a homeless person on the street and act as though he/she does not exist.

The Great Unseen People of America
For some strange reason, many foreigners, tourists, and visitors have no problem approaching and acknowledging the homeless. It might be that they have known such people in their own homeland and have more humanely accepted them into their society, something America, with its consumer and money-spending economy and society, is unwilling to do.

And yet part of the problem of the ‘unseen’ here in America, is also cultural and religious. “I made my way, my fortune, and they can too!” However, those facts and realities of life may be the illusive dream that never happens for the homeless person, as opposed to all of the breaks, opportunities, family trust funds and inheritances and other good-will advantages which the privileged individual has probably been the beneficiary of in this country.

In other words, in America, everyone just goes their own merry-way, superficially dealing with each other but not really knowing one another.

Sometimes, of course, people do reach out to others and it is a joy when they do. But, the religion-cultural aspect, here in America strongly implies that one’s personal and family responsibilities largely be kept separated from one’s economic responsibilities leaving our personal responsibilities in the hands of multitudes of third-party- representatives, whoever they may be; from your congressman, to your minister or priest, to the homeless shelter, and so on, all the way up to that greatest third-party-representative the Almighty Dollar Bill!

In other words, as long as such representatives exist, in all facets of American life, then we don’t have to be responsible. We have no direct, personal responsibility for our words, actions and deeds. We feel we no longer have to be our brother’s keeper as long as our ‘representatives’ are exercising our responsibilities for us!

We have been taught that the homeless – and all of the ‘disadvantaged’ – are a State problem, not a Church problem.
We can then attend our ‘clubhouses-of-worship’ with the knowledge that only such people as ourselves; those of us who have a home, a family, an income, a job, and everything else that defines the American Dream will be there, to worship and join with us, in our exclusive ‘clubhouses’, and that any ‘State-problem’ such as homelessness will not be seen there!

But Jesus told His followers to do something about the poor. “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:13-14 NIV

And thus the American Churches should feel an obligation to do something. And yet some feel they have to contend with the importance of being a venue of worship, which, of course, in most cases, serve and benefit only its members!

But read what James wrote to the church of his time: “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” James2:5 NIV

Unfortunately, ignoring the poor is an age old problem that seems to continually plague humanity:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. Ezek. 16:49

But now let’s get back to our homeless problem. (Which the State apparently, cannot do anything about!) The homeless need us! They need us to reintegrate them into our society! They need us to help them find their way. And their own way should be determined exclusively by the individual. Not the way or path that we, or others in society, think is the solution, to any and all problems of the homeless.

Why the homeless problem won’t go away.
The homeless problem won’t go away because the problem is a result of our own system – of our attitudes, of our discrimination, of our economics and greed and of our prejudices that keeps us from doing anything.

However, with God, we can go out on the streets, we can find, and nurture, and actually help the homeless of America …
If… we are willing to dedicate ourselves to eliminating homelessness!
To find, and to really know another person can be a joy! And especially, if that other person is a homeless person.
One can almost say that one has found another member of one’s long lost family. Because we are, all of us, the Family of the Human Race!

So let’s work to bring all of us together in peace, harmony, and love. Let us keep the mindset that we truly are our brother’s keeper. Each and every one of us!

The following is an event posted on MACCH’s Listserve.

What is it like to be a homeless person? Why are people homeless?

Omaha Public Library (OPL), in collaboration with University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Public Health Interprofessional Service Learning Academy (IP-SLA) and the Siena/Francis House (SFH), is helping put a face to homelessness in Omaha.

Throughout February, the Michael Phipps Gallery at the W. Dale Clark Main Library, 215 S. 15th St., will feature “Finding a Voice,” an art exhibit by Chris Leet and Jeremiah Neal. There will be an opening reception and panel discussion on homelessness on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 5:30-7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Chris Leet was born in Omaha in 1973. He has been an artist most of his life, creating album covers and concert posters. Leet was completing his drug recovery program and living at the shelter when he re-discovered himself through the “Finding a Voice” project, an inter professional collaboration that links health care, social work and communication students with people who are homeless and are receiving services at SFH. Leet is now a dean’s list student at Metropolitan Community College.

Jeremiah Neal was a homeless guest at SFH. While battling with addiction and other personal struggles, Neal was encouraged by SFH staff to embrace his artistic talent and has created art that has attracted positive attention in our community.

Both artists are sober, living independently in Omaha, and working to empower other homeless people to find their voice and start new journeys.

The panel discussion on homelessness and transformation will include eight panelists with unique perspectives on the project and its implications:
Nancy Farris, College of Nursing UNMC; Terry Johnson, case manager at SFH; Andrea Laccheri, University of Nebraska at Omaha doctoral student; Chris Leet, artist; Ruth Margalit, IP-SLA director; Jerry Neal, artist; Rita Paskowitz, professional storyteller; and Mike Saklar, executive director of SFH. Gary Wasdin, Omaha Public Library executive director, will moderate the panel discussion.

For information visit: omahalibrary.org
or Contact:
Emily Getzschman @ 402.444.4896, egetzschman@omahalibrary.org
Or Linda Trout, 402.444.4838, ltrout@omahalibrary.org

The Omaha recall election took a surprising turn last week. A group opposed to the recall, sent buses to local homeless shelters offering residents a job and a chance to vote.

On Wednesday several of the local media including KMTV Action 3 News talked to many people at the Siena /Francis House who were on the bus with Forward Omaha. Those on the bus say they were specifically told to not to talk to the media about what went on inside the bus.

“I guess they just walked in there and said who wants five bucks? I don’t know how it happened or how it started, all I saw was people getting off the bus,”  Brad Polchow, the Siena-Francis House manager said.

Forward Omaha, the anti-recall group is accused of targeting the homeless for votes in the final days to register to vote in the special election. Forward Omaha came to the Siena-Francis house in a school bus offering people five dollars to participate in the “get the vote out” training. They then took them in the bus to go get registered. Some of them even cast an early ballot.

Some of the homeless on the bus told KMTV reporter, Hannah Pickett that they didn’t even know who Mayor Jim Suttle was. The manager of the Sienna-Francis house said the residents don’t care. “If you offer a homeless person five bucks to go on a bus… they’re going to go on the bus.” He said.

Forward Omaha justifies its actions by saying it’s important to get all people out there to vote. Forward Omaha says they did nothing wrong, insisting they were paying to train people, not paying for votes. The group said it plans to hire some of the trainees at ten dollars an hour for help on election day.

Forward Omaha believes that what they did was completely legal and insists that they offered people training. They didn’t have to vote. They didn’t have to vote the way we wanted them to. Forward Omaha also says they plan to continue these efforts of busing people to polling places and offering them money to train them to work election day for the rest of the week.

The actions of Forward Omaha may be legal but I question if they’re ethical. And I know that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

The Omaha World Herald reported that when campaign workers called the Open Door Mission and asked if they could load up homeless people and drive them to the election office — with the promise of $5 and a job — they were told “no” two days in a row.

It appeared to be an attempt to “exploit” the homeless and it was wrong, said Candace Gregory, head of the Open Door Mission.

The refusals, however, didn’t stop Forward Omaha from sending three buses to the homeless shelter last Wednesday and loading up about 10 men before a staff member with the shelter intervened, Gregory said.

“Our program director did go on the bus and explain to the men that this was actually unethical and inappropriate, and you shouldn’t be told you’re going to get something for voting,” said Gregory.

Gregory said she also questioned the campaign’s promise of a job. The homeless people were told they could receive $10 an hour canvassing neighborhoods if they successfully completed a training program. “In my opinion, they would not be candidates for going door-to-door in our community,” Gregory said of the shelter clients who were solicited.

The Open Door Mission was the second shelter to become entangled in the controversy. Three busloads of homeless people were picked up at the Siena-Francis House, a shelter north of downtown, and taken to the election office.

Since then both shelters have been fielding angry calls from supporters who believed that the shelters were somehow involved with Forward Omaha’s bussing program. That could not be further from the truth.

The incident has caused problems for both the Siena-Francis House and the Open Door Mission. Shelter directors stressed that they objected to the bus rides and that, as nonprofits, their organizations don’t take a position on political issues.

Gregory, at the Open Door Mission, said it was clear Forward Omaha was asking the homeless people to vote against the recall. The campaign handed out fliers to the homeless people that clearly urged voting “no” and included a sample ballot with the “no” marked.

“I strongly agree they have the right to vote, but not in this circumstance, where they’re told to ‘Vote this way and you get this (money),’” said Gregory, who noted the mission provides its clients with transportation to polling places on Election Day.

She also said many of the homeless people did not make the distinction that the $5 was payment to attend a training seminar. Some thought they’d get the money if they voted.

A week after the incident Mike Saklar, Executive Director of the Siena/Francis House still had to spend a good portion of his day trying to repair the damage that Forward Omaha had done. Including sending mass emails like the one below:

January 17, 2010

Dear Jonah,

As I mentioned, previously, local media have been reporting about the fact that a group opposing the effort to recall Omaha Mayor, Jim Suttle – Forward Omaha – transported homeless persons from outside the Siena/Francis House’s day services center to the Douglas County Election Commissioner’s Office last Wednesday, January 12th.  Unfortunately, some of the early media reports implied that the Siena/Francis House was somehow involved in this effort.  This is absolutely and unequivocally not true.

As a friend and supporter of our shelter and of the homeless families and individuals we serve, I would like to update with you a number of points regarding the actions of this group, which are:

* I did not authorize or support, nor did I have any prior knowledge of Forward Omaha’s actions.

* We do not bus homeless persons to or from polling places.

* The first time that I learned of this effort was when I was contacted by a media outlet that same afternoon, after it had already occurred.

* The Siena/Francis House is a non-profit, charitable organization with a mission of providing food, shelter and clothing to our community’s homeless families and individuals.  We do not participate in – nor have ever participated in – politics, including the recent effort to recall Omaha’s mayor.

* Siena/Francis House policy prohibits our organization from engaging in political activities, of any sort.  The Siena/Francis House’s By-Laws clearly state that our organization “shall not participate in or intervene in (including the publishing or distribution of statements) any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”  Our organization strictly adheres to this policy.

* I view this action by Forward Omaha as an exploitation of the homeless persons we serve, and I wholeheartedly condemn it.

And, as before, I regret having to share this information in this manner, but feel compelled to do so, in order to clarify the fact that the Siena/Francis House had absolutely no role in Forward Omaha’s actions.

Please know that I very much welcome your thoughts and feedback on this or any matter, related to the homeless.

Thank you for the opportunity to allow me to share this information with you.

Mike Saklar

Executive Director

Siena/Francis House Homeless Shelter

The Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) had to spend much of their time trying to repair the damage as well and sent the following mass email:

MACCH members, board members and staff have been watching and talking about the local actions by Forward Omaha to recruit people experiencing homelessness for the anti-recall campaign.  Overwhelmingly, our collective stance is that all people, with and without homes, should have the opportunity to express themselves through voting and through other political means, and on issues of their choosing. This is why area homeless providers welcome voter registration efforts through the year.  In contrast, methods perceived as coercive or manipulative of vulnerable people, by dangling cash or implying employment is unacceptable.

It is regrettable that some of our caring and generous supporters of homeless services have misperceived the shelters actions.  They may have not realized that shelter providers actually tried to prevent this perceived manipulation of people using their shelters during a housing emergency.  The resulting fallout has been harsh and hurtful toward people in homelessness.

Some of these people expressed feeling misled when employment opportunities with the election did not pan out, opportunities they hoped would help end their homelessness.

Some shelters received angry calls from supporters who thought shelters did not try to prevent this brazen tactic.  Those angered, vowed to cease further support of shelters.  What a mess of a misguided strategy that back fired in so many ways, most painfully experienced by our neighbors, many very ill with a housing crisis;  a desperate time in their lives.

Solidly, our homeless service providers are committed to support to right to vote and will facilitate the continuance of that right by welcoming efforts free from coercive tactics.

Erin Porterfield, LCSW

Executive Director

MACCH

(Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless)

115 S. 49 Ave.

Omaha, NE 68132

Suttle has spent a lot of time the past few days trying to put out all the fires that erupted after the controversy broke.

In addition to apologizing to homeless shelters, Suttle made some changes to his campaign staff. He put a new person in charge of Forward Omaha to monitor all campaign activity until Election Day.

Suttle has called it a “mistake” and a “conflict of interest” to pay the homeless people to attend a training seminar on the same day they were bused to the polls. He said that he did not know about it beforehand and that it would not be repeated.

Noelle Obermeyer, a spokesman for Forward Omaha, said the person who called the Open Door Mission was a volunteer. She said the volunteer did not tell anyone in a leadership position in the organization that the mission had rejected the request. She also said the fliers distributed were not produced by Forward Omaha and were not handed out with the organization’s approval.  “Leadership didn’t know about these things,” Obermeyer  said.

But some of the damage has already been done.

For decades politicians have used the excuse, “I did not know that” or “I don’t recall that” or “It was a mistake.”   For someone in leadership who says they did not know what was going on sends a message that they are either lying or they are incompetent.

I once worked for a company where I was in charge of 70 people on a production line. If any of those people ever did anything that was unethical or against company policy or illegal I would be held responsible. But in politics it’s more of about excuses than accepting responsibility.

Forward Omaha regrets how the situation unfolded but said the committee’s intent was simply to provide transportation to people who wanted to vote.

I wonder where these people were (who were so concerned with the homeless vote) when area shelters had clothing and food drives. I wonder where the buses were when the homeless needed rides to clinics and other appointments.

To make matters worse, Douglas County Election Commissioner David Phipps said three people who had cast early votes called his office, wanting to change their minds.

They made it clear they had voted to retain Suttle but now wanted to switch their vote. Once a vote is cast, however, it cannot be taken back, Phipps said.

Because of the damage done by the actions of Forward Omaha, as shocking as it may seem, I would encourage people to be even more diligent in your supporting area homeless shelters now.

In many cases these shelters are a person’s last hope of returning to a normal life. And the workers at the shelters cannot help the homeless community without your support.

News stories from Action 3 News, Omaha World Herald, and WOWT included in this article.

Links to more news :

http://www.action3news.com/Global/story.asp?S=13834559

http://www.action3news.com/Global/story.asp?S=13858282

http://www.wowt.com/home/headlines/Suttle_Supporters_Bus_Homelss_To_Vote__113390539.html

http://www.omaha.com/article/20110113/NEWS01/110119828/276

Continuing my profiles of organizations in Omaha who reach out to the homeless and low income families I would like to highlight a very important ministry to the community.

Mission For All Nations

Mission For All Nations is a faith-based charitable organization founded to put love into action by providing food, clothing, shelter and other necessities to people of all ethnic backgrounds who are in need. They are creating an environment where lives are being changed instead of fostering dependency.

Last year their Homelessness and Hunger Prevention program supplied food pantry orders to provide a 5-7 day supply of food equivalent to over ½ a million meals to 26,870 individuals in economic distress along with personal hygiene products for each household. That is more food distributed directly to clients than any other pantry in the state of Nebraska. Additionally, nearly 20,000 clients received clothing and household goods. Overall, nearly $2 million in necessities were distributed to improve the lives of people experiencing an urgent need.

Their History

Josue Anaya was sent away from El Salvador by his mother in order to escape the bloody civil war in 1984. Later that year, after getting separated from his missionary contact, he nearly froze to death on the streets of Des Moines. After a dramatic rescue, he believed God had saved him to help others in similar desperate circumstances. In 1986, he married his wife Mary, and over the years they frequently provided shelter for homeless people out of their home. In 1992, they moved to Omaha and in 1999 both graduated from ministry school and started a small bilingual church. After working two years in the South Omaha community and receiving frequent requests for assistance with basic needs, they realized that the need was greater than they alone could meet.

The Anayas, ordained ministers fluent in English and Spanish, had started a church in 1999 in South Omaha. But they were constantly helping visitors with clothes and food.

“The ministry grew more into a pantry than a church,” Mary Anaya told The World-Herald in 2004. “We realized that what was needed in this community maybe wasn’t what we originally thought. We changed gears.”

A group of local business owners and clergy was asked to form a board for a new organization, and Mission For All Nations was born in November of 2002. The new organization was incorporated in January 2003 for the purpose of providing food, clothing and shelter for the needy of all ethnic backgrounds. Mission For All Nations is now the largest food pantry in a 93-county area of Nebraska and Iowa. The organization incorporated in 2003 and quickly grew to encompass three buildings in the 21st and Q Streets area.

Pastor Mary Anaya

Pastor Mary Anaya dedicated her life to the Lord and the spreading of the Gospel by demonstrating love in action and serving people in need. Her hard work was paramount in developing Mission For All Nations into the largest food pantry in the area. Her passion for the poor was evident in everything that she did and has made our community a better place to live.

Though diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer early in her pregnancy, she tried to continue her work with the food pantry she co-founded. But she died early Wednesday, October 21, 2009 just after midnight at Bergan Mercy Medical Center at age 42. So did her 19-week-old unborn baby due in March whom she carried, leaving behind her family and a long history of loving her neighbor as herself. She will be missed but her legacy will continue to be carried on through the work of Mission For All Nations.

Mary was the organization. When you said, ‘Mary Anaya,’ everyone knew it was Mission For All Nations. She gave everything she had. She and husband Josue would have given the last box of food out of their home cupboard to help somebody.

Anaya, who had no cancer history and was not a smoker, went to see a doctor Aug. 21, 2009 when she was having difficulty breathing. She was hospitalized for fluid buildup on her lungs. She was later diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

Cancer during pregnancy is rare but not unheard of — about 1 in 1,000 pregnancies coincide with a mother’s diagnosis of cancer, according to the Houston-based M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Mary was in her first trimester when diagnosed with cancer and was told that the disease was too advanced for treatment options.

The Omaha Food Bank has distributed almost 278,000 pounds of food to Mission for All Nations. That represents about a quarter of the 1.16 million pounds of food the food bank distributed to 55 agencies in Douglas County.

Unlike most food pantries, which limit visits to several times a year, Mission For All Nations had an open-door policy for the needy, as long as they volunteered.

In 2009 Mission for All Nations provided 37,109 individuals with a week’s supply of food and 240 families were provided a 1-2 day supply of food. Clients also received 29,398 clothing and household items.

Watch Mission For All Nation video here

As we approach the holidays Mission For All Nations is in need of turkeys and holiday foods. They anticipate serving over 4,500 people in November alone. An extra donation of $31 will help provide holiday food for the working poor. They also need extra volunteers to help with food distribution and toy registration for their ‘Christmas for South O Program.’

If you are interested in helping Mission for All Nations you can contact them at (402) 733-2077 or register online here

For more information about Mission for All nations visit http://www.missionfan.com/index.htm

While the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness has been declining over the past two years, 107,000 former service men and women were homeless on a given night in 2009 as estimated by the The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA)

Sixty-one percent of homeless Veterans are between ages 35 and 54. Though 96 percent of homeless Veterans are male, the number of female Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans experiencing homelessness is alarmingly increasing as well as the number of homeless Veterans who have dependent children.

In general, Veterans have high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury, and sexual trauma which can lead to higher risk for homelessness.  About half of homeless Veterans have serious mental illness and 70 percent have substance abuse problems. Half of homeless Veterans have histories of involvement with the legal system. (I personally believe that all of these problems are primarily a result of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan)  Veterans are more likely to live outdoors—unsheltered—and experience long-term, chronic homelessness.

There is Help

But there is help available for these men and women who sacrificed so much for us and have received so little in return. These brave souls willingly placed themselves in harm’s way in order to make our way of life safe and secure. Now we have the obligation and responsibility to help make their lives safe and secure.

If you know someone who is a Veteran and is experiencing homelessness you can help them get the help they need by contacting the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans

The VA has founded the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans hotline to ensure that homeless Veterans or Veterans at-risk for homelessness have free, 24/7 access to trained counselors. The hotline is intended to assist homeless Veterans and their families, VA Medical Centers, federal, state and local partners, community agencies, service providers and others in the community.  To be connected with a trained VA staff member call 1-877-4AID VET (877-424-3838).

It’s nice that there are so many businesses and organizations that take one day out of the year to honor our Veterans, but after Veteran’s Day ends let’s not return to our life as usual. Remember that after today many of our Veterans will still be homeless and in desperate need of our help and support.

If you know of a Veteran who is facing homelessness please make the call to the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans or contact your local VA to find out how you can help. In this way we can make everyday a day that we honor our Veterans.

“Homelessness cannot be solved by a single agency or organization, by a single level of government, or by a single sector. Everyone should be reminded of the intricacies of homelessness as a policy area, and remember that preventing and ending homelessness will take real coordination, collaboration, and a constant exchange of ideas.”

HHS Secretary                                                                                                                                                              Kathleen Sebelius