Our Treasure Coast Homeless Peeps
I met Charlie on Thanksgiving Day at Jensen Beach Christian Church, he had come for the free dinner. He told me that he’s been sleeping in the woods for a year because he can’t afford a place of his own.
Charlie is unable to work due to physical disability so his only source of income is from his disability checks. Which he says are not enough.
I looked into how many more people like Charlie were facing homelessness here on the Treasure Coast. The most comprehensive data I could find was from Treasure Coast Services For The Homeless Inc.’s Jan 29th, 2016 report for all three counties – Indian River / St. Lucie / Martin (http://www.tchelpspot.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/2016-Three-County-PIT-Sheets-2.pdf). I added the data for the these counties together.
You may be surprised to learn we have 2,382 documented cases of human beings living here on the Treasure Coast without a home. Almost one third (31%) are children.
There are multiple shelters on the Treasure Coast for animals in need, but not a single shelter for people.
To find out about what resources were available I met with Brenda Dickerson, the executive director of Love And Hope In Action (LAHIA), for a tour of their faculty.
LAHIA is open 6 days a week for breakfast and dinner, and in 2016 they served 248 clients 29,500 meals. Brenda said that about 60-70 people come through their doors twice daily to eat. Those 248 clients also took 3,334 showers and did 808 loads of laundry at LAHIA. They operates a community food pantry as well, and in 2016 221 households containing 485 mouths received food from it.
Brenda pointed out that one if the biggest challenges they come across is a person with no ID. Without proper identification it is not possible to get any government assistance, and there are no other organizations that currently help with the process of getting a State ID or driver’s licence.
I asked Charlie about this when we met, and learned that this was an issue for him as well.
Then something interesting happened – Charlie and I began discussing the larger implications of a lack of identification.
And Charlie hit the issue right on the head with his comment- “I know who I am, but that don’t count.” Without identity a person is invisible to society, and therefore they don’t count.
It’s classic dehumanization breeding apathy, and it’s a slippery slope from there. Just think back to literally every instance of genocide- and you will find that both dehumanization and apathy had roles to play.
That was deep, I know, so let’s hear some positive info now! In 2016, LAHAI helped clients obtain 46 Certificates of Birth, 49 State IDs and 19 Florida drivers licences. 32 of their clients found jobs, and 59 moved into their own place, started a new journey, or reunited with family members. 5 of their clients are currently in college, 3 ride bikes to IRSC and 2 take classes online.
CareBag is another nonprofit organization serving our homeless here on the Treasure Coast.
Their website states their mission as: “Carebag Inc.— a grassroots 501(C)3 organization whose mission is providing hope, creating opportunity, and transforming lives. Filling bags with food and filling hearts with Love. CareBag wraps hope in simple packages.”
Since September 2017 CareBag has distributed over 45,000 bags of food items and 80,000 personal items and cloths. Between January and November of 2017 they transitioned 4 families into their own place (Source: CareBag.net).
CareBag is currently working to raise funds for a mobile shower and toilet unit for the homeless and families at risk. Their website reminds us: “…it’s about so much more than just a shower or using a private toilet – it’s about providing dignity to people.”
Treating people with dignity
That is what I felt when I was speaking with Charlie- he really just wanted to treated with some dignity. I asked Charlie what his last name was, and he told me it was Jensen. Then, I formally introduced myself and shook his hand. I told Mr. Charlie Jensen how happy I was to know who he was, and thanked him for speaking with me on camera. If you watch the video, pay attention to how his eyes light up as he takes my hand after this exchange.
Off camera, I asked Charlie if he would accept my help. I offered to take him to LAHIA so he could take advantage of the help they provide for getting identification and be agreed to meet me back at the church next Monday. I am not rich by any means, but I did have $15 on me so I gave it to Charlie along with my card and cell phone number. Charlie said I looked rich to him.
How about the other 2,382?
We heard Charlie’s reason for being homeless, but how about the other 2,382? Each situation is unique, but common reasons are employment, family problems, housing, disability, and substance abuse.
When I met with Brenda I asked her for suggestions about how to refer to our larger Treasure Coast homeless community while remaining sensitive to their individuality and unique situations. She told me Chris Taylor, LAHIA Director of Client Services called their clients her “homeless peeps. Chris is the only other employee at LAHIA, and formerly homeless herself.
I like that. It’s like a gentle reminder that homeless people are people too.
*****If you would like to help, please contact the organizations featured in this article directly by using the links provided. If you are unable to get through to someone, send me (Kat Duesterhaus) an email at [email protected]****
PS thank you to my homie Mike Bamonte for helping me film my interview with Charlie!