Family Within the Homelessness.

Volunteer K-1 teacher, teaching shapes and colors for our youngest clients.

*This blog was contributed by Pastor Robert Parrish, Love Win’s spiritual counselor and pastor. He’s contributing a series of insightful blogs about his experiences within the community center.  To learn more about Pastor Robert, click here for Alyssa Chamblee’s interview with him.  

I have been a pastor for Love Wins Community Engagement Center a little better than five years now. I count it a privilege to walk with homeless persons through the toughest areas of life. As I provide ministry to them I see the injustice of our society and the many complexities in being homeless.

One day, about a year or so ago, I overheard one of the members of this community say , “We are family”. What; homeless and family? Within the context of this conversation I heard how one homeless person was helping another homeless person find medical support. I heard another person guide someone to where food could be found.

As the pastor here, I’ve learned how homeless persons are family and community to each other. This is something that the greater society does not fully realize as well. In fact, they take on a level of being family that people everywhere could learn and grow from.

Maybe the lesson here is that one does not necessarily need a roof over their heads to be family. It is making connections and helping others where you can.

*Pastor Robert Parrish provides counseling on Tuesdays and Fridays, Tai Chi class on Thursdays, and leads our worship service on Wednesdays at 12:20 pm at Open Table Methodist Church’s beautiful sanctuary.  

Ready to Rent

We’re starting our New Year off with a fledgling program we’re calling “Ready to Rent”. Our newest associate, Stefanie Mayes, has been working with people who have obtained or are obtaining their section 8 vouchers, and spends time calling each place to make sure our folks are still on the list, and how close they are to being renters. This work has been ongoing, and as it evolves, we’ve found some things that simply “go together”.

Stefanie also checks for available rentals, be it rooms or apartments for people who are ready to rent. She’s working on a list of private landlords as well, and we’re starting from base on this list- all previous lists available are long outdated, so if you know a private landlord who would like to fill their space, please email Stefanie here, and we’ll see if we can make a good match for them. This is a fledgling program, and we’re starting from square one, learning as we go.

We often find that paperwork can be daunting for people. It’s confusing. It can be overwhelming. It’s a lot more manageable with a friend to sit with you, look up things that are unfamiliar, and help you figure out what you need to be a future tenant. Some of what Stefanie does is as simple as navigating rental applications with folks. It’s simple, just requiring patience, a computer, and the ability to talk one person through, but it’s invaluable to people navigating housing for the first time. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one.

We’ve discovered, along this journey, that when people get housing, they’re excited, and we want to help them! We get a lot of donations, food, clothing, and housewares. Stefanie has started taking inventory and putting together those housewares for our folks who get housing, and it’s a blessing- there is so much to keep up with, we realized that this was a department that we were sorely lacking. I know where we keep towels, but I couldn’t tell you what size sheets we have or exactly where they are, what plates match, and how many sets of cutlery we have. I’m unsure of how many toaster ovens and blenders we have. We needed a person for this.

We want to be with you at every step of your journey. We’ll transition with you through the shelter and tents, to those first job interviews, through that first paycheck, to that first room for rent, to your first set of kitchen pans. We want to walk this journey with you, and if nothing else, as Hugh used to say, “We can’t pay your light bill, but we will sit with you in the dark”. We’ll walk with you through the path.

Stefanie Mayes, “Ready to Rent” program leader.

The Story of the Miracle Pants

Once upon a time, there was a young man named Jonah who worked 2 jobs and had just gotten into a boarding house.  One of Jonah’s jobs was in a kitchen, but the other job was as a sales person.  He worked hard to be able to afford his rent, and pay his phone bill, which he always answered very professionally because he also used it for work.  He kept gas in his moped and paid off his loan.  He was making ends meet and was proud of himself.

One day, Jonah came to work, and his big, corporate bosses were there to check on the store.  They got to know Jonah, they liked him, but they sent him home early because his pants were too faded to look professional anymore and told him not to come back to work in those pants.  Jonah only had 2 pairs of pants.

I got a phone call because he didn’t know what to do.  His check was going to just cover his rent, and if he bought pants, he couldn’t pay his loan.  He wore a very difficult size to find, so we came up with a plan.  We would go get some black dye, and we would dye his pants!  What a great idea!  For only $5, Jonah could have 2 pairs of pants that looked brand new!

We went searching for black dye and dyed both pairs of pants in my sink.  Jonah loves dogs and cats, so he had a great time playing with my pets and having coffee with my neighborhood friends.  When the pants were done, we put them in the dryer and noticed, they were better, but definitely not professional looking yet.  It was still an improvement.

Then we both got texts messages at the SAME TIME!  Mine was my friend Dory at Walgreens, telling me that our donation bin was full, and Jonah’s was his corporate bosses asking him if he accidentally took the store keys home.  We made a plan to drop off the store keys and then pick up the donations.  Jonah’s bosses asked him, “What are you doing right now?”  He said “Dying my pants for work tomorrow”.

When we arrived at his workplace, both of his big, corporate bosses were standing outside waiting for us.  The world is a small place because I knew one of them!  He used to live in North Carolina before getting this huge promotion!  I told him that the pants came out much better, definitely not perfect, but we could try to dye them again.  His bosses were named Larry and Joe, and Larry said, “Come with me”.

We didn’t know what to expect, but Larry and Joe took Jonah to store after store to find pants that were professional and fit him well.  Joe and Larry were so impressed with Jonah that they had made a plan, and bought him 3 pairs of pants, which they purchased with their own funds.  Then we were whisked off to a tailor to make the pants fit just right.  Larry said to me, “This is my purpose in life, to help people.  He needs this job, and he’s doing everything he can.”  Joe was equally supportive.  He said, “We like him and he’s doing a good job.  We want him here working with us.”

Then came the BIG SURPRISE, as if we weren’t already vibrating with energy; Larry’s mother is a hair dresser, and had offered to give Jonah an entire professional hair, beard, style make-over!  At this point we separated, Jonah to get his hair done, and I went to pick up the donations at Walgreens.  About an hour later, my truck was full of donations and Jonah was getting his newly cut hair washed.

I picked up some Jamaican food, because no one had eaten since lunch and it was now 8:30 pm.  Jonah emerged from the hairdresser looking like a young, professional salesman and smiled.  He looked absolutely amazing.  We thanked Larry and Joe for all of their help and headed back to my house to take the faded, re-dyed pants out of the dryer and eat dinner because we were famished.  The re-dyed pants are now kitchen pants, and Jonah has 3 pairs of tailored slacks for his sales job.

I cannot tell you how many employment stories I hear that end with “I didn’t have the right shoes/pants/shirt”.  This story could have ended the same way, but these big corporate bosses cared.  They saw something in Jonah, and they knew, all he needed was just a little thing.  Something that about $160 total could solve, which is a fortune when you are just starting out.  He needed “the look”, he was already successful in raw material, friendly, kind, and smart.  I’ve met many corporate bosses in my day, but I’ve never met any like these, and it gave me life and faith in society.  It gave me hope.  For Jonah, it gave him a well earned chance.

*Jonah is a pseudonym

From Homeless to Housed: Billy Goes Shopping For His New Apartment

Chef Billy Garrett started his lease on his apartment on November 1st, but came into the space early to start painting.  Billy has great pride in his place.  He’s painted his bathroom a pretty green and coordinated a shower curtain and accessories with it.  His kitchen is now painted an appetizing orange color that brightens up morning breakfast and evening dinners.  His bedroom in now a bright, sparkling white with a fresh white ceiling.  Today he’s tackling the living-room with a warm, light yellow.  It’s a cheerful, homey space.  

Today, Billy and I went to the Green Chair Project, a non-profit that helps people furnish their homes.  It was LOVELY.  They put so much effort into coordinating displays and creating warm, inviting showroom areas.  All of the furnishing and accessories are in excellent shape, clean and attractive.  The entire space is stunningly decorated by volunteers with an eye for coordinating rooms.  They even have volunteers who create these beautiful gift baskets, and if you’re a person with an eye for making beautiful gift baskets, this would be an EXCELLENT place to volunteer your time!

 

 

 

Beautiful gift baskets created by volunteers and staff at Green Chair.

Look at all of this talent!

The staff a Green Chair really gets to know the tastes of each client.  They know Billy’s color palate, what colors he’s chosen for his walls, and that his favorite interior decorating color is “Wine”, a rich burgundy.  He likes warm golds, deep yellows, jewel tones and surrounds himself with a feeling of warmth.  Billy chose a deep, warm loveseat and ottoman with warm, dark side tables, and a stunning rug to pull the room together.  

Billy’s warm couch with throw pillows, stunning carpet, and framed Van Gogh print.

Billy also chose a perfect little breakfast nook table, complete with table runner and flower arrangement, a whole set of new dishes, a bathroom gift basket with pretty towels to match his colors AND, I really think that they went into the back, after he chose his items, and created a gift basket just for him, because it could not have been more perfect.  All of his colors, a lamp that matched, a cute candle, a big, beautiful vase and another perfect throw pillow.  

Then, a bunch of strapping young men, loaded up a truck and delivered the furniture to Billy’s apartment!  They even helped him get the rug down BEFORE the big couch and tables were brought in!  I was SO IMPRESSED with Green Chair that we have begun the paperwork here at the center to be a partner agency.  Often times, we are the first point of contact when someone becomes housed, and we do everything we can for them, but we don’t have the space or volunteer power to pull off anything close to this beautiful, dignified shopping experience.  Green Chair really believes in agency, and lets everyone choose, exactly what they want for themselves, and that is so huge!

If you would like to help, we are still looking for a mattress and box spring for Billy.  I think we can find a bed frame, but the mattress and box spring has been like the holy grail- no one can find it right now.  If you or someone you know has one that they need to donate, please let us know, so that we can get Billy off of the air mattress and in his own bed!  We’re so proud of our Billy and our amazing team here at the center.  If you would like to contribute to Billy’s salary, please click here and leave us a note! Billy works hard for the money, and his hard work has paid off.  

Welcome Stefanie!

We are pleased to introduce everyone to our new Operations Associate, Stefanie Mayes!  Stefanie has a passion for food and helping others.  She and her husband hold a fish fry once a month, where her green beans have become a thing of legend.  She enjoys helping Chef Billy in the kitchen and the community members love everything that she creates back there.

Stefanie was previously a Property Manager for The Magnolias, which is a housing complex for people with disabilities who are approved for Section 8 housing.  She is extremely helpful with helping our folks navigate Section 8 housing once they attain their vouchers, and helping people find rooms for rent that they can afford.  Her focus, here at the center, will be assisting people with finding rental properties.  She’s already hit the ground running by finding a room for one of our housed people who was about to lose his housing.  If we can PREVENT someone from becoming homeless, it truly changes a life.

Her desire to help others makes Stefanie an excellent fit here at the center.  Before being a property manager, her career was managing restaurants and bars, which we’re found to be an excellent background for managing the constant movement here at Love Wins- we have to be fast on our feet, good problem solvers, and have the ability to interact with all different types of personalities.  The community already loves her; I knew that they would.

One year ago, I first interviewed Stefanie for a future position here at the center, but we didn’t have the money to hire anyone else at that time.  This past month, I took a leap of faith, to ask the world for forgiveness instead of permission.  I’m so glad that we did, because looking back, I can’t imagine how we got along without her.

Stefanie needs a laptop of her own to be able to look up rental properties and resources for people.  We, being a non-profit, can buy a refurbished one for $300.  If you would like to donate towards our folks transitioning out of homelessness, and our Homeless Prevention Program, please click here, and feel free to leave us a note about your passion.  Giving Stefanie the tools to help our folks be successful is so important, our ability to do good is only limited by the tools we have.  Come on down and meet Stefanie, take a tour of the Community Center, and see all of the new things that we’re doing here.  We would love to have you!!!

Seasons of Change

Here at Love Wins, when the season changes we find that the needs change too. Since Hurricane Florence came through, a lot of our folks have had runny noses, coughs, and have been going to the emergency room because they don’t feel well. In turn, they have needed help getting medications filled.

We have an account with Person Street Pharmacy, and they are amazing with us. We have the ability to help our community get medications that they normally wouldn’t be able to get. We try to make sure that they get all that we can provide to help them live happy, healthy lives. Sometimes that means they need their psychiatric medications, and sometimes that means a RIT lice kit.

We are blessed to have a place that tries to accommodate us with all of the help that they can provide for us, however, over the past month or so we have run up a bill with them for close to $300. We pay little bits at a time as we can. If you want to help us with any of that bill you can go to Person Street Pharmacy and tell them you want to help pay some of the bill for Love Wins Community Engagement Center.

We have also noticed the need for coats, hand warmers and toe warmers have started. Over the past week the temperatures have started to drop at night into the 60’s. For most people that sounds like a great break from the summer heat, but for our roofless community members that means that they are outside in the evenings when the dew falls on them. Then the temperature drops, so they are outside, wet, and chilly. The hand warmers and toe warmers are one of the best things we can provide for the chilly autumn nights. The warmers don’t take up much space in their belongings, and they last for almost 8 hours. The need for coats is a thing that will only grow from here. As the nights get colder, then so will the days. Right now we don’t have any long sleeved shirts and are running low on long warm pants, so if you are going to do a closet purge, we would love to have any of your unwanted autumn/winter clothes.

We love what we do at Love Wins CEC. We want our community to be the best version of themselves that they can be.  We are firm believers in relationship building and one on one conversations. Everyone’s needs are different, so it takes a variety of different resources to try and help them navigate the crazy world of homelessness. We do all that we can. If we take just a few minutes out of the day to sit and talk to someone about what is going on in their life, then they don’t feel like they have been just passed by for the day.

They want be acknowledged. We will acknowledge them.

If you would like to donate to our bill at Person Street Pharmacy, click here, or go on down there and tell them that you would like to help someone at Love Wins with life-saving medication.  

Pets and Homelessness

Nova Kitty, being cute.

People often think that people experiencing homelessness don’t have pets; that’s simply not true.  Think about it, you live in the woods, and you find a kitten.  You might be the only person who has found this kitten, fed it, or cared for it.  Well, that how our friends got Nova.  

Nova is a well behaved, leashed trained cat.  People experiencing homelessness often have to adapt their pets to their lifestyle, so Nova has a harness, a leash, and a soft cat carrier which acts as her kennel.  When you take the bus, you must have your cat in a carrier, no exceptions.  Keeping up with your cat in public spaces is important because you may have to travel from place to place to get resources.  Leash training a stray kitten is far easier than an adult cat, and if you’re not sure if your tent gets to be in the same place every week, it’s a very viable solution to being  a responsible pet owner.  

Nova’s family- young folks who live outside.

Nova has toys in her carrier.  She has a water and food dish.  Food is kept in a special compartment in Angela’s bookbag.  She has a harness, a leash, a cute collar and has been trained to wiggle her back end when she needs to go outside.  She is loved and doted on.  She has her own bed in the tent, but prefers to sleep with her humans.  She’s just like my cat, except my cat is much less doted on, doesn’t have a leash or a cool carrier, and deals with adversity with the grace of a 2 legged stool.  

During the hurricane, there was nowhere for this family to go.  Most shelters didn’t accept pets, so we had to make special accommodations for them in a private home of a friend.  They were going to stay outdoors to make sure that their pet could be with them and didn’t get lost or hurt in the storm.  That’s more than many home-owners do, and we’re proud of them for that.  

Nova needs her first rabies shot.  If you would like to help with that, send us an email at info@lovewinscec.org, or simply donate here and send us a note. 

Nova also needs cat food.  Her family has managed to provide for her, but they’ve been very low on food lately, so if you have some adult kitty food that your cat snubs, we can put it to good use with Nova’s family.  She’s a very low key, undemanding kitty, so she’s also not very finicky.  

Pets are family members.  They need love, food, water and a place to poop.  That’s about it (and the occasional booster/medical care).  We love our pets, and so do people whose pets are their lifeline to reality, their rock, and their reason for waking up everyday.  

The #1 Cause of Homelessness

*Trigger warning: a paragraph towards the end has a story of a rape.  I have put an italicized trigger warning right before the paragraph so that you can choose to quit reading or skip it.  

Terri walked up to me at the smoking area, shoved a square of paper into my hands and started sobbing.  I’ve never seen her cry, not even the first time I met her when she showed up at Love Wins with a huge, swollen black eye and several cuts on her face.  That day she said, gruffly, “I’ve been through worse, this ain’t shit.”  Today I put my arms around her, and she sobbed as if her heart was breaking.  

The paper in my hand was her prescriptions.  She had been to a mental hospital out of town to get her medications straight, but that wasn’t why she was crying.  She was crying because the Social Security office had cut off her disability check, and not only could she not afford her prescriptions, but now she couldn’t pay her rent.

“I don’t want to go back out on the street.  I don’t want to use again. The bank said my mail had gotten sent back, I don’t know what to do!”

Believe me when I tell you that she is seriously in a pickle.  We jumped into action, and I went down to the Person Street Pharmacy to get her medications filled, while Blu tried to get someone, anyone, from Social Security on the phone.  Blu was on the phone with an earbud in her ear, on hold for an HOUR AND A HALF, and after that wait, they picked up and said that they would have to call her back.  This is the level of frustration our folks go through every month.

In the meantime I got her medications and paid down some of our rotating bill at Person Street Pharmacy, wrote down directions of how and when to take all of them (there were 6, and she luckily has medicaid), and made copies of all of her psych. paperwork so that we could have it to prove her disability.  After taking her morning medications, she started to calm down a bit more.  Social Security called back, and she and Blu navigated her case together, in the office.

Terri will tell you that this is hard for her.  “I don’t talk good.  Don’t say the right words.”  She has difficulty telling a coherent story in the way that a person who is in Social Services can understand.  She gets frustrated.  Her medications are for anemia, an infection, anxiety, and Parkinson’s.  Having an advocate to help her is extremely important.  She doesn’t know what to ask, or what to write down, but she does know that every piece of paperwork needs to be copied and saved, and she is right.

In the hall, I’m talking to a man who looks down.  Terri walks up to him and says “Are you okay?  Do you need a hug?”  He tells us that 2 years ago today his son was killed in a car accident.  She hugs him and says “Never give up, keep your head up. You’re my brother in Christ.” 

The call to Social Security was, at best, documentation.  They could do nothing that day.  Blu and Terri had made a plan to go down there, together, in person, and stand right in front of whoever they had to in order to get some answers.  As Blu always says “If you’re standing right in front of them, they can’t ignore you.”

Terri and I leave the center to do some investigating of our own.  We go down to where she gets her mail to check and see if they were sending mail back.  They were not, and had a couple of bills from Wake Med.  That solves one mystery.  We visit her friend and she borrows $30 to give her room mate as a gesture of good faith.  I explain the situation to him and assure him that we’re working on it. 

We drive down to where she has been staying, but her room mate isn’t home.  Like many of our folks, she is precariously housed.  She’s not technically supposed to be there.  She’s paying a friend who has section 8 under the table to stay there, so she has no key, and can’t be seen opening the door with a key, or he will be evicted.  She also can’t be there while he is at work unless she slept there- essentially, when she leaves for the day, she can’t come back until he’s back.  

We drive to the friend’s motel.  Terri tells me that she loves the woods and outdoors because we all need peace and quiet for a while.  She cautions me to never let a man see me walk into the woods, otherwise he will follow you.  We talk for a long time.  She is my friend.  

*Trigger warning past this point!!!*

People ask me what the number one reason for homelessness is, and I tell them, first and foremost, that it’s child abuse and neglect.  Terri was taken from her family at 5 years old because her grandfather raped her and stuck things in her that had to be surgically removed at UNC Hospital.  She grew up in foster care, and transitioned to a group home.  When she was 15, she ran away from the group home to go to the quiet of the woods, and was picked up on the side of the road by 4 men with a gun, raped repeatedly, and then tied to a tree and left to die.  It was a day and a half before someone found her and EMS took her to the hospital.  She said they “Stuck IV’s in my arms because I was so dehydrated.  So thirsty.  Never let men see you walk into the woods alone.  I tell people never to run away from their group homes.”  

She came into the adult world untrusting, angry, and unsupported. 

“How does a mom do that?  She’s a woman too.  She said I just wanted men to have sex with me.  What does a 5 year old know about that?  She’s dead now, not, I mean, I don’t mean nothing by that, but she is.  I was so mad.  I didn’t trust nobody.” 

I reassured her that sometimes death is the only closure that we get. She started using crack in her adulthood to medicate herself and her memories.  She is clean right now, and happy that she finally found someone to straighten out her meds and really listen to her.  She says “I don’t even want no crack now.  I gotta keep my head up.”

She smiles at me and says, “Maybe God has a reason.  Maybe he knew that if I got that check, something might happen to weaken me and I might scrape together some money and buy some crack.  Maybe he’s looking out for me. I gotta stay positive.”  I told her that was a “Very Blu way of looking at things, and it sounded very wise.”  We’ll get this straightened out, in the meantime, she just has to get through the weekend. 

I drop her off at her friend’s house.  Her friend has cigarettes for her.  She puts several under the visor of my windshield.  I protest, but she says “When I don’t have, you give, and when you don’t have, I give.  I like being able to do nice things for people.  I want to give back.”  I tell her I love her and to stay safe.   It’s always the folks with the least who give the most.  

She says that she’s learning from us, but no, I’m definitely learning from her.  

If you would like to help us help others like Terri navigate the world, click here for our donation page and consider being a monthly Angel.  

 

 

Tent City Hustle

I’m so proud to report that we’ve been able to replace 11 destroyed tents today! We’re working through the list as people show up, and trying to get in contact with more people, though a lot of folks phones were destroyed in the rain. If anyone has cellphones to donate, please wipe them of information, and we will get them to the right places. If you have a phone charger for it, even better!

We’re going to work on tarps tomorrow, as a tarp is so incredibly useful outdoors. People prefer brown, black, green and camo tarps, as they attract less attention. Blue and red tarps scream “Hey, there’s a tent over here!” Tarps are great under tents to help keep out the rain, and on top of tents to… also keep out the rain. They’re a multi-purpose tool.

We’re replacing sleeping bags at an epic rate, so we’ll need to stockpile some up soon, as they’re flying out of here. Sleeping bag color is less important, and I saw several at Walmart for as low as $8.97! It got really chilly for the first time last night, so people were very ready to have a sleeping bag, even if they hadn’t been using one this summer.

With fall approaching, we’re preparing to hand out handwarmers. It’s good to get a head start on those, as they literally save lives every winter. We made it through last year without any of our community center members dying of exposure (we had a few die of other causes, but exposure wasn’t one of them, thank goodness). I’m hoping that we can provide that same life-saving warmth this winter, and that I don’t have to lose a friend to that.

We’ll keep plugging away at getting our folks ready for fall, and I really feel like that together, we can do it. We can be the village. No one has to fall through the cracks. Love is winning for another season, and we can do it again!

Big Wins in Peer Support

I have to share with the Universe what the Wins of Love Wins look like from my eyes as a Peer Support Specialist

Yesterday I had a guy who had been clean for 5 months and was struggling to find a safe place to stay clean and sober. I made a phone call to the Healing Transitions and spoke with the Peer Support Specialist and made arrangements for him to be able to go and get in their program. This gentleman showed up this morning with all the praise about how amazing it is over there and that he finally felt like he was in the right spot to stay clean. I was so thrilled.

After I spoke with this guy about the HT I checked the mail and there was a letter for the man that I had been trying to get enrolled into Wake Tech. HE WAS ACCEPTED!! He gets to start his education this spring! He was so happy that we both broke out into tears. We have time to find him the things he needs to attend school, and help him better his life!

Followed by that, I saw a young lady that had been having a hard time getting to her appointment to get her back on her meds. She had been looking very sad and down for the past week. I made sure the other day that she had what she needed to get to her appointment. When she walked up this morning she had a huge smile on her face and tears in her eyes. She made it to her appointment had gotten her meds. She was back to her old self and it was beautiful to see! She thanked me for helping her out and I told her that that’s why I love my job!

I know first hand what it feels like to be overlooked and ignored because you’re homeless. Hugh Hollowell acknowledged me when I was homeless. He saw that I wanted to do something about my situation and he gave me a chance to do that. Just being there and understanding me was enough that I was able to stand up and do something different. Because of that relationship he built with me, I am now able to work here at the center and give back what he so freely gave to me: hope. He gave me hope that I wasn’t going to have to be alone and homeless forever, and now I’m able to share that hope with others.

I’ve cried alot this morning already. Happy tears. Love truly Wins.