We Don’t Care How Homeless You Are

checklist-1622517_1280One of the most important things a person experiencing homelessness needs is a “letter of verification” stating they are in fact experiencing homelessness. Having an LoV grants one access to a range of various forms of assistance, especially from Cornerstone Center, Wake County government’s “multiservice center for homeless individuals.” Cornerstone requires a person to prove they are homeless in order to qualify for services — except you can’t prove it yourself, someone else has to prove it for you. Their resources are limited and they want to make sure those resources go to the people who are in the most desperate circumstances, so they ask partner agencies to vouch for how homeless a person is. There are places a person can go to get an LoV. But there are also places that serve people experiencing homelessness that refuse to give LoV’s because their private funding is tied to the number of people they serve so they need people to get aid from them, not Cornerstone. Helping folks access other services is in that sense could take away from their own organization, and thus there is some level of “competition” between organizations which often prevents clients from accessing all the help they could and improving their overall situaion.
There are other organizations that are (unintentionally) invested in people being at the lowest level possible. For example, shelters either don’t allow guests to leave any belongings in their space during the day or at most allow a person to have a handful of articles of clothing. More than that is simply not allowed due to space restrictions and the difficulties of keeping up with various people’s belongings. One member of our community was staying at such a shelter but also still had their car, with all their clothes in the trunk. They were keeping the allowed number of garments at the shelter to keep them hung up and looking good for job interviews. After a while, this person decided to switch out the selected garments for other clothes from their trunk. But that was a violation of the shelter’s rules, so our friend was kicked out and not allowed to return. They sleep in their car now, which poses its own set of challenges (and is a post for another day). Over and over, our friends run up against rules and regulations that force them to the bottom in order to get services.
Most of the organizations we know of require some kind of application process, with LoV’s required from other organizations and limited times to apply. Applications might be accepted at 9am on one certain day a week, with only the first handful of applications even given consideration. Or you may have to apply several days in a row in order to get what you need and missing a day of asking starts the whole multi-day process over.
Please don’t take this as a complaint against any of these organizations. All of them are doing the best they can with limited resources. Those limits force them to make hard choices and those choices have unintended consequences. There are people who fall through the cracks. They either aren’t homeless enough yet or they are moving back toward exiting homelessness. So for our part, we don’t care how homeless you are. Everyone is welcome to hang out with us, drink coffee with us, eat with us, play bingo with us, watch movies with us, garden with us, and take classes with us. We don’t have a lot but we share freely what we have with everyone who asks. We don’t have clients. We only have friends. Friends who have to share. Friends who need what’s shared. And the shared hope that our lives are better together, no matter how housed or unhoused we are.