By Te-Erika Patterson
(Originally published in The Westside Gazette)
The Benefits of Homelessness
During The Rebuild Your Life Project I became homeless on purpose to teach women the mental strategies and survival skills necessary to overcome their worst fear. During this project I gave away everything that I owned and spent 4 months as a homeless person in Hollywood, Florida. I engaged with the homeless population as one of their own while exploring and exposing survival secrets as well as the homeless lifestyle in a series of videos and in writing on my women’s empowerment website, MySavvySisters.Com.
My time as a homeless individual completely revamped my view of the homeless population. Although the situation was altogether traumatic on many levels, I learned that there are many benefits to living the homeless lifestyle.
Any individual with no income who claims to be homeless can apply for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from the government. A single individual can receive up to $200 per month which is received on an ACCESS debit card issued by the federal government and can be used to purchase food and drinks at most grocery stores, gas stations, convenience stores and drug stores. One may apply by visiting a public library and using their computers to apply online or asking for assistance at an established homeless shelter.
If an individual has no mailing address they can have their food stamp debit card mailed under General Delivery to the nearest post office in the area of the zip code where they find temporary shelter.
The problem with the homeless receiving food stamps is the fact that most do not have a place to prepare meals wind up purchasing non healthy foods and snacks. I personally gained more than 10 pounds during my first month of homelessness.
Once a week at the COSAC Homeless Shelter, located at 1203 N. Federal Highway in Hollywood, a volunteer barber from a local barber school stops by to provide free haircuts for the homeless.
Free Laundry, Bus Passes and Showers
The Coalition to End Homelessness, a resource center for the homeless located at 5975 W. Sunrise Blvd in Fort Lauderdale is a funded primarily by donations from the community allowing them the opportunity to meet the needs of the homeless. To take advantage of their services an individual must visit the center and speak with Laura Hansen, the Coalition’s director or Brian Dunlop, the Coalition’s assistant director. They can assist with free bus passes, free on-site laundry services, free shoes, shelter referrals and free showers for the homeless population.
Shelters like COSAC have a large clothing donation room that accepts donations from the community. With hundreds of donated clothing, shoes and household items to choose from a homeless individual does not have to remain unclothed or disheveled.
The Jubilee Center located at 2020 Scott Street has a food pantry that feeds the hungry on a daily basis. A 24-year-old woman who spoke under the condition of anonymity shared a story about being homeless with a 3-year-old child before eventually landing a job and securing a place to live.
“For the first month my daughter and I ate at Jubilee every day,” she shared. “That was how we survived.”
While at the COSAC shelter, I witnessed many generous offerings of food from random community members as well as organized visits to the shelter by local church groups and community groups who offered dinners as a way to show their concern for the homeless. It was not uncommon to receive a feast of leftovers from a banquet that a thoughtful individual stopped by to donate.
Opportunities for Shelter
I received an application from Volunteers of America of Florida, Inc. which offered an affordable housing program which would pay $650 a month for an apartment rental in Pompano Beach or $548 a month for an apartment rental in Fort Lauderdale if I earned at least $18,000 a year and was gainfully employed. Although I never received this grant, this opportunity was available to me.
Aside from privately funded shelters like COSAC, which cares for homeless individuals in temporary distress or those individuals with more long term needs, Miami-Dade and Broward counties have a plethora of living assistance programs that a homeless individual may enter. These programs like the one at the Broward Outreach Center, located at 2056 Scott Street in Hollywood offers shelter, food and job placement assistance. Their program requires the homeless individual to follow a strict regimen of classes, job searches and adherence to the facilities curfews and rules.
This is why you see people sleeping on park benches and under expressways. They do not have the desire and/or the mental capacity to complete the mandatory requirements to reap the benefits of shelter programs.
Donations from Strangers
Not every homeless person is broke. In fact, many of the people who ask you for spare change actually have change to spare. You can call it panhandling, begging, asking for donations or “the bum tax”, but the reality is most homeless individuals make their living off of the generosity of the benevolent.
55-year-old Michael Evans is a habitually homeless person. In a video interview he explained how he earns money for to support his habits. “I’m out on the street and I’m going to take advantage of somebody if I know that I can. It’s not gonna be something like I’m gonna make him give me. I’m going to make him want to give me,” Evans explained. “He’s gonna want to help me. He’s gonna want to give me what I need.”
“I don’t have to pay any bills,” Evans continued. “All I have to do is make sure that I have my needs every day. I don’t have to worry about not having a dollar in my pocket because I know that I can go get a dollar. I know I can get it from anybody and if I don’t get it from the first person I’m gonna get it from the 3rd person. No matter what, I’m going to get what I need every day.”
One of the most under recognized benefits of being homeless and deciding to enter into a structured shelter program like the one at the COSAC Homeless Shelter is the ability to be guided as though you are a child again.
With set curfews, static punishments for breaking rules and rewards for achievement, those living at the COSAC facility have found a father figure in its owner, Sean Canonie. Canonie lives in a small room on the second floor of the shelter and is seldom able to rest due to the demands of an ever evolving community he has built from the ground up.
As I listened to Canonie explain why he had to release a long term resident for misconduct I saw the grief on his face. Days later after an apology and a promise to behave, the resident was allowed to return to the program and the safety that the homeless shelter provides. This was not an isolated incident. I witnessed the revolving door of the violent, the mentally ill and the hopeful homeless individuals who struck out on their own only to return to the shelter weeks later. The door was always open and a plate of food dished out.
From outright liars, to manipulators to those who drug habits create a dangerous environment for those who are not addicts, Canonie cares for each resident and overnight guest taking the time to listen to their stories, resolve their conflicts and counsel those who have not been offered a listening ear. As a true parent would, I personally witnessed Canonie offering his own clothing to an overweight resident who had nothing to wear.
“It’s not easy,” Canonie said as he sat in his cluttered office during the afternoon rush of returning residents who spent the day vending The Homeless Voice newspaper. “It’s not easy but, who else is going to do it?”
NEXT- Part 3- The Pitfalls of Homelessness
To learn more about The Rebuild Your Life Project please visit The Rebuild Your Life Project.org