Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cluney John Speaks About Point in Time Survey

Cluney John currently works as Supervisor of Permanent Supportive Housing with Dove’s Homeward Bound Program.  She filled a volunteer station for Point-in-Time, counting homeless individuals.  Her assignment was at Oasis Day Center, a program of Heritage Behavioral Health Center.  Nancy Rude and her staff and volunteers provide daily hospitality and services for individuals visiting Oasis.  Following are some of Cluney’s thoughts about her interactions on that morning.

“As someone who works daily with homeless, or formerly so, individuals, I went to the Oasis Day Center at 7 a.m. ready to meet familiar and new faces.  I found more examples of what I know homeless folks to be.  They are unique and individual, no two exactly the same.  I was greeted and helped to settle in by friendly men who clearly feel at home at Oasis.  Some folks were curious and offered their participation in our “count’ without having to be asked.  I met individuals who had spent the night before in abandoned buildings or on the street.  I met several who had stayed in one of Decatur’s shelters, and had already completed questions there for Point in Time.  I met couples, single men and a few single women. 

Quite a few individuals had no home of their own, but had been staying with a friend or relative awhile and would be moving on soon.  The many families and persons “sheltered” in this fashion cannot be counted in Point-in-Time because they are not homeless according to the definition used, coming from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Many, many persons have no home and are unable to establish one on their own resources, but are not officially homeless as long as someone provides overnight accommodations to them.  Of course, this arrangement usually becomes one of frequent turnover, or couch-surfing.

Besides the talkative folks, I met many quiet persons who avoided eye contact until I approached them to invite their help with the City’s effort to bring adequate housing to Decatur.  Like the variety of personalities you have in your family or church or workplace, some are slow to warm up or trust.  Some are wary about reactions from others, about being judged, about their struggles prompting more labeling.

Whether chatty or quiet, the homeless individuals I met that day brought an array of experiences.  Some have education and periods of successful employment that served them well in the past.  Some have repeating struggles with disabilities, family conflicts, mental illness or addiction and these struggles implode their efforts at self-sufficiency.  Some are compelling in their articulate assessment of their own situation and their desperate need for medical/dental care they can’t afford.  Many have been seeking work for a long time, but are stopped by a work history damaged by their own erratic behavior when substance abuse or mental illness was completely untreated.  They believe they are better now and more capable of working successfully.

Mostly, I found at Oasis a safe place where visitors were patient with each other as they waited in line for a free morning coffee.  Some people clearly have friends there and some structure for their day as they complete laundry, take a shower, receive their mail and check in with staff or other visitors.  Some people are loners and talk little.  But they are welcome and they stay to take care of business like the others. I was grateful for Oasis and for their quiet, consistent, capable service to anyone who needs a place to come in from the street, the cold.  Homeless persons are like the rest of us more than they are different.” 

- Cluney John

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