On Friday, I heard back from the Executive Director of the Homeless Advocacy Project. She was one of the people who I reached out to on my own, trying to find help for Mandy. She asked me to call on Monday to go over the intake process for the shelter her association runs, since Mandy does not need to be mentally impaired – only prove residency – in order to gain entrance. While this sounds good, let’s pull that last sentence apart, shall we?
First of all, that was 72 hours away… A weekend sounds like a short time to many of us who are safe at home. Typically, we complain about it being too short to do the things we want to do. It’s only 2 days! What can happen in 2 days?
Well, when you live on the street, a lot can happen in two days. While the leading cause of death in the homeless has been recorded as drug/alcohol overdose (25%), the second most common has been reported as disease (23%), and the third being reported as “injuries, such as blunt force, stabbings, or gunshot wounds” (14%). (Philadelphia Homeless Death Review Team, 2012) As of 2012, it was reported that there are approximately 12,053 people who are homeless in Philadelphia, with 5,570 of them unsheltered. (Project H.O.M.E, 2014)
Being a female is difficult anyway, as evidenced by the millions of people who came forward in the #YesAllWomen and the #EachEveryWoman campaigns, many reporting more than one incident of being harassed or assaulted. When a woman is homeless on the street, with no money and no safe place to live the danger level goes up. In short, 72 hours is a long time to wait.
The other part of that sentence is that she’ll have to prove residency. Well, she lives here… somewhere – unsheltered. But, she doesn’t have ID. No idea = no proof of residency. No proof of residency = no shelter. But, that’s okay. As you may recall, Mandy is not really itching to get into a shelter. She wants her ID.
While purusing the Homeless Advocacy Project’s website, I found that they have a free clinic. But, this is not the usual free clinic – for medical issues. Rather, this one is for legal and civil issues that the homeless may run into. It is comprised of lawyers and paralegals who donate their time in order to help the homeless with their legal concerns. Perfect! So, I printed out the dates/times and locations of the next few, including what bus routes to take to get there. Most of them are really easy – or even within a walkable distance to where she squats.
This morning, I bought her breakfast again. It was small, but I’m between paychecks and money is tight. She was happy to see me and thanked me as always. But, I was running late, and had to get to work. (Yes, I got to work on time.)
I called the contact at Project HOME that my contact at the National Coalition for Homlessness gave me, which was good – because I discovered the email address that my contact had given me was out of date. So, I left a message and resent the email. The contact at ProjectHOME responded quickly, and within 2 hours, I had confirmed that an outreach team from ProjectHOME would go out to talk to her.
Then things got… weird.
During the first part of my lunch, I ran out to see her. There was a guy talking to her that she was getting ready to leave with. Hopeful, I ran up to them. She smiled and greeted me as she always does. I asked him if he was from ProjectHOME. He backed away quickly and said that he was not.
I told Mandy that I had set up an outreach team to come see her. I explained what ProjectHOME was, and she said that she knew. She told me that she had an outreach coordinator, but that they basically ignore her.
Well if the problem is in the system…
Or she’s lying…
I told her that she should stay nearby. Let the team take her to the shelter. They can help her get her birth certificate – her ID. From there, she can do whatever she wants, but to use the tools to her advantage.
For the first time since I met her, the spark in her eyes dulled. One too many promises broken? Can’t trust a hope? I don’t know…
I told her that she should reach out to her coordinator – or next time the coordinator comes by say that she wants help with her ID. That’s their job. “Make sure you make them do it,” I told her.
She thanked me, with a term of endearment. “Honey.” Said softer than she usually speaks. Maybe a piece of the innocence she had to leave behind when she lost her her job, her car, her home… her security.
The guy was in the wind. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know what I interrupted. What it cost her.
What it didn’t.
Philadelphia Homeless Death Review Team. (2012). City of Philadelphia Homess Death Review (2009 – 2010). Philadelphia, PA: City of Philadelphia.
Project H.O.M.E. (2014). Facts on Homelessness. Retrieved July 28, 2014, from Project H.O.M.E: http://www.projecthome.org/how-to-help/advocate/facts-homelessness