Every few days, we get a call at the office from people who are new to homelessness, and they cannot believe that they have to go to a shelter. They are losing their home or their apartment, and are calling around a long list of numbers hoping for some help. There are some who had no idea that their landlord was being foreclosed on, and were told that they had to find some other place to live. The middle class has shrunk over the last 25 years, and there are many more people who are in danger of being homeless. Here are a few things that you need to know in order to prepare for the "Brave New World" without a safety net:
- There is no emergency housing in our community. There is rental housing and there are shelters. There is nothing in between. There are no more flop houses or places to pay for a week or a day at a time. There are motels, but those are not appropriate to live since they have no kitchens.
- There is no place to store your items. When you become homeless and you first go to shelter there are no places to keep your belongings. You must compact your entire life into one bag.
- Theft is a huge problem within the shelters. Take care of your valuables.
- No one from the County will tell you this to your face, but they have opened up files at Children and Family Services because a family became homeless. Stay strong, and go through all the hoops. Don't let the system take your children because you don't do the paperwork or show up for their hearings.
- If you are not the primary caregiver to a child and you are no longer married, immediately go in and request a change in your status. It takes months to get the payments on child support lowered, so you need to start that paperwork immediately. The debt accumulated while waiting for a child support correction usually can never be reduced or eliminated. It can last forever.
- It is highly unlikely that Mom and Dad can go to the same shelter. Unless the stars align perfectly this is not likely to happen. Stay strong and meet your spouse during the day. If you are not married or cannot prove you're married you will not get into a shelter together.
- When you first become homeless you go to the two entry shelters around 3 p.m. There is no need to call, they are not supposed to turn people away. If you are a woman go to 2219 Payne Ave. If you are a man go to 2100 Lakeside Shelter on Lakeside Ave.
- Call every morning to see if there are vacancies at the other shelters or you get stuck in the two entry shelters. There is usually no choice on the shelter that you start out in, and the rest of the shelters do not keep waiting lists. No one is going to advocate for you or open doors for you. You have to be a little pushy to get through the system. Ask questions, talk to people, and remember that you will make it through this if you stay strong.
- Word on the streets is often more reliable than the information you may get from the providers. Other homeless people know a great deal of information, and you should talk to them. They often know more than the case workers and social workers who are barely keeping up from one emergency to the next.
- Except for the entry shelter for women, nearly every other shelter will ask you to leave to go find housing or a job during the day.
- Make sure that you get a voice mail box early so that you are connected to the rest of the world. This will help move through the system quicker.
- Bus tickets are gold, and cigarettes are silver. They are also a form of currency in the homeless community.
- The libraries are great places to go during the day, and usually the librarians are incredibly helpful. There are plenty of resources on the computer that can help. The best are the 211 website www.211cleveland.org and the housing website www.housingcleveland.org. Both have all the resources you need at your fingertips to get out of your situation.
- It may be the time to take a break from the rat race and improve your skills during this time of homelessness. This may not be what the shelters suggest, but you should think about what would be best for you for the future. A period of homelessness is the best time to evaluate your life and your career and whether you have enough education.
- There are 19,000 people in the same situation as you during a year. So, while it is frustrating, there is no easy way out. There are long waits for subsidized housing, good jobs are hard to come by, and finding a professional to talk to is even difficult.
- Stay connected with your family and friends. Some of the things that you see during homelessness are amazing and can make you crazy. It is important to have people who you can talk to who are outside of the system.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.