Helping Panhandlers

by Stephanie Thomas

Recently I watched a TED Talk given by Richard Berry who at the time of the talk was the mayor of Albuquerque, NM. His talk was on his program There’s a Better Way which was created to get panhandlers off the street. The city put 50k into his good-intentioned program, using the money to fix up a van and pay a driver named Will who spent an hour driving around town each day asking panhandlers if they wanted to work for the day. Most did and they were taken to a job site where they worked along city workers cleaning up trash and brush.

Mayor Berry praised the program’s success. He did in fact get more panhandlers into homeless shelters, assisted many into getting mental health and medical treatment, and helped 100 people find full time jobs. He also proved his theory that there are panhandlers who would rather work then beg. Unfortunately, the program did not make a dent in the number of panhandlers in the city of Albuquerque.

Was it a good program? It might have been with enough resources.  People on the street clearly need someone like Will who will come up to them and say, “Hi, I want to help you. Here’s a job. Here’s medical treatment. Let’s work together and we can get you off this street corner and into housing.”  However, as with so many programs designed to help panhandlers and the homeless, not enough resources and time were put into There’s a Better Way. Great ideas are worthless without the resources to back them up.

Three years after the program was created, the city changed course and passed an ordinance designed to stop people from panhandling, basically making it illegal for people to beg.

What does it take to get the homeless and panhandlers get off street? We have a model in place. It takes the same kind of funding and effort that was given to get veterans off the street.

Over the last few years the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has been focused on reducing homelessness for veterans. In some cities now, there are few to no homeless veterans. If there are programs and policies that work for veterans then why don’t we fund similar programs and create similar policies to reduce homelessness and the need for panhandling for everyone?

The list below is copied from an “abbreviated” list of the improved process that helped get veterans off the street and into housing:

  • Public housing authorities can share their housing inspection standards with non-profit organizations helping veterans find apartments. This allows non-profits to complete informal pre-inspections to help veterans find apartments that will pass required housing quality inspections on the first try.
  • Public housing authorities can eliminate any locally imposed minimum income requirements for housing homeless veterans.
  • Local VA branches can eliminate any requirement that a veteran enter treatment as a condition for receiving a Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) voucher. Such treatment is not required by federal statute.
  • Public housing authorities can allow use of a veteran’s VA’s DD-214 form to satisfy their identification requirements, rather than requiring birth certificates and social security cards, which homeless veterans may have lost.
  • Local VA branches can train VASH case managers to access the HINQ (Hospital Inquiry) database.
  • Housing agencies can negotiate rent-reasonableness with the prospective landlord at the time of the housing inspection.
  • Public housing authorities can issue provisional rent vouchers to enable homeless veterans to begin a housing search while other paperwork is being finalized.
  • Human services agencies and local VA branches can co-locate and centralize move-in assistance resources or HPRP (Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program) paperwork with a veterans’ service center.


A Love Letter to Mama

by Reginald Gilmore

I don’t remember much about you before I saw your face, but the warmth I felt was somewhere I knew I wanted to stay! Though this loud thump seemed too often to keep me awake, I saw something flowing through it, learning later it was your heart beat that spoke a language that would say, “Rest little one, you have plenty of time to enjoy your life. I promise to keep you safe, secure you with love, and sing sweet songs to comfort you through the night!”

Oooh mama for all you did when life breathed its air through you.

Though I didn’t turn out as great as you intended, it speaks volumes still when it says I am your child on loan. God saw you as a worthy carrier to incubate me for 9 months. It may have been a tough delivery that put us both at risk, but I was determined I would still come! To greet the world as an extension of you, I’m so proud to say to you mama – there is no one worthy to replace not even a version of the woman God created in you. Hey mama no one knows the secrets that kept us close..

We’ve shared some very special moments, in your memory I will never forget, that God chose me from your womb. Every special moment I will forever miss!

“Evicted” A Second Look

by Bob Norfleet

The reason the Greensboro Voice reviewed Evicted is because poverty causes eviction and eviction creates homelessness. Eviction is only part of the homeless problem. Actually having an eviction record creates homelessness because many landlords will not rent to someone who has an eviction record. Job loss, divorce, felony records, mental and physical disabilities all play a part in creating homelessness.

Many of our physically disabled fail to qualify for the State’s SSI benefits upon first or second applications. Often, these unfortunate people have to reapply using the services of an attorney who collects a fee from the State but only if their client is approved. While waiting for benefits the unfortunate person often becomes homeless, especially when family is not nearby to lend a hand or a place to stay.

Felony records follow ex-felons around like an incurable disease. Many felons upon release go directly from prison to homeless shelters because family and friends don’t want to associate with them or don’t have the room to share . At the homeless shelters, the ex-felon gets free room and board for only short stays (60 – 90 days). After that, most end up under bridge or in a donated tent. Yes, the punishment for the crime continues well after incarceration.

A serious mental condition that causes a person to “not play well with others” also prohibits one from qualifying or maintaining a job. Landlords don’t like to lease to the mentally ill unless the lease payment is guaranteed from some secondary source and the illness is not dramatically obvious on the date of application.

Many who are walking the streets, once lived with family but were soon asked to move out. Struggling families cannot afford to feed an extra mouth……especially if that mouth cannot get along with paying family members. Everyone is expected to carry some portion of the load. “No money, no stay.”

Only a person who has lived on the streets can feel the fear, taste the rejection or live daily with its associated loneliness. I have been amazingly blessed in this life. I was raised by loving parents and loving relatives. I got a stern scolding or whipping as a child if I did something unethical against a friend, neighbor or stranger. I was taught that I had value and was encouraged to move forward and to accept failings by getting back on my feet. I was expected to work hard and use my brain to get an education, get a job, give service others and be a loving person to my family & friends. I was taught to be kind to strangers but to keep my guard up. I missed the mark many times. Still, good choices are options that come easily to me. To the homeless, options come hard and every option seems to have scary consequences. “Got that job… how will I get to work? When can I get a roof over my head”.

Poverty and it’s evil siblings are unintended partners for too many in this world. Happiness for them is fleeting and choices seem limited. So they get evicted, loose jobs more frequently, commit crimes more often, end up incarcerated and experience homelessness.  Few find themselves motivated or qualified to grasp the brass ring when it comes their way because they don’t recognize its face or it’s value. It is a stranger so they pass it by. Then they get evicted

Homeless Again

Chris McSecret badge

Life has a way of throwing us curve-balls.

Sometimes they are for the good and we don’t even really think about what a turn our life has just taken. Other times we are left in a far worse position than before and we instantly notice the change. For me, my curve-ball came back in 2013. I was left homeless and in deep despair.

Some of you may already be familiar with my story, having read it throughout various issues of The Greensboro Voice, but there is always a new chapter being written and in this chapter I once again have found myself homeless.

I have been having housing troubles since the beginning of the year. In December 2015, the property where I living was taken over by new management, from Wrenn-Zealy to Rent-A-Home. Then came the new year and as I prepared for a new semester at GTCC, I excitedly returned home with my textbooks in hand. As my friend, Bob, and I pulled up to the curb outside my house, we saw a man and woman on the front porch. I watched as they knocked and entered my neighbor’s apartment. I did not think much of it as I held a conversation with Bob about the upcoming semester. These strangers then left my neighbor’s apartment and began knocking on my door so I got out of Bob’s car to greet them.

I introduced myself to “Mickey” who advised me that she was the new landlord. She also introduced me to her maintenance man, “Sam.” Mickey said she would like to schedule an appointment for the following week to come out and inspect the property. I agreed and we decided to meet the following Tuesday. Before they left, we engaged in some minor chit chat in which I told her I was a student at GTCC and that I received Section 8 Housing via the Greensboro Housing Authority. She told me that would not be a problem for her.

After the new landlord left, I got on the phone with Greensboro Housing Authority (GHA) to make my case worker aware that the management had changed and that I had just spoken with the new landlord. My case worker requested that I let the new landlord know that they needed to go to the GHA office to fill out some paperwork and I agreed to do so. The weekend felt a bit slow as I awaited the first day of a brand new semester.

The following week I met with Mickey when she came to examine the property. After the inspection I stepped out with her on the porch and passed along the request from GHA about the paperwork. Mickey then told me that she would not go to fill out any paperwork but that I was more than welcome to get the paperwork for her and bring it by her office. I was left a bit stumped at this point because I knew that the paperwork would be a contract between the landlord and GHA because GHA would be paying my rent as they had in the past. I then called GHA and explained the response I had received from the landlord. They took Mickey’s contact information and informed me that they would handle the matter with the landlord.

College work started at GTCC and I had to focus on my studies. However, one morning there was a knock at the door. It was the new landlord’s maintenance man coming to tell me that Mickey had not received rent for the month of February. I pointed out to him that I already explained to Mickey that under the Section 8 rental program the landlord is required to fill out the Section 8 contract. I also told him that had I talked to the Housing Authority and they said they promised to take care of it with Mickey. I told the maintenance man I would contact GHA again to see what the issue might be.

Surprise! I then received a 10-day notice of summary of ejectment from Rent-A-Home. This really confused me so I contacted the phone number on the notice. The man I spoke to at Rent-A-Home informed me that they were unaware that I was receiving Section 8, which I found very odd. He also was not sure who this Mickey person was, which left me more deeply confused. He promised to figure out the situation and would call me back as soon as he had some news.

A few hours passed and soon I was contacted by Rent-A-Home who told me that the situation was more confusing than we first thought. It seemed that while Rent-A-Home was taking over the property management in December, they were not made aware of my status as a receiver of Section 8. Furthermore, they also were not informed that the owner of the property had sold my rental home. This was very infuriating since I had received a letter the previous year that promised advanced warning in the event of the house being sold.

I again contacted the Housing Authority and was told that I actually had a new case worker and was given her contact information. Upon contacting this new case worker she said they were aware of the situation and that GHA was working to resolve it. I then made arrangements to go and see the new owner the following day. Bob picked me up on February 8 and we met with Mickey, who informed me she would “not” be accepting Section 8.

Upon leaving her office I contacted my case worker at GHA again and was told that she had been on the phone with the landlord that morning. I was stumped since Mickey just claimed to not have heard from the Housing Authority. I asked GHA who she had spoken to. I was then informed that it was Rent-A-Home, which meant that the Housing Authority was not even speaking to the owner of the property.

Later in the week I was called to come into the Housing Authority offices to be reissued a new voucher so I could move.

It just got more crazy after this. Greensboro Housing Authority kept telling me that they were working on solving these issues so I began focusing more on school. Then on President’s Day I get a text from Mickey who told me she wants to work something out and to have my case worker contact her. I told her that I would not be able to do it until the following day due to it being the President’s Day holiday. Mickey told me that would be fine.

The following day I contacted my case worker and passed along Mickey’s message. I was asked by my caseworker if that would be acceptable to me and I told them that it would be fine because I just wanted somewhere to live.

It seems that while I was under the impression that these two people (my case worker & Mickey) were working things out, something different was going on. They were in fact playing phone-tag and my case worker had not made contact with Mickey (and vice-versa). So at the end of the month I received a lease termination notice hand delivered by Mickey’s maintenance man. At this point the stress of the situation began to impact my school work.

I had at this point spent February under the impression that things were being worked out between the Housing Authority and Mickey, who I soon learned works for Chaney Properties. Not only had Mickey changed her mind about working things out (under Section 8), but she also decided to evict my neighbor as well.

So I began a new struggle to find a place to move and at the same time maintain my school work. Finding an apartment approved by Section 8 Housing has been nearly impossible for the past few months. It seems that nearly all properties I am finding that fit within my “one-bedroom” voucher range will not accept Section 8. I reported this frustration to my case worker. Finally she advised me that GHA will approve raising my voucher authorization to a two-bedroom. My caseworker changed the parameters of my voucher but time was running out fast for me.

I finally found a qualified apartment. It was beautiful! The apartment manager told me they would have to do a background check but they were running a special. No application or administrative fees. No deposit. And they would accept Section 8. I really got stoked, but of course this was at the end of March.

I saw Mickey (my landlord) the same day after I returned home and I let her know I found a new place and that everything was done except for my background check. I knew that Mickey had planned to send a 10-day notice of ejectment due to a letter that I received approximately a week earlier. I asked if she would be willing to work with me on this situation, I could be out of her rental house quickly and with no fuss. She then dropped the bomb and she advised me that she had already filed the eviction paperwork.

Within the next few days I returned home to find a eviction notice taped to my door. Then I received a phone call from the new apartments to which I had applied a few days earlier. Mickey’s eviction notice popped up on my credit record and they cold not rent to me. So much frustration!

It was at this time that upon advice of a friend, I enlisted the help of North Carolina Legal Aid. The eviction process was something new to me and I had no idea what to do. The lawyer assigned to me is easy to talk to and has been very patient in answering my questions and dealing with my frustrations. He helped me file an appeal that would buy me more time. He let me know that by the time the appeal was filed I would have until the end of May to be in a new place.

At this point, the Salvation Army agreed to help me with an apartment deposit and first month’s rent to help get me out of Mickey’s house before I could be officially evicted by the courts. I felt this would protect my voucher contract. With my new voucher in hand, I finally found a two-bedroom apartment. The landlord, who is also the owner, understood my situation. The Salvation Army paid the landlord my deposit, which I was most thankful because I was flat broke.

Unfortunately the day I was supposed to move out of Mickey’s house, the new landlord advised me that his apartment was not ready. My “new landlord” told me he would speed up the process and promised that my apartment would be ready by that following Friday. When Friday arrived the landlord told me it still would not be ready until at least the following Monday. At this point a friend of mine allowed me to stay with him for a short while. With the help of several friends, we loaded my stuff into the back of a U-Haul and moved it to a storage unit so I was out by the date I had promised my lawyer.

Here I am now. For all purposes, I am homeless again. I’m still staying temporarily at an understanding friend’s house. Just recently my case worker at GHA informed me that I no longer have a voucher due to some mix up at GHA and the program I am in no longer has funding.

It is a confusing mess that I am still trying to sort out. The nightmare is not over and I know that the welcome at my friend’s house is soon to end. I really need to be in my own place but everything that has gone on has tapped out all of my funds. I seem to be without options to end my homelessness. I am lost. But I must keep moving forward. If only I knew which direction to go.

Nothing is falling into place. In fact the only thing falling is me…into despair. My depression is the worst it’s been in a long time. In fact, as I sit here writing, I am contemplating checking myself into the hospital. My drive has all but left me.

I am struggling to do the best I can but it feels like no matter how hard I’m moving forward I have a football team driving me backward. It is a horrible feeling. The harder I work to survive, the more things seem to try and push me backward.

I can’t give up and I know this. I refuse to give up.