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.




By Natasha Toussaint

On the first day of work orientation, I befriended Kenneth, a co-worker. Kenneth was always well-dressed, always in a good mood, and hysterically funny. He excelled in all of the training modules, and helped me when I had difficulties with the material. When we had settled into our work, I was able to rely on Kenneth to help me with work-related snags, and on occasion we ate lunch together.
Kenneth had a son who was a College Junior. Kenneth beamed with pride when he talked about him. He often said his son was his best friend.

One week, Kenneth was unable to get his usual ride home. He asked if I would take him. Later that week, after we finished taking care of some of his errands, I asked him if there was anywhere else he needed to go, like the grocery store, or if he would like to get something to eat. He said no and looked at his watch. I took the hint and asked if he would like me to drop him off at the library where I’d picked him up.

“No,” he replied. “You can drop me off at the Salvation Army. I’m homeless.”
I was stunned. Kenneth had been homeless for over 5 years due to a series of unfortunate life events.

In hindsight, I realized why Kenneth was more excited about the new job than the rest of us. For him the job meant change and stability. He hoped one day to get a place of his own.
Kenneth gave me the opportunity to change my perspective of homeless individuals. Homelessness is not a look, an attitude, behavior or a condition. Homelessness is a life situation that for a multitude of reasons can befall any of us, at any time.

Westover Serving at Grace


Continued Series on Volunteerism
by Stephanie Thomas

Between 5:30 and 7:00 pm on the 2nd Wednesday of each month you will find over 20 volunteers from Westover Church serving meals at Grace Community Church. They have come to serve the homeless and the less fortunate, people who are hungry. They serve from the heart. From the youngest volunteer to the oldest, each person happily pitches in.

Before the first volunteer or guest walks through church the door at Grace Community, Brenda Hancock, a member of Westover Church has been working tirelessly for weeks to make sure there will be enough food and volunteers to make the meal go off without a hitch.

It’s 5:30 and mostly quiet as the volunteers and the food begins to come in through the side door. The tables for around 250 dinner guests and the preparation tables are already set up. The volunteers greet each other and do a bit of catching up. Then everyone goes into the dinning room to bless the food and pray for the guests who are at that point lining up at the front door. Inspirational music plays in the background as the volunteers respectfully move around the room stopping to pray at each table for the guests who will be sitting there. Next the group of volunteers gathers for directions, one more prayer is said, and just before the guests are allowed in, the volunteers retreat to a large hall adjacent to the dinning room.

This is when the excitement begins. There are four stations set up in the hall with 4 people at each station. In assembly line fashion they fill the plates with chicken, mashed potatoes, bread and green beans. Then there are other volunteers who take the filled trays and place them on a long table in preparation for serving, plus there are those who clean up spills, fill drinks, and put peach cobbler in the desert bowels.

The guests participate in a short service in the dinning area before the meal is served which includes gospel music, a message and a prayer.

Once the service is over the food is served. Each volunteer takes their responsibility seriously, carrying trays, pouring drinks, passing out food, cleaning, and taking care of issues that might come up like someone missing a fork or a special plate needed for a child. And Brenda is there giving direction and making sure all is running smoothly.

As soon as the meal is served, the desert comes out, people finish eating, and then in a flash the cleaning begins. Everyone helps out, clearing plates, washing tables, putting away the chairs and tables, throwing away the trash and taking it out, and making food bags for the little ones. Within an hours time 250 men, women and children are fed, everything is cleaned up, and at 7:00 pm you’d never know anyone was there. It’s pretty amazing.

Why do these volunteers come back month after month after month to help people they don’t know and in some cases won’t see again? Some have told me they come because they want to live as they believe Christ would have them live, others feeling blessed by God simply want to give back, and one young man told me he came because he knew if he didn’t have the love and support of his family he might have found himself in this kind of need.

It was a joy to serve with these caring and generous individuals.

Please consider volunteering in your community to help the homeless and those in need. Together we can make a real difference in people’s lives. To volunteer for serving meals at Grace Community Church contact Virginia Cornell at the church email address:

“Working with Meals at Grace is always a humbling reminder that any one of us could lose a job and lose a place to live,” continued Brenda Hancock. “Even though some weeks are more difficult than others to serve in this ministry, it is important to me to extend God’s grace and love to a group of people in our community who really need it.”

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.