A profile of homelessness between two American towns

Concho, Arizona and New York City, NY are completely different places to live. However, when unsheltered homeless people are trying to survive, the dehumanizing experience is most likely the same. (photo by Chris Brown during the point in time housing survey of a backpack left behind by someone taking shelter in an abandoned house in Concho, Arizona .)


By Kareena Maxwell

He sits with his head slightly tilted down and speaks in a low yet audible tone. He is still a young boy. A child for all intents of the world who needs only to go to school and have the security of a place to live; a home. Having a home, however, became a luxury when his single mother’s earnings were not enough for the rent she was obligated to pay to keep a roof over their heads.

“I remember I would see the eviction notices on the door. She always found a way to keep us from complete homelessness. In a two year span he had to relocate three times. “We had no money for the internet so we would go to the library to look for a place to live. I was scared.” While this boy was a “sheltered” homeless person, the trauma on the youth is evident. “It’s overwhelming,” he said, “being a kid there is nothing you can do. I offered to help by finding a drug dealer and selling drugs, but she wouldn’t let me.”

Homelessness in Concho, Arizona or New York City shares the common road of not having a proper place to live which would include running water and heat. Nationally, America’s unsheltered homeless are pirates in the storm of their need for shelter and food. They are nomads in search for a place to lie their heads down at night, to have a window to look out of, and to have a private place to dream. But instead their lives are in a constant state of chaos because they have no home.

The national program to count the unsheltered homeless population in cities and towns across America for 2017 is finished. Lead by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, once a year volunteers take to the towns across America to find the unsheltered homeless. At the end of the research, the collected data will be sent and volunteers will dutifully take their information and return it to the state they are in so the state can send it to HUD. It’s always been that way in human services prove need, show the data to support that need which the towns, citizens and local agencies have known all along.

On a HUD web page a report about cross-sector partnership states the following: “On any given night, more than 45,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults experience homelessness. Yet, youth homelessness is often an invisible problem, as young people are often not in plain sight. Many don’t know where to go to ask for help and many communities lack dedicated youth services. Despite these limitations, philanthropy and federal partners have come together to commit to ending youth and young adult homelessness by 2020.”At the risk of writing critically about an agency that is probably waiting for the new administration to come in and make changes, it’s curious that they could write about “more than 45,000 homeless youth when there are over 62,000 homeless on any given night in the City of New York, according to The Coalition for the Homeless.

The Coalition also reports that in 2016 the homeless population is 82% higher than it was 10-years ago. They are in fact critical of surveys that count, one day out of the year, as the real number, “City surveys significantly underestimate the number of unsheltered homeless in NYC.” The City wants to report that the homeless population is on the decline. In the City of New York Homeless Services data that they report the decline since 2015 in street homeless is less or 388 less or they say a 12% difference. What isn’t available is where did the 388 go? Did they move to another state? Did they die? The question has to stay in the forefront because the data collected is supposed to result in money for programs and services for the unsheltered homeless. This 2015 report that was compared to 2016 also showed that there was another decline in the “subway system homeless.”

In the small town of Concho in Arizona, the homeless seek out different locations to live. On a check list form, provided by the Arizona Department of Housing for a 2017 housing survey, the options are, as an unsheltered person were you in a “camping ground, forest, woods along the river, vehicle, trailer/camper without running water or electricity.”

The fact that there are people without places to live is critical to the development and the stability of a thriving community. When you are homeless you only exist to find a place to sleep. Continuity of a daily routine is unquestionably the path to knowing the self.

What does homelessness look like in Concho, Arizona? Ronda Sharp, Homeless Liaison for the Concho Elementary School in Concho, Arizona, has been involved in the unsheltered homeless count in her assigned area that includes Concho, Show Low Pines and St. John’s since 2012. She, and Chris Brown, Community Liaison at the Concho School, counted about 30 people. “I had a wonderful experience, Ms. Sharp says. “There are human beings on the other side of that panhandler sign. Her experience has spawned insights that are the polar opposite of New York City’s unsheltered homeless count where the announcement of the count is made months before with a clear recruit of volunteers that are needed. HOPE (Homeless Outreach Population Estimate), uses all venues, newspapers, and social media. They have a website. The city also has hundreds of thousands more who are in the streets. How is Apache County in Arizona going to get a clear count of need if they don’t put the word out that that this issue needs volunteer support? “I’d like to see it be a county wide effort to count the homeless. Currently, there are no shelters in Apache County except domestic violence shelters.” Ms. Sharp also explained that it is hard to find the homeless in the vast acres where there are miles and miles of land. Some have lived in tents with a requirement that they, the homeless, move every 14 days. How can the count be accurate when they have to keep on the move all the time?

Another chasm between the two cities is that in Arizona, when an inmate gets out of jail they have nowhere to go. If they are found in an abandoned unit they are arrested and then fined. “The count in January is hard to get in rural areas. I’d like to see it decriminalized. It should not be a crime to get shelter in an abandoned home. We need transitional housing for all inmates. It’s a vicious cycle,” Ms. Sharp said adding, “Anyone who serves the homeless population should be required by the state to be involved in the count.”

The homelessness in Concho and NYC share the common road of not having a home of their own to live in, but is it as simple as that? Two different towns…the small town of Concho and the metropolis of New York City where the subways, tunnels and slopes on roadways under bridges serve as a place to sleep night after night.

At first, becoming homeless is to live in either a constant shock of either how did I get here to where will I sleep tonight? Searching for shelter reduces human beings to the level of living in sub human conditions.

To some, the culture of homelessness has become an acceptable way to live. The category, the definition, the look of that life as the roamers, squatters, the starving seems to be a lifestyle. The generation of people who accept that their homes are periodical abandoned structures, refrigerator boxes or a relatives couch is accepted because the services in cities and rural America has to be proven to the funding sources like HUD, even though it is right in front of us…it constantly has to be proven to get money for programs.

The point is, after all the time spent documenting who is living on sidewalks and tents, across America, what really changes as a result of looking at this data?

It appears that the data is filled with inaccurate information and the flaws in a system that gives volunteers hope that they are making a difference, may go into a pool of lost time and money. As rents soar and felons are frequently considered undesirable as tenants, the spillover onto the streets in tents in rural areas are not surprising.

Chris Brown, and Cori Brown could be the way of the future in helping others. Their Concho Kitchens United, in Concho, Arizona has been in operation by donations since November 2016. Their idea of feeding others without the assistance of the government is working. This model of just setting up the situation based on what they see is thriving. People are hungry. They are in need of homes. Perhaps if we build homes, out of singlewide units, one at a time it will make a difference. We can only hope.


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