by Joycelyne Fadojutimi
Homelessness is an ongoing problem in our country and in our city Longview, Texas. A recent 2016 report from Social Solutions, a data tracking organization indicates there are 564,708 homeless people in United States. They were living and sleeping in cars, on streets, homeless shelters and in subsidized transitional housing during a one-night nationwide survey last January. These shocking statistics are supported by others just as distressing. Of that total number 206,286 were in families, 358,422 were solitary, and a full quarter of the number are children. The stats go on, but remain tragic.
There are 83,170 (15%) who are listed as “chronically homeless.” This term describes someone who is disabled and has been homeless for at least a year, and those who are disabled and have endured at least four homeless episodes totaling at least twelve months during the past three years.
Families of at least one adult member that meets this description are also regarded as chronically homeless.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness describes it this way, “While people experiencing chronic homelessness make up a small number of the overall homeless population, they are among the most vulnerable. They tend to have high rates of behavioral health problems including severe mental illness and substance abuse disorders, conditions that may be exacerbated by physical illness, injury or trauma.”
A tragic 8% of homeless persons are veterans. This constitutes 47,725 people. Fortunately, this is a 35% decrease since 2009. These homeless veterans have served in conflicts dating back to World War II. Washington D.C. has the highest incidence of homeless vets with 145.8 per 10,000 residents. Forty-five percent of these vets are black or Hispanic. While just 10% of all homeless vets are women, this rate is rising.
Because of poverty, overcrowding in government housing projects and a lack of support networks there are 1.4 million veterans in danger of becoming homeless. Statistics and research indicate vets from the late Vietnam War period and immediate post-Vietnam War period are the ones in the greatest danger of becoming homeless. War-related disabilities and disorders are major contributing factors to veteran homelessness. these conditions include crippling war wounds, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety and chemical addictions.
At the same time, five hundred and fifty thousand unaccompanied single youth aged 24 and younger have endured at least one homeless episode lasting longer than a week. Approximately 380,000 of this group are 18 or under. Accurately numbering homeless children is especially difficult. As the National Alliance to End Homelessness explains, “Homeless youth are less likely to spend time in the same places as homeless people in an older age range. They are often less willing to disclose that they’re experiencing homelessness, or may not identify [themselves] as homeless. They also may work harder to blend in with peers who aren’t homeless.” That is not all.
Equally important, one hundred and ten thousand LGBTQ youth are homeless in America, and comprise one of the most vulnerable homeless populations. A significant percentage of these youth live in communities that do not accept them because they are LGBTQ. These children make up 20% of the nation’s runaways. They take to the streets because of family rejection, abuse and neglect. They are also much more likely than heterosexual runaway youth to be victims of sexual assault. Worse yet, they are also twice as likely as heterosexual homeless youth to commit suicide. Still, homelessness is mainly a problem for America’s society’s older citizens.
Half the homeless population is aged 50 and older. Because of their ages, these people typically face additional age-related health issues. They are more prone to injuries from falls, to suffer cognitive impairment, vision and hearing problems, major depression and such chronic conditions as diabetes and arthritis. There are 830,120 beds available in various housing projects. About half of these are set aside for the homeless, including:
* Emergency shelters that provide temporary or nightly shelter beds to people experiencing homelessness.
* Transitional housing that provides homeless people with up to 24 months of housing and supportive services.
* Safe Havens that provide temporary shelter and services for hard-to-serve individuals.
The rest of these beds are set aside for recently homeless populations. Rapid Rehousing supplies short-term shelter and medium-term rental assistance, housing relocation and stabilization services to formerly homeless persons who are again homeless. Permanent Supportive Housing offers long-term housing with supportive services for formerly homeless, disabled persons. Permanent Housing provides housing both with and without supportive services, but does not require its patrons to be disabled.
According to Salvation Army, there are several reasons why people are homeless. They include:
Poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, poor physical or mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, family and relationship breakdown; domestic violence, physical and/or sexual abuse.
Again, Salvation Army gives reasons for youth homelessness. They include: Conflict or breakdown in family life; sexual, physical and emotional abuse in the home; lack of access to employment opportunities or insufficient income to pay rent and living costs; rising housing costs and the in-affordability of the rental market; difficulties in accessing income support payments and absence of support when in, or moving from, State Care; drug and alcohol issues; mental health issues, overcrowded living conditions or death of a parent.
The tragic statistics of homelessness in the USA and Longview are undeniable. However, there are many organizations and people working to end this heartbreak both here and in our nation.
Again, this homeless saga is one that touches us right here in Longview.
For instance, David Brent Schaefer started out with a happy, promising childhood. Born in Ft. Worth on November 22, 1959 he was raised by a father who worked as a policeman in Arlington, and a mother (who is still alive) and a lifelong nurse. His father also ran an auto body shop side gig. After the family moved to east Texas, David loved frequenting Lake O’ the Pines with his Dad while living in Ore City. “Dad built a smoker that could smoke a whole deer. That was how big that thing was,” said David. “We fished and hunted whenever the season came around.” David even once, won third place in a KYKX Radio Bass Tournament.
He graduated from Ore City High School, and inherited his father’s automotive skills. After getting married in 1980, he went to work for Lone Star Steel, toiling there off and on for four years.
“I got tired of being laid off and called back to work, so I quit and went into mechanic work,” he said.
Taking a job in an Ore City transmission shop he lived happily with his wife and step-daughter. Then the sky fell on him.
He tells how a transmission dropped on his head and knocked him cold. He spent a lengthy period at Longview Regional Medical Center, almost dying eight separate times. After he was finally released, he moved into a nursing home, and things started going downhill.
His roommate who shared the bill with him was 15 years older. He died while David was hospitalized. During his time recuperating in the nursing home the mobile home burned, and David found himself suddenly homeless.
He did have a job for a while at Longview’s Western Transmissions following his hospital release, but he fell and re-injured his head. This latest injury sent him to Good Shepherd Medical Center for treatment after which he started having seizures following this last mishap.
According to David, apart from his elderly mother who lives in Brownwood, and a brother who has recovered from addiction to illegal drugs, David has no close relatives. His other siblings were killed in a car crash many years ago.
“I never thought anything like this would happen to me. My toes have been cut off due to bad circulation, but life goes on,” he says. “There is just no way of knowing how life will turn out like this, and no one wants to help me.”
It could be said, like Job, he has not let life’s misfortunes shake his faith in and devotion to God. In his younger days, he was always in church on Sundays and Wednesdays.
“I do not worry about what the days bring. Whatever the Good Lord wants it to be, that’s what it is going to be,” he says.
David does not get angry at former friends who see him and avoid him. For example, he regularly sees an acquaintance who is divorced and is now seeing a lady friend on the southside of Longview. When this man drives his pickup past David sitting in his makeshift home on Mobberly Avenue, David always waves even though this ex-friend never waves back.
David describes how he has been sleeping outside periodically for the past two years. He bundles his few worldly possessions in a bag and uses it for a pillow.
He says he is willing to perform any kind of work to end his homelessness, but also has mixed emotions about responsibilities. If nothing else, his life is free and uncomplicated. Granted there is no order or expectations, he looks at it as a not-so-bad existence. It is important to note, David has an act for cleanliness. He picks up litter on Mobberly Avenue and says he does not like unclean environments.
“I do not miss paying bills even though I sleep outside,” he says. “I am free to come and go as I please even though I have no home to go back to at the end of each day. I like working, so I would still like to work.”
He is considering returning to his mother in Brownwood.