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Spencer for Hire :: Homeless for the Holidays

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She held her 3-year-old as she described herself as a typical Riverside resident who enjoys the city's diversity. She likes the variety of movies, local music and cultural entertainment. Unfortunately, she has had a string of bad luck.

After working in a stable job for seven years at a local government job, she was laid off due to state budget cuts in her program. She used her savings to pay her apartment rent, but ran out of money after six months. Last month she became homeless. She moved into a homeless shelter for the general population. In Riverside we have one for women and children and one for men.

Nearly half of homeless women are single mothers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and at first glance, she fits that demographic: a 32-year-old single mother without a career and no prospects on the horizon.

But with a closer look, it becomes obvious she doesn't fit the entire demographic. She has a college degree - she graduated from State in 1994 with a degree in human services and secured a government job soon after graduation. But after losing her job, she struggled to support herself and her daughter.

There are many reasons why she ended up in the homeless shelter, but a major reason was the lack of affordable housing. She said she realizes her degree didn't protect her from the realities of expensive living costs. "I never imagined I'd be in my current situation when I was in college," she said.

The Breakdown

Her situation is unfortunate but not unique. Almost one family or person is evicted from their household every day. However, the actual number of people who leave is much higher. At least four times that number leaves their housing before the county sheriff serves the eviction notice.

This means almost 1,500 leave their homes due to lack of funds. Free housing for homeless individuals for two weeks and families for a bit longer is not enough. The two-week limit is designed to provide as many people with temporary shelter as possible.

When I interviewed one homeless shelter supervisor he said, "The most difficult part of my job is telling people to leave, because it's like they're being evicted a second time. I wish we could offer indefinite stay to people but we can't. We do allow some people to stay longer if they're waiting for a paycheck or have housing immediately lined up.

However, sometimes we have to enforce the two-week limit to ensure open space for new people and the number of families needing assistance rises annually”.

Surviving a Stigma

For a Black person, facing eviction isn't the only hardship we confront. A Black homeless person also deals with a heavy social stigma from the community. Most people think if someone is homeless, there's something terribly wrong with them. Many people put their security in their home and family, and if they see somebody without that, they assume that person has no value.

Homelessness has no color lines, I just pray that needing and getting help when you are homeless has none either. Depending on the circumstances, it could happen to anyone.

I've known people that have had really good jobs and the next day they're unemployed because their company went bankrupt.
The woman I interviewed said, "[Being homeless] has given me a new perspective.

Now I know how they feel. A lot of homeless people don't seek help for food because of pride - they really do want to make it on their own. I personally don't want to depend on food stamps," she said. "I always have to remind myself that I do have a four-year degree and I was a college student once."

Now I live in motels and avoid being preyed upon by the people of the streets. Today I went out and picked up cans. On a good day you can make $30 - maybe enough to pay for a motel.

This is a true story and real people. I decided not to give names for obvious reasons. This holiday go out and take a little food to someone, maybe a blanket or 5 dollars. Help one of ours get back on their feet. The Lord will reward you 10 fold. Every year I do this and I hope some of you will join me.

I decided to help this woman by using the few resources I had. I gave her money and introduced her to many people that could help. When I woke up this morning I realized something I had been taught many years ago. Love is for giving and forgiving. Happy Holidays

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