The New Faces of Homelessness: Part 1

Homelessness is a complex social and public health crisis. – The Journey Home

In January of 2008 Mayor Sheila Dixon launched an innovative and highly ambitious plan to end homelessness. The Journey Home, outlines a step by step plan of action for the city of Baltimore to end all homelessness by 2018.

As you read the summary you will see that the goals and initiatives the Mayor’s office is undertaking are many. The job difficult. Paragraphs about actions to take, jump from the page at me. My first reaction to the idea of this plan, “That is a nice dream. You can accomplish a lot with lofty goals.” But, here we are, three years in and I’m thinking that some of these ‘lofty goals’ may be more than that.

In November, The Franciscan Center began the process of partnering with the Office of Workforce Development to apply to have occupational interns and offer employment training. Threw this initiative we have been able to hire part time employees to fill in the gaps, where our budget restraints were prevailing. Having three new employees, paid for by the Office of Employment has enhanced our ability to serve healthy options in our dining room. As we now have a chef’s assistant, who is learning culinary skills from our cooks and local chef volunteers. We have the ability to bring more produce into the Center because we now have a part-time driver’s assistant who facilitates our truck in picking up donations.

These employees stay with us for six months with the opportunity to reapply after that time frame expires. Both people were at risk for homelessness. They are now learning life skills that will further them, long after their time at the Center is over.

Baltimore’s 10 year plan also outlined an idea to work with the Maryland Office of Public Defenders to provide expungement of non-convictions and advocate for changes that will allow for the expungement of certain nuisance crime convictions not currently eligible.

The Franciscan Center began an expungement program two months ago. With volunteer lawyers from our community we are able to help our clients not only receive expungement, but use our other services to help mine for jobs when their expungement process is through.

The first week of offering this program a man joined the line and made an appointment. He said his name was William and that because of accumulated traffic violations he hasn’t been able to pass background checks and wasn’t able to renew his trucking license, nor get an apartment. Through the expungement program and follow-up William now is able to work, and has a stable home.

These are just two examples of what is being done to help those at risk of being homeless. The needs are comprehensive. ‘One Stop Shops’ like the Franciscan Center are hearing the call and responding in kind, developing partnerships that increase their ability to meet the growing needs of the city’s financially disenfranchised.

While 10 year plan to end homelessness looks to address a wide range of needs, including making the application process for food stamp benefits more accessible. Nutrition and emergency hunger still need to be more fully addressed. The free lunch program offered by The Franciscan Center and other non-profits and soup kitchens around the city serve hundreds of meals a day. These meals feed not only the homeless in Baltimore, but work as a stop-gap measure for thousands of families and individuals who suffer from food insecurity; utilizing these programs to supplement their limited financial resources, enabling them to allocate those funds to other needs, such as rent or prescriptions.

A fundamental issue with hunger and food insecurity isn’t just the presence of hunger, but the ability to make long-term goals, and sustainable life changes is drastically decreased. Focus and forward thought is stunted from not only the lack of nutrition, but also fear. It is this fear that most of us with stable diets, regular income, and security with the basic human right, access to food, do not always grasp at first.

With free meal programs, hungry people can relieve the stress of having to choose from being able to purchase food, or pay for other necessities, such as electricity or rent.

It is only with the addition of food security that people at risk can begin to make changes and plans for a sustainable future.

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