29 September 2010

Guest Post: The Clubhouse

From 2008-09, I worked as an AmeriCorps (basically domestic PeaceCorps) member in Boston's homeless shelter system through the amazing Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. To just say the experience was meaningful would do it no justice and to properly explain its meaning would probably take more time than you are willing to spare, so I won't do either. But while working at St. Francis House, a day shelter for homeless adults located in the heart of downtown Boston, I developed a friendship with an individual familiar with the shelter system who, speaking from his own experience, opened my eyes to a unique perspective of what it really means to be homeless in America.

In addition to being a talented writer and a great guy, Bob now also holds the distinction of authoring YP's first guest post. It's been condensed, but I know you'll still enjoy:

The Clubhouse by Robert L. Karash

(Excerpted from Spare Change News, Cambridge MA, issue of May 7, 2010. Full article can be found here.)

In some towns people who are experiencing homelessness have to wander around during the day until they are allowed back into a homeless shelter to get their bed to sleep for the night. In other places, so-called day centers for the homeless exist to provide services and to simply be a place to go during what are often long days of waiting. People in situations of homelessness frequently consider it a huge blessing to have a daytime shelter or "clubhouse." But interestingly enough, not only the presently homeless spend time in these. Others—including the formerly homeless—may also come.

Cities which have these daytime clubhouses are very lucky indeed to provide for their less fortunate and not force them to be purposeless and hungry daytime nomads. In fact, everyone comes out winning.

When a person spends a significant period of time being homeless, especially in a community with other homeless people, and then obtains permanent housing, sometimes a puzzling thing happens. This person doesn't break his ties with the homeless community despite now being in possession of his own apartment, home and new life.

It's been written that very few if any "outside" people realize how very tight-knit the sense of community within a homeless population can be.

Exiting this community to live in an apartment or house might be difficult. For many, there is no outside substitute since they might be afraid, emotionally distressed, estranged from former friends and family, or alienated by their new surroundings.

So where do they go? They return to the safe place, the place where they know they can say they belong—the clubhouse.

So housed, formerly homeless people return to the clubhouse for a variety of reasons, including not having much money. But most will say they want to check in with their old friends. They simply don't want to feel isolated in their new apartment.

Transition periods are never easy. For a while, the newly housed may have to keep one foot in the clubhouse and one foot in their new abode until things settle. This goes hand-in-hand with another factor, namely, the fear of losing one's new apartment. The only way to cope with this restless anxiety is to visit the clubhouse.

With proper support, people can manage the transition from homelessness or temporary housing to permanent housing successfully. Few can travel this challenging journey alone and navigate it well.

The daytime shelter, or clubhouse, is an important place for many people. For many, it represents their real home until they get settled in a new permanent housing situation. Even after making this transition, the clubhouse can remain a place of solace, security and belonging for the indeterminable time it takes to switch internal emotional gears from being homeless to being housed. Shaking off the traumatic experience of being homeless can take a long time.

04 September 2010

My, Republicans, What Short Memories You Have...

I'm tired of listening to people condemn the Obama Administration's "government takeover" of American liberties. Sick of hearing ignorant, opportunistic candidates and talking heads paint Obama like a foreign dictator and call him the worst president in history. Anyone can see Obama's off to a rough start (that's what happens when you inherit four generations worth of problems) but to claim he's the worst in history you must either have little to no knowledge of American political history (see: Buchanan, Harding, A. Johnson, etc) or you must be willing to say anything to fuel the flames of a rabid voting bloc motivated by pent-up frustration, some legitimate and some scary, in order to get elected.

The aforementioned presidents were really bad. Obama's only been in office for two years, so it's pretty difficult and stupid to compare him to these guys. But if you're dying to compare him to someone, you don't have to look that far back to find one worse than Obama: George W. Bush did more to intrude on the daily lives of Americans, expand the powers of the executive branch and trample on the Constitution than most self-proclaimed neocons with daddy issues could ever hope to do. This is what amazes me about Republicans in 2010: their dissatisfaction with the current administration has apparently led them to block the previous eight years out of their collective memory in a pathetically transparent attempt to regain power at any cost. And it just might work.

But where were these proponents of conservative government spending when Bush led us into a war that ended up costing almost a trillion dollars? Where were these ardent defenders of the Constitution when Bush, Cheney et al were treating it like last Sunday's funny pages? Why wasn't the Tea Party formed after Bush turned executive orders and signing statements into de facto legislation and gave his cronies the authority to subvert limitations on presidential powers that had been almost universally recognized for over 200 years yet simultaneously avoid oversight in the name of executive privilege?

I'll be the first to admit Obama has racked up some pretty hefty additions to our deficit, but he did so in the course of fixing problems that most people agreed needed to be fixed (if healthcare and finance reform are "disasters" now, what the hell were they before???) in amounts that are equivalent to or less than the debt we would have incurred had we continued down our pre-recession road. The voters spoke in 2008: Obama was elected to reform industries that had proven themselves to be failures and in need of reform. And even though many of these same voters are now deserting Obama as he gets his hands dirty and we are forced to accept the painful but inevitable consequences of our behavior, the guy is sticking to his message and doing what he was elected to do. As he should.

It'd be one thing if Republicans were offering any specific, constructive ideas other than "undoing the damage" inflicted by Obama's "socialist agenda," but they aren't. That's an advantage exclusively granted to the opposition: it's easy to point to current negative socioeconomic indicators as a reason for change (Dems did it in '08) but much more difficult to prove things would have been worse had they been done differently. Regardless, now is the time for a united front. And it seems to me that the Republican congressional leadership's sole focus is on doing whatever it takes to regain the majority, even if it means pandering to the vocal fringes of its party and putting the entire country back on the path that led us into this mess in the first place.