At the Day Center, the mission is to serve homeless adults by providing some basic services unavailable to those without a stable place to live.
There's more than one “official” definition of homelessness, and we see people all along this continuum:
An individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets; stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned building or vehicle; or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation.
An individual unable to maintain their housing situation, forced to stay with a series of friends and/or extended family members. A recognition of the instability of an individual’s living arrangements is critical to the definition of homelessness.
But neither definition quite captures one other distinction I've observed. Some people who fit the definition don't consider themselves homeless and others do, even after their housing situation changes.
Here are some of the ways this can get complicated.
A couple lives in a motorhome owned by the woman's mother. The woman wants to live inside. The man goes stir crazy when he's in an enclosed place and camps out a lot. Late last fall, he persuaded her to join him outside, where they were ticketed by the police for illegal camping. Don't know where they are right now.
A man who's had his aorta replaced gets around in a wheelchair. He's been living in an abandoned building not far away but recently got turned out. Social services have him lined up to get into supportive housing and all he has to do is come by and sign some papers. But he hasn't. Why not? Because he's gotten so used to thinking of himself as homeless that a move out of that state threatens his very self-concept.
Last year, a man who regularly recycles cans had saved enough money to rent a motel room for the winter, but no one would rent to him because he was paying, not Section 8. This winter, he was sleeping outside. He hasn't been into the Day Center for months.
A woman was in to take a shower and do her laundry today. Her water was cut off for non-payment. Her rent is $500 a month, and she makes $850 a month from her part-time job at Sam's Club where she's worked for almost three years. Her hours were just cut and she said 27 workers with more seniority that she has were recently laid off.
She has a job interview tomorrow for a second part-time job. She'd prefer a full-time job, of course, and to work for a place that cares more about its employees. According to the definition, she might have "permanent" housing right now but her situation is far from stable.
A man who has trouble with alcohol is living with his sister now. I like him and we always have cordial conversations. Half the time he means well and half the time he fucks up. No one, including and especially himself, expects that to change. Ever.
"I've got to be me," he says.
And "me" is homeless.