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UNSHELTERED Critical Issue—Trauma and Survival Fatigue

“The first thing we want survivors of domestic violence and homelessness to do is make a lot of decisions. We give them a checklist or we give them all of these things that they have to do to move forward. But, we’re not realizing that they may have gone for hours, days, weeks without sleep. How can you make a good decision?”
~Ruth Glenn (from: Sleep Deprivation Is an ‘Unrecognized Problem’ for Homeless People

UnshelteredCritical Issue #10:Trauma and Survival Fatigue
Connections between trauma, homelessness, and survival fatigue 

  • Trauma is any type of distressing event or experience that has an impact on a person’s ability to cope and function.
  • Homelessness may be the result of a series of losses (employment, housing, family, community) or an event (domestic violence, eviction, natural disaster). Most people will experience these occurrences as traumatic to some degree.
  • Trauma can lead to homelessness and vice versa.
  • Survival fatigue is cognitive weariness and psychological exhaustion that makes it difficult to perform tasks or seek help related to getting ahead or even getting by.
  • Sleep deprivation is common among unsheltered people. Some sleep during the day in public spaces because they don’t feel safe sleeping at night.
  • Because services are provided by numerous agencies at multiple locations, people are often asked to fill out forms, attend several appointments, and answer the same personal intake questions-  asked by a series of strangers – in order to get their basic needs met.

What can we do?

  1. Learn about -and practice – Trauma Informed Care
  2. Mitigate cognitive and emotional burdens of living with scarcity and hardship (survival fatigue) by
    • avoiding re-traumatization 
    • increasing community outreach activities
    • simplifing application procedures and eligibility requirements, and 
    • creating smooth pathways to a wider range of services to meet basic needs.
  3. Practice self care
  4. Provide opportunities for training, peer support, and debriefing for staff and volunteers who work directly with survivors of traumatic incidents.
  5. Keep up the good work! Many staff and volunteers involved in outreach teams and day centers DO provide trauma informed care. The time and honesty required to build and maintain trust is real commitment. Also, the surest pathway toward health and housing for all. Thank you!

More about trauma and survival fatigue

More about Vicarious and Secondary Trauma

Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.___________________________________________________________________________________
Additional information and graphics for the Safe Sites 4 All Campaign are available here.Please help us promote solutions by sharing these messages with others.

UNSHELTERED Critical Issue—Vehicle Residency

“People are definitely stuck in a cycle that you can’t escape. You know, you can repair your vehicle, you can move, but you have to keep moving. … It’s just stressful to be in this situation, especially when your vehicle’s in disrepair.
~Yesica Prado

____________________________________UnshelteredCritical Issue #9: Vehicle Residency
The good, the bad, and the ugly 

  • A growing number of people in the US are using vehicles as a form of affordable housing.
  • Vehicle residents account for more than 40% of the unsheltered homeless population in Seattle. (I couldn’t find similar data specific to Tacoma or Pierce County. If you have it, please send it my way.)
  • An RV or car offers more protection from the elements -and from violence- than a tent does.
  • A vehicle provides a relatively safe place to store belongings and (if it runs) transportation as well.
  • Some people live in vehicles because they can’t afford both rent and tuition; some can’t afford both rent and medicine and some simply can’t afford rent at all. Others have been living in vehicles for decades and do not consider themselves homeless.
  • Lack of off-street space and city parking restrictions make it hard to leave a vehicle-home unattended while working, attending to basic needs, or seeking social service assistance.
  • Parking tickets, towing costs, and impound fees quickly escalate and people may lose their home and everything they own when their vehicle is sold by the towing company to cover costs that are beyond their means. If you think it is difficult to contest such impounds in Pierce County, you’re right. 
  • One person’s “ugly RV that I wouldn’t be caught dead in” is another person’s “home sweet home” that may keep their family alive through the winter. 

What can we do?

  1. Support the efforts of Pierce County’s Safe Parking Network, come to a Safe Sites 4 All zoom meetingto learn more.
  2. Be an ally and advocate for inclusion of vehicle residents in decisions that impact them. Be informed regarding local legal challenges and court decisions regarding vehicle residence, e.g., City of Seattle v. Steven Long with a Homestead Act twist and  Potter v. Lacey.
  3. Learn about innovative programs in other jurisdictions. Some examples: Cars to Housing in Snohomish County; New Beginnings in Santa Barbara; Community First Village in Austin; and Operation Texas Strong: Weatherford
  4. Reframe the issue in human terms. Inform decision makers that survival housing is not a beauty contest. Old RVs are cheap, plentiful, and a quick way to get people sheltered.  
  5. Demand that safe parking – INCLUDING parking for RVs – be included in every jurisdiction’s plan to address homelessness.  As density increases faster than adequate public transportation, street parking for vehicle residents creates real problems. But that is all we have provided so far. Time to try something new.

More about vehicle residency 

Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.___________________________________________________________________________________
Additional information and graphics for the Safe Sites 4 All Campaign are available here.Please help us promote solutions by sharing these messages with others.

UNSHELTERED Critical Issue—Slow Motion Crisis Response

“Remember when dealing with big organizations, most notably the government, that slow movement is a feature, not a bug.”

~Christopher Wink
____________________________________UnshelteredCritical Issue #8:  Slow motion crisis response
Three Realities that make progress on homelessness so slow and costly

  1. We are in a housing crisis and suffering the long term effects of poverty and inequity. Reframing this as a “homelessness crisis” shifts our thinking away from solutions into perpetual “management” of the problem. Decades of short-sighted policies at national, state, and local levels have gutted low income housing stock. We cannot rebuild this overnight. Replacing the public housing we squandered will be much more expensive in today’s economy.
  2. Finding a safe place to sleep may be perceived as a crisis by a person escaping freezing weather or other dangers related to being unsheltered. In that situation we quickly do whatever it takes to survive or to ensure the survival of someone we care for. Government agencies – in contrast – are not built for rapid response*; action requires funding which typically requires a proposal, feasibility studies, planning, budgeting, public input, pilot projects, assessments/reviews, recommendations and sometimes- if this all took a while – a new proposal.
  3. Homelessness in the US grew last year for the fourth year in a row. People are entering homelessness in greater numbers and affordable rental options are evaporating. Years of pretending we will somehow pull a “decent” home for everyone out of thin air have left us empty handed in terms of safe campgrounds or sites for people living in vehicle homes. If you question the value of a dry tent or vehicle against the coming winter – imagine the winter without even that small measure of protection. Pierce County is ramping up efforts in these areas – but – we need to work together and work quickly. 

*exceptions to this are emergency response teams for fire, natural disasters, etc. where the action is typically intense, swift, and of relatively short duration.

What can we do to reduce response time for critical needs?

  1. Support the efforts of local nonprofits, social service programs and faith-based communities that are addressing homelessness. Small groups are usually more nimble and can fill in some gaps while larger organizations and initiatives navigate the road to funding.
  2. Tell your representatives that we need a working 20 year plan, a ten year plan, and a short term emergency response ALL at once rather than one at a time. Remind them that similar plans were approved by their predecessors. Were these plans good?  implemented? effective? put in a drawer?
  3. Act as if someone who is out in the cold this winter is a family member or a friend (maybe they are)

More about the housing crisis and the slow motion crisis response

  • Housing needs by state/Washington (2021 NLIHC)
  • As Coronavirus Magnifies America’s Housing Crisis, FDR’s New Deal Could Offer a Roadmap Forward(Time, 2020)
  • Slow Democracy: local decision making that is inclusive, deliberative, and citizen-powered is not easy and definitely not rapid,

Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.*yes, the pun was intentional – I can’t help myself.

UNSHELTERED Critical Issue—The Digital Divide

dig·it·al di·vide
Learn to pronouncenoun 

the economic, educational, and social inequalities between those who have computers and online access and those who do not
~Merriam-Webster Dictionary
____________________________________UnshelteredCritical Issue #7:  Homelessness & the Digital Divide
How the digital divide blocks progress toward housing and security 

  • Opportunities for in-person appointments are severely restricted due to the pandemic. Lack of reliable access to the internet & technology creates additional barriers to virtually* every resource needed to exit homelessness:
    • finding permanent housing 
    • finding a job 
    • accessing medical care and social support networks
    • accessing other benefits like unemployment, Supplemental Security Income, food stamps and Medicaid 
  • Technology-based healthcare interventions hold particular promise for unsheltered people, but many have little or no access to broadband.
  • Efforts to end homelessness by local government agencies and by organizations – such as the Tacoma Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – will only be effective with input from people experiencing homelessness in our community. Invitations to testify at council meetings or to join meetings are meaningless without provision of the tools and connectivity needed to do so. 

What can we do about the Digital Divide?

  1. Know that the digital divide is a reality for anyone on the wrong side of it. Promoting public broadbandreduces information and access barriers for all low income people. 
    • Contact local utility districts, cities, ports, counties, etc. and tell them you want public broadband.
    • Learn about the proposed national legislation that  would ban new public networks: the CONNECT Act,”Communities Overregulating Networks Need Economic Competition Today” (US HR1149). Pros & Cons. Referred to the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. (on 02/19/2021).
    • Join the conversation. 
  2. Create Technology Hubs for people experiencing homelessness 
  3. Support and promote the long-time, ongoing efforts from local libraries to bridge the digital divide
  4. Let people know about the Washington State Drive-In WiFi Hotspots Location Finder

More about the Digital Divide 

Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.*yes, the pun was intentional – I can’t help myself.
___________________________________________________________________________________
Additional information and graphics for the Safe Sites 4 All Campaign are available here.Please help us promote solutions by sharing these messages with others.

UNSHELTERED Critical Issue—Food Insecurity

food in·se·cu·ri·ty

noun 

an involuntary state of food insufficiency resulting from financial and economic constraints 

____________________________________

Unsheltered

Critical Issue #6: Food Insecurity

 A Washington State University study (conducted in 2020) found that  34% of Pierce County households were food insecure. Critical disparities were found based on income, education, race, and marital status. The pandemic continues to stress the network of food banks, shelters. and other meal programs scrambling to fill the gap.  

Why is food an issue?

  • Unsheltered people seldom have access to food preparation areas or safe ways to store food
  • Gathering food (and most other supplies) is difficult while carrying essential personal belongings 
  • Some food banks work hard to provide nutritious food that does not need to be cooked – but this is not most of what is donated
  • Uncoordinated emergency food distribution programs are problematic:
  • Several agencies or individuals may distribute food on the street on the same days or at similar times, followed by days where no one offers food.
  • To be efficient, meals are often pre-packaged and people cannot select what they want or choose the amount they can consume before food will spoil. 
  • Without access to refrigeration or garbage services, unused food spoils and becomes garbage or rodent attraction 
  • Nutritional deficits for people experiencing homelessness are associated with higher rates of chronic conditions, hospitalization, emergency room visits and health problems in general (Baggett et al. 2011Hamelin and Hamel 2009).

What Can We Do About Food Insecurity?

  1. Act locally
  1. Homelessness and food insecurity on the Key Peninsula
  2. Volunteer at local shelters, food banks, and other agencies  (like the RISE Center and FOB) that provide food and water to unsheltered people
  1. Convert hotel rooms used as emergency shelters into living spaces with kitchens so that people can store and cook food for themselves.
  2. Create access to basic food safety items needed by unsheltered people, such as:
  1. food preparation space (this is more challenging than you might think)
  2. sanitizing solution for food prep and serving surfaces (whether or not there is a common food preparation area)
  3. rodent-proof storage containers for food and garbage 
  4. coolers and ice
  5. Adapt our current patchwork of emergency food distribution to match the reality that food insecurity is an ongoing problem in need of a sustainable coordinated approach.

More about Food Insecurity 

Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.

UNSHELTERED Critical Issue—Safety & Health

These things become the norm: that some homeless people die of cold on the streets is not news. In contrast, a ten-point drop in the stock markets of some cities is a tragedy. 
~Pope Francis  


Twenty Years of Hate, a report from the National Coalition for the Homeless (2020), outlines 39 lethal attacks and the 44 non-lethal attacks on unhoused people that occurred in 2018 and 2019 throughout the United States. An earlier report, No safe street (2016), found that in the previous 17 years at least 1,657 people experiencing homelessness were the victims of violence perpetrated for the sole reason that they were unhoused at the time. This number included 428 men and women who lost their lives.
Cause or Effect or Both?

  • Youth, single adults, and families who become homeless are often survivors of domestic violence. For many, it is the primary cause of their homelessness. 
  • Homelessness increases vulnerability to violence and victimization
  • Extreme need contributes to survival sex, the practice of trading sex for food, a place to sleep, or other basic needs, or for drugs.
  • Unsheltered people often have no access to safe drinking water or sanitation services, and encampments are commonly established along the sides of streams and rivers.
  • Poorly situated encampments contribute to environmental hazards including erosion, loss of native vegetation, debris accumulation, loss of wildlife habitat, destruction of community commons/green space, and bacterial contamination of waterways that are close to campsites or fed by storm drains that receive greywater from camps.
  • Unsheltered people suffer from exposure to environmental hazards including soil and water contamination, air and noise pollution, and exposure to severe weather events. 
  • People who are homeless have higher rates of illness and die on average 12 years sooner than the general U.S. population.
  • Poor health is a major cause of homelessness

Beyond issues of vulnerability to violence and lack of basic needs, homelessness is closely connected to declines in physical and mental health; homeless persons experience high rates of trauma and health problems such as HIV infection, alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness, tuberculosis, and other conditions.


What Can We Do About Safety and Health?

  1. Create more safe places to sleep (with access to services, hygiene facilities and garbage receptacles): 
    1. “Safe parking” and “safe tent” sites, provide options for individuals to legally park their vehicles or sleep in tents.
    2. RV parks specifically for people who live full-time in RVs 
  2. Create more safe places to carry out everyday activities 
    1.  Urban Rest Stops offer safe and welcoming places where unsheltered people can come and use restrooms, laundry facilities and showers. 
    2. Day Centers, like New Hope and CCS Family Day Center, offer similar services for specific populations
  3. Offer easily accessible medical care including street medic programs. Demand affordable universal healthcare as a key strategy for prevention and mitigation of homelessness.
  4. Learn about – and help raise public awareness about-  safety issues that face unsheltered people. Advocate for measures that reduce violence and victimization
    1. Participate in National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day which takes place each year on the longest night of the year, the winter solstice (usually December 21st).
    2. Join Chaplain Ed Jacobs for memorial services in memory of people who died homeless in Pierce County 

More about Safety and Homelessness 

Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.

UNSHELTERED Critical Issue—Disability & Accessibility

DISABILITY is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.
~Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990  

According to a 2018 federal report by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, “it is estimated that on any given day nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of individuals experiencing homelessness (86,962 of 369,081 individuals) are people with disabilities.”

Some challenges faced by people with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness:

  • Physical disabilities that require the use of a mobility aid (such as a wheelchairs or walker) make it difficult to live in a tent, a car, and even in many shelters.
  • Chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and anemia are often inadequately controlled and may go undetected until after permanent damage has occurred.
  • Many suffer from  invisible disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, depression, and learning and thinking differences such as ADHD and dyslexia. Invisible disabilities also include chronic pain, fatigue, and dizziness. When the disability is invisible, it often goes unaccommodated.
  • Cognitive impairment is both a risk factor for, and perpetuator of, homelessness (research report).

There are countless other barriers faced by people who are unsheltered and each obstacle is even harder to overcome when disability is a factor. Remember the last time you provided care for someone you love who was temporarily or permanently disabled. Now, imagine doing all of that in a tent – without running water, or heat, or electricity. And don’t forget the freezing rain; we ARE (after all) in Tacoma and heading into winter.
What Can We Do About Accessibility?

  1. Know, and follow, accessibility requirements. See the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website 
  2. Modify problem areas (whether or not legally required to do so) to achieve “barrier-free” public spaces and shelter options. 
  3. Promote a national home modification program through the National Housing Trust Fund to create additional low-income, accessible home-sharing options. 
  4. Create adequate shelter space for medically fragile people and additional funding to assist people in monitoring and managing their chronic conditions.
  5. Help educate others about “invisible disabilities” and the need to make accommodations for these.

More about Disabilities and Homelessness 

UNSHELTERED Critical Issue—Extreme Weather

July  of 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded at Sea-Tac. Unsheltered people in Pierce County had little protection from the heat wave and must now “gear-up” for the cold winter months ahead. The pandemic reduces our options for adding emergency warm spaces to sleep. Large congregate shelters that once added extra mats in the winter can no longer do so without increasing the risk of Covid for everyone who lives and works at the shelter.____________________________________

Living outside in winter greatly increases risks of cold-related Injuries and death. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (2010*), 700 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness die from hypothermia annually in the United States. 
Unsheltered people are especially vulnerable to:

  • Frostbite
    • Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation (removing the affected body part).
  • Hypothermia
    • While hypothermia is most likelyw hen the ambient temperature becomes very cold, it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. In rainy weather, when clothing and survival gear become soaked, uncontrollable shivers and hypothermia are likely outcomes.

CDC  Prevention and Treatment of Hypothermia & Frostbite

What Can We Do About Extreme Weather?
5 Tips for Winter Planning (from the National Coalition for the Homeless)

  1. Increased Outreach – Talk to people who stay on the street to help you locate camps and common sleeping areas.
  2. Stock up on Blankets and Warm Clothing – Wet clothing will not keep anyone warm and can lead to greater risk of illness.
  3. Emergency Transportation – Does your city have vans or shuttles available to transport people to shelters that may be across town?
  4. Day Centers – Make sure there is somewhere people can go, at least when the temperature falls below 40 degrees F.
  5. Low Barrier Nighttime Shelter – Any past bans or other restrictions should be waived on nights when the temperature is lower than 40 degrees F.  If needed, people who are violent or under the influence can be separated, so long as they can remain warm.

More About Extreme Weather

* I was unable to find more current stats- please send any fresher data you have on this and I’ll update the post
Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.
___________________________________________________________________________________
Additional information and graphics for the Safe Sites 4 All Campaign are available here.Please help us dispel myths by sharing these messages with others.

UNSHELTERED Critical Issue—Sweeps

“I don’t always call them sweeps. Sometimes I refer to them as ‘enforcement actions’ or ‘cleanups.’ But I think when you are moving people around who have nowhere to go because people don’t want to see them, then ‘sweeps’ can be accurateIf I was the administration, I think I would be less concerned about what they are called and more concerned about the impact it has on people and communities.”

~Cathy Alderman, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

____________________________________

Unsheltered

Critical Issue #2: Sweeps:  the forced removal of people using tents or tarps to shelter outdoors from a specific area.

Why are Sweeps a critical issue?

  • There is no sanctioned campground to move to
  • Being “moved on ” from one hostile location to another creates trauma and ever greater obstacles to mental and physical health, employment, education and any other movement toward stability and well being.
  • Campers often form supportive communities that are difficult to reproduce after a forced dispersal 
  • peer support and community are critical survival tools, especially for people with few resources
  • sweeps cause interruptions and loss of support from service providers and other community members
  • Encampments serve as a place to store important personal possessions that may be lost forever during a sweep.
  • unsheltered individuals have the same property rights to their personal possessions as any other person in Pierce County
  • these rights still exist even when items are temporarily left unattended in a tent.
  • Sweeps are an expensive and unproductive use of  municipal resources
  • Carrying out the task of evicting people from their homes (no matter how humble) will create trauma for any but the most callous government employees as well

What Can We Do About Sweeps?

  • Know the relevant guidelines and legislation:  CDC guidelines and Martin v. City of Boise
  • Advocate with local elected officials and other leaders for no sweeps without appropriate alternatives
  • Join the effort to End Street Homelessness in Pierce County by 11/1/2021
  • Oppose false dichotomies. We can maintain the public commons AND provide safe public space for unsheltered people to sleep
  • We can respect the rights of housed people, businesses, government employees, and people without houses all at the same time

More About Sweeps

Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Tacoma/Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.

UNSHELTERED Critical Issue—Storage

Imagine you had to leave your home overnight. What would you take with you?

Why is storage for unsheltered people a critical issue?

  • Unsheltered people have possessions that are valuable and worth protecting.
  • People experience discrimination, and are sometimes targeted, for having their belongings with them at all times. 
  • People’s belongings (including medicine and medical devices) are often vandalised, stolen, or lost.. 
  • Loss of official documents like social security cards, driver’s licenses and marriage certificates create additional barriers to services and housing.
  • Belongings taken during homeless sweeps are not always stored and may be impossible to retrieve
  • Keeping outdoor survival equipment secure can stop people from pursuing employment and other opportunities that can lead to housing
  • Warming and cooling centers can save lives in extreme weather – but – people may choose to stay outside and secure their belongings so they have a place to sleep that night  
  • Hauling belongings everywhere and maintaining hypervigilance is physically and emotionally exhausting.

What Can We Do About Storage?

Ideas for Pierce County? Bring them to the Pierce County Coalition to End Homelessness – let’s solve this.