Ending Homelessness Benefits Everyone

How do you get people to care about homelessness? 

My cursor blinks, indefinitely, upon a blank white screen. That’s a hard question.

I began writing extensively about this topic, the homeless crisis, many years before this blog was born. I’ve cared about homelessness for a very long time.

At the age of 16, I started writing and submitting journal entries discussing homelessness to my high school English teacher.

Over a decade ago, after the sudden death of my husband’s father, he and his younger siblings lost their home. He slept in a park across the street from the insurance company my mother worked at. I’d often find him, at 6:30 am, washing up in the public restroom, in the dark, alone. After a few months, he was taken off the street by a social worker and brought to a youth shelter.

As a child, I had friends and peers who lived out of cars, in parks, with their often working parents barely making ends meet.

Then, a decade later, we find ourselves reentering a distant memory, as our on-site caseworker reminds us that he is only a paycheck away from switching places with us.

Today, I am housed. Again. But, let’s be honest for a second. My chances of becoming homeless again are far greater than, say, suddenly becoming rich. Landing a book deal. Winning the lottery. None of those things are going to happen, but I could very well become homeless again.

Both my husband and I are employed. We’re college educated. We live in a middle class neighborhood. I have a kind and generous landlord. I have a fantastic union job. My husband has steady hours. Most of the time, we eat well too. But in the event of an emergency? I’m not sure.

Today, I find myself in a peculiar place, when it comes to the topic of homelessness.

I am privileged.

I am a young, able-bodied, light-skinned, well-spoken, and college educated.

I am both your author and my audience — it’s discourse community, and it’s stakeholder.

And, in a way, you kind of are too!

In the brilliant article Why It’s So Hard to Stop Being Homeless in New York, written in New York Magazine, we learn that the homeless are not “an anomaly: 71 percent of the shelter population is made up of families, a third of whom have a head of household who is working. ‘The new working poor are homeless,’ says Christine Quinn, the former City Council Speaker who now serves as chief executive for Win, a shelter provider for women and families.

A lot of them work for the city or not-for-profits. I can’t tell you I don’t have a Win employee living in a shelter somewhere.’”

Many homeless citizens are serving their communities much like the rest of us. Homeless families are serving their communities and are vital parts of their communities, and yet, that same community, that some society — us, all of us — we not serving them in return.

Additionally, “Between 2000 and 2014, the median New York City rent increased 19 percent while household income decreased by 6.3 percent.

In that same period, the city’s homeless population more than doubled from 22,972 to 51,470. There are now around 60,000 people in the city’s shelter  system, an all-time peak.”

What does that say about us, as a collective? We must all do our part, right?

I believe that humanizing the homeless, as we often fail to do, is the real key to solving such a devastating and growing problem. Invisible People does just that, and does it incredibly well.

We have to talk to the homeless and get their side of the story.

We have to write about it — make room for the difficult and otherwise painful dialogue.

This is the only way we can truly help anyone, by communicating the many unseen and unheard truths. This is the only way we can avoid assumptions and biases, and finally move forward and impact real, sustainable change.

And, you know, ending homelessness doesn’t only help homeless people. Ending homelessness is good for all of us. Reform to the New York City shelter system, homeless rights, and tenant and landlord relations will have many direct effects on many different stakeholders.

For a homeless individual, this could mean better shelter conditions, as well as better access to services needed to the mentally or physically ill, LGBTQ youth, families, or the elderly.

It means more people housed — and that’s a good thing. More people housed means more more people employed, more people educated, and more families taken care of. And that’s just the tip of iceberg! In fact, it’s well understood by experts that homelessness, in many cases, can lead to an increase in emergency room visits, ambulance calls and other associated costs too.

So, how do you get people to care about homelessness? 

I’d like to think that the very existence of such an atrocity would be enough to get people to care. But due to reasons I’ve yet to understand — it’s just not enough.

So maybe,

if I make it about them,

if I make it about you,

you’ll start to care.

 

Photo by: Taufiq Klinkenborg

 

What to read more about my story? Go here.

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Scar Tissue | 30.) Leash

My therapist let those four letters roll right off her tongue. PTSD.

I mean, I knew. I know. Any middle aged white male that even remotely resembled my ex-slumlord would steal the breath right out of my mouth.

Panic attacks on local bus routes and week-long depressive episodes with a tendency to rerun. Yeah, I know.

“Intrusive thoughts”. Nightmares. Lots of nightmares.

I left the shelter, but I haven’t left the shelter. I’m still there. How long will I be here? I guess it greatly depends on how consistent I can be with my appointments.

Homelessness is a threat that follows me everywhere I go.

I spent months trying to reel myself in, and I think I’m mostly all here. Five fingers, five toes.

But, how do I chunk the trauma? How do I keep the memory, but leave the pain behind?

Perhaps they’re not chains anymore. But what if the leash never disappears?

 

 

 

#SCARTISSUEPROJECT IS A MEMOIR ABOUT SURVIVING HOMELESSNESS IN NEW YORK CITY. IF YOU’D LIKE TO SUPPORT ME, SCAR TISSUE, OR MY BLOG, PLEASE CONSIDER LEAVING A TIP! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
FOR THE LAST TEN MONTHS, WE HAVE BEEN NAVIGATING THE NEW YORK CITY SHELTER SYSTEM. FROM MANHATTAN TO QUEENS, BACK TO MANHATTAN, AND FINALLY, TO BROOKLYN. WE’VE BEEN ALL OVER THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY.
EIGHT MONTHS PRIOR, WE STEPPED FOOT IN A COURTROOM. WE SPENT MOST OF 2017 FIGHTING TOOTH AND NAIL – A RENT OVERCHARGE AND NEGLECTED REPAIRS. IT’S UNBELIEVABLE HOW MUCH A LANDLORD, A SINGLE PERSON, CAN CAUSE THIS MUCH PAIN IN A PERSON’S LIFE. IT’S SCARY HOW QUICKLY OUR LIVES CAN FALL APART AT THE HAND’S OF ANOTHER.
I HAVE COLLECTED NEARLY 100,000 WORDS DOCUMENTING OUR JOURNEY. IN SCAR TISSUE, I WILL SHARE WITH YOU PIECES OF MY COLLECTION.
© 2018 JOCELYN FIGUEROA ALL RIGHTS RESERVED “SCAR TISSUE”

Sunday Scribbles — October 11, 2018

Today, a colleague spoke wisdom into a student whom just discovered her passion — her purpose in life. The student yearned to help and understand people. As we all do, I suppose, but for her, she wants to go a bit further with that and become a psychologist. I saw my husband in her words.

My colleague, a single mother, an educator and passionate academic for 25 years, carried her first and only child through a doctoral program. That child is now sitting across from me on our office couch as we have this conversation. Without realizing so, she was speaking wisdom into all of us in that room.

She said, “You can, and should, have multiple passions in your life. You just have to find out which of those passions is your purpose.” She also hinted that passions and purposes can change. And, of course, they will, because we change as the world changes around us. What matters is we love and are dedicated to what we do, that we do it well, with our whole heart, and we honor our place among each other.

I see much of myself in her, and in that student too.

And, as the storm rolled in over Manhattan Beach, we communed over the future that we, so beautifully, began to create.

Sunday Scribbles — September 30, 2018

“Sometimes, I might have a hard time coming to a decision. But once I do, come to that decision, that is — I’m good.”

It was a few minutes after five, and a few colleagues and I were gulping down the last bit of cold coffee from the coffee machine.

Strange, I thought. “I am exactly the same way. Once I make a decision, that’s it. I’m committed, and nothing can sway that decision.”

Considering that, just five months ago, I didn’t know any of these folks, they sure know a lot about me now. They know I was homeless, just six months ago. They also know about what I’m up to outside of work — what I’m working on, what I write, what my life is like. They know what video games I play. They know my husband’s name. Where I get my pizza, what I like on that pizza, and how close I live to Pier 69. They know quite a bit about my past, and perhaps, even about my future.

This month has been all about realizing my place in the world — my small little space in this world.

The universe is like a chessboard, and my piece was very strategically placed right…exactly…here.

“Perhaps there is a very important reason why you found yourself on this campus, in this office, at this time.”

A workmate takes a sip of her coffee. We are situated across from each other on the couch.

“We know it was, in part, for you to find the Graduate Center. To find that Doctorate program.”

Although I did not say it aloud, I thought about how significant these people are, sitting across from me. Our paths and all those around us are about to become intricately intertwined with each another.

I knew it, right away, that I had stepped into my future. That my children would one day run through these halls. That I was making history.

Scar Tissue | 29.) Cleanse

The rain came.
Always, right on time.
Always, a downpour.
A cleanse.
A drowning.
A deafening sound.
A rising tide.
A sinking.

Uniformed men march up six flights of stairs.

In perfect sync, a mass of great force, serving and protecting, laced with tyranny,

Tightly laced boots, a badge,

A distaste for the poor,
the lonely
and the downtrodden,

the fatherless,
the afflicted,
and the needy.

Pounding on fragile doors. With clenched fists in sync,

the floors rumble.

But I,
not I,
I am not here.

I am someplace else.

I am high again.
I am sinking into a mattress,
on the floor.

Boots to floor.
Fists to door.

And it doesn’t matter.
It matters not at all.
Because here comes the rain.

Always arriving just on time.

 

 

 

#SCARTISSUEPROJECT IS A MEMOIR ABOUT SURVIVING HOMELESSNESS IN NEW YORK CITY. IF YOU’D LIKE TO SUPPORT ME, SCAR TISSUE, OR MY BLOG, PLEASE CONSIDER LEAVING A TIP! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
FOR THE LAST TEN MONTHS, WE HAVE BEEN NAVIGATING THE NEW YORK CITY SHELTER SYSTEM. FROM MANHATTAN TO QUEENS, BACK TO MANHATTAN, AND FINALLY, TO BROOKLYN. WE’VE BEEN ALL OVER THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY.
EIGHT MONTHS PRIOR, WE STEPPED FOOT IN A COURTROOM. WE SPENT MOST OF 2017 FIGHTING TOOTH AND NAIL – A RENT OVERCHARGE AND NEGLECTED REPAIRS. IT’S UNBELIEVABLE HOW MUCH A LANDLORD, A SINGLE PERSON, CAN CAUSE THIS MUCH PAIN IN A PERSON’S LIFE. IT’S SCARY HOW QUICKLY OUR LIVES CAN FALL APART AT THE HAND’S OF ANOTHER.
I HAVE COLLECTED NEARLY 100,000 WORDS DOCUMENTING OUR JOURNEY. IN SCAR TISSUE, I WILL SHARE WITH YOU PIECES OF MY COLLECTION.
© 2018 JOCELYN FIGUEROA ALL RIGHTS RESERVED “SCAR TISSUE”

Scar Tissue | 28.) Ajax

I threw all of my weight against the bathroom door. Perhaps this is why my left shoulder is always tender.

At night, we like to keep that door shut tight.

You wouldn’t want to wake up to a surprise — empty cans and plastic bottles floating in the tank behind the toilet, used syringes on the window sill, and the occasional full tampon, not always filled with menstrual blood, on the bathroom floor.

Or a person. Or two.

Best case scenario, it’s just one person.

They’re conscious, sitting on the toilet, quite alarmed, really, wondering why you’ve barged into the bathroom while they’re trying to take a shit.

Sure beats being mistaken as the girl delivering the heroin.

Or, my personal favorites:

$4 Blow Job at 4 AM

8 cigarettes for 8 minutes

“Do you have a knife I can borrow?”

Today, though, it’s no one. There’s Ajax sprinkled in the tub.

I pee and go back to bed.

#SCARTISSUEPROJECT IS A MEMOIR ABOUT SURVIVING HOMELESSNESS IN NEW YORK CITY. IF YOU’D LIKE TO SUPPORT ME, SCAR TISSUE, OR MY BLOG, PLEASE CONSIDER LEAVING A TIP! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
FOR THE LAST TEN MONTHS, WE HAVE BEEN NAVIGATING THE NEW YORK CITY SHELTER SYSTEM. FROM MANHATTAN TO QUEENS, BACK TO MANHATTAN, AND FINALLY, TO BROOKLYN. WE’VE BEEN ALL OVER THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY.
EIGHT MONTHS PRIOR, WE STEPPED FOOT IN A COURTROOM. WE SPENT MOST OF 2017 FIGHTING TOOTH AND NAIL – A RENT OVERCHARGE AND NEGLECTED REPAIRS. IT’S UNBELIEVABLE HOW MUCH A LANDLORD, A SINGLE PERSON, CAN CAUSE THIS MUCH PAIN IN A PERSON’S LIFE. IT’S SCARY HOW QUICKLY OUR LIVES CAN FALL APART AT THE HAND’S OF ANOTHER.
I HAVE COLLECTED NEARLY 100,000 WORDS DOCUMENTING OUR JOURNEY. IN SCAR TISSUE, I WILL SHARE WITH YOU PIECES OF MY COLLECTION.
© 2018 JOCELYN FIGUEROA ALL RIGHTS RESERVED “SCAR TISSUE”

Define Your Niche. Find Your Tribe.

Although I’ve been blogging, off and on, for almost 3 years, what I’m actually doing, le blogging, is still very much a mystery to me. I blog on two platforms: Tumblr and WordPress. What I do on Tumblr would be more like incoherent screaming and farting. The occasionally crying — AT LEAST a crying emoji. Whilst, what I do here, on my shiny, oh-so-pretty WordPress, with my bold fonts and HD stock photos, is somewhat better. At least good enough for me to claim it as my writing portfolio. Honestly, I hardly think it’s even good enough for that. Seriously. Guys. Look at this post. It’s practically incoherent screaming and farting already! Minus the crying emoji!

Among all the farts and screams and crying emojis, if there’s one, er, two thing(s) I’ve learned, it’s that you’ve got to:

Define Your Niche

I know — kind of hard when you have no idea what you’re doing, right?

Well, think about it this way — you can write through almost any problem. Including writing itself. The best way to find your niche is to just start writing. At first, you may find yourself blogging about all kinds of different things, but eventually, you’ll discover what topics really interest you.

Write about what is most important and relevant to your life.

Write about what you’re dying to learn more about.

Write what you care about — causes that are close to home.

Write about something you can write a lot about.

Thing is, I can write a lot of political thought stuff. I can write a lot about poverty and homelessness because these are topics that are close to home. It’s my life. And, frankly, that’s the stuff I write best.

Not to mention, they’re also topics I am consistently learning more about. Every time I learn something, well, I want to share it, don’t I?!

Find Your Tribe

It’s pretty clear that surrounding yourself with people who care about you, who share similar goals, is invaluable. Not just within the blogging world, or even the writing world, but just life in general! There is nothing more valuable for personal growth and happiness than finding your people.

Me? I love storytelling.

I love to learn about life, learn about people, and learn about the world around me through storytelling, so, naturally, that is what I gravitate towards when I’m seeking my people, my tribe.

Whether you’re seeking a writing group or a community online, look for those who are writing about similar things and have similar goals.

Most importantly, never be afraid to stray from the path, to do something different, to be you.

Hell, you never know who you might find out there, on the off-skirts of town, doing things a little bit differently, seeking a friend to join along.