Home Editorials Outside Looking In Gimme a Job Instead of a Non-Profit Policy Change

Gimme a Job Instead of a Non-Profit Policy Change

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We in Alaska have a clear view of homelessness. It is the Brother Francis Shelter and Gospel Mission. It is the Sullivan Administration’s crackdown on illegal camps and the protest of John Martin, which led to the temporary “sidewalk ordinance.” It is the contentious debate between Fairview residents and the Red Roof Inn. The question is: are these debates echoed in the cities of the Lower 48? With this in mind, I decided to interview residents of the Salvation Army Red Shield Shelter in Tampa, Florida – a city as different from Anchorage as Anchorage is from Los Angeles- to find out how the city is coping with this most complex of issues.

 


Enjoy-Your-Meal-Sign-Photo-by-Kokayi-NosakhereThe bet began as a joke. I stated that he was going to be denied because service providers don’t think in terms of solutions. They think in terms of funding streams and non-profit programming parameters. My friend disagreed, stating that he thought in terms of infinite possibility.

It was a Sunday. Phil Bourquardez Park was filled with about 100 homeless persons. Every couple of hours a church-inspired group pulled up and distributed fully-cooked meals.

My friend planned to ask a server for a job. Any job, legal or under the table.

“She handed me a meal,” Byran Cunningham said. “I handed it back. That shocked her enough to pay attention to me. I told her I didn’t need food, I needed a job. She told me she didn’t know how to help me get a job. So, you win the bet.”

My printed words fail to capture the pain embedded in Byran’s vocal tones. For someone in his position, who is attempting to stop being homeless, the current stream of services is a catch-22. While we are thankful for the generosity of Metropolitan Ministries, Trinity Cafe and Salvation Army, that generosity doesn’t replace the freedom of movement or self-pride a job provides.

Homelessness in Alaska: Facts and Resources

  • The majority of homeless Alaskans work their way out of homelessness in fewer than 6 months. Source: Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness 

  • A minority of Alaska’s homeless are Alaska Native. Source: Alaska Native Health Board

  • March 8 is the Empty Bowl benefit for Bean’s Cafe. Tickets and information here

  • When you Love Alaska & Pick Click Give, you can specify any of the shelters: Bean’s Cafe, Brother Francis, Clare House.

  • Homeless youth: The Alaska Youth Advocates need your help getting teens out of the street life. They and Covenant House just recently lost some funding for Outreach programs. Here’s how you can help them reach youth:

    • 1. Text 41444

    • 2. Create message using keyword REACH followed by gift amount and your name

    • 3. Press send

    • See your impact here.

Learn more:

The frustration of wanting to get ahead, yet lacking the liquid currency to do so generates some weird thinking. On New Year’s Eve, while we roamed deserted streets, my friends and I imagine ourselves inside the “Tampa Bay Homeless Zone.” It feels like downtown is a specifically designed area where services are concentrated – and jobs are not.

When I shared a recent newspaper article, explaining the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative’s shift in policy from the shelter model to the permanent housing model, frustration spilled over.

“Yeah, right!” Bobby Masterollne said. “$7 million! For what? All this money flowing around and no one ever bothers to ask us what we think, and we’re the ones who are homeless.”

“I’m not even from here. All I want is a bus ticket home. Get me $200 and Florida will never see me again,” said David Kivel. Men chuckled.

So many of us are from different states, where we are from is our nickname.

“Four or five years ago, a van used to pull up and take guys to a labor pool,” Bobby said.

“What happened? Why do we have to walk all the way to Pacesetters?” I asked.

“No money in solutions, bro. You know that. All we need is $1000 a month to get outta this place,” Bobby said.

I can pick up on a good idea when it is presented, so I asked several men in Dorm 4 of the Salvation Army what they needed to stop being homeless. That is, taking into account what is already provided, what else is needed? The list was basic.

$9,600 annually for a one bedroom, fully furnished apartment. $780 annually in monthly bus passes. $960 annually in electricity. $600 annually for an internet-based cellphone.

Waiting for a Meal - Photo by Kokayi Nosakhere
Photo by Kokayi Nosakhere

The grand total is $11,940, or $5.74 per hour. Meaning that a full-time minimum wage job resolves the issue. I tried to push back.

Mainstream understanding of the issue is that the chronic homeless are mentally ill and/or on drugs. More laughter.

“I got mental issues from my government service,” said Jon Stickney. “I don’t want to be here. One of those professionals downtown would commit suicide if they had to live like us. We don’t drink anymore beer or smoke more weed than they do. Spiceheads don’t even care where they lay down. That’s not us.”

So, the collective message isn’t to throw more money at the problem, but create jobs.

Anyone know how to do that?

Life long Alaskan, Kokayi Nosakhere brings 20 years of networking and organizing experience to the role of community voice reporter. Born and raised by the Fairview neighborhood, Nosakhere likes to think he understands humanity enough to validate the award he received from the Alaska Press Club in April 2015. If you have a cultural event or viewpoint on an issue, please contact him at Kokayi@alaskacommons.com

12 COMMENTS

  1. While I don’t have any ideas, I do have to say I wish more people would listen openly to the less fortunate aka the homeless and actually get to know there story before jumping to conclusions. So many times I have seen that if we stop and actually really listen we will learn that the issue is much more complicated than people believe. I reminds me of the meme I saw on Facebook which said:

    “Just go get a damn job”

    The response was:

    “Well duhh but I can’t make a job just magically appear out of nowhere.”

    To me this brings up a valid point, which is that just blaming the homeless or jobless person, isn’t going to solve any issues.

    • I disagree, my friend. Minimum wage is $7.93 in Florida. That’s way too low to do anything other than barely get by. Your life becomes living paycheck to paycheck. I’m afraid that is NOT my idea of the American Dream.

  2. This is a very insightful article. Especially, since I know the Tampa area. This was in the paper recently. Nice follow up from the view of the people experiencing the problem.

  3. WOW. I had no idea. Really. This is one of the best articles I have ever read on homelessness. Usually, it is just a news article. This isn’t a news article. This is a personal testimony.

    • Thank you for bringing that up, Dale! GMI: The magic place where Milton Friedman and Switzerland find common ground. Forecasting the effects of abolishing the minimum wage isn’t really that hard to do, and it’s not a pretty picture. Walmart, as the deserved redheaded stepchild of examples, pays far below a living wage. Their employees require more social assistance as a result. That further taxes the communities that host the low wage superstores. It’s a death spiral. Might as well afford people a secured amount of income that prevents all the costly expenses that stem from poverty.

  4. Information/Eligibility: Families must meet McKinney Vento definition of Homeless Must have an expected monthly income of at least two times rent for the 12-months comprising the lease term Income must be less than 50% of Area Median Income, (re-evaluated annually). The initiative is open to families who have graduated from the Ministries’ self-sufficiency program, Uplift U®, graduates of other transitional housing program for families, as well as any currently homeless family which can meet the income guidelines. All residents will be paired with family mentors to help families achieve full self-sufficiency.

  5. Interesting article, and we’ll made points. I will say that I noticed there is no money for food or clothing. You cannot assume that people will be able to get food stamps, as the qualifications for single adults, no children can be messed up by having too much income. That puts them relying on soup kitchens and food pantries. Clothing for work is a must and comes from. …where? I think asking homeless people what they need is imperative. So is being realistic about ALL the needs and what can happen with gov’t benefits when you make over the limit.

What do you think?