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What Do Homeless Residents Need to Be Housed? They Told Us at Our Homeless Shelter Discussion

Published March 21, 2019
  • HHSA
  • Community Education
  • Homeless Navigation Center
Shelter Discussion Overview 

Many effective community health solutions begin as ideas from people directly experiencing the problems.

With that in mind, HHSA and its  partners organized a Feb. 27 Homeless Shelter Discussion at the Redding Library. More than 60 unsheltered adults participated by sharing their input on the proposed Homeless Navigation Center, which would provide chronically homeless residents with a low-barrier shelter where they could access services to help them overcome barriers to permanent housing.

The participants were asked “Why do you feel people remain unsheltered?” and “What services do you feel would be needed in the navigation center?”

The insightful conversation shed light on the logistical challenges even the most motivated face in overcoming homelessness.

Here are some insights from a pair of thoughtful unsheltered residents who attended. 

Larry Haggard, 43Larry

Larry (pictured right) said he grew up in the area, left to raise his son in Southern California and then came back to Redding 14 years ago. He became homeless, he said, due to 19 years of expensive custody court proceedings and the death of his mom. His grief was so overwhelming that he developed a substance use problem, he said. He’s now sober, he added.

What Prevents Him from Being Housed
“On the street, it’s changed. It’s dangerous out there. You have to have protection. . . Security for me is a big issue. It’s really rough out there due to people who have drug problems. 

I’ve been a cashier for 35 years, but now it’s really hard to find work because I have a felony on my record. About 80 percent of the jobs I apply for won’t hire a felon.”

What Services He’d Like to See
“Having storage facilities to prevent thefts, and more drug and alcohol counseling would make a big difference. People need mental health help. It’s not the drugs that are the issue; it’s the mental issues that they’re using the drugs for . . .

There also needs to be child care and animal care for people who are working or looking for jobs. For many of us, animals are our emotional and mental support.” 

George Koen, 60George

George has lived in the area for 13 years. He became homeless when he separated from his wife and started to struggle psychologically, he says.  He’s on disability and lives out of an RV, but he still struggles on a limited income, he said. 

What Prevents Him from Being Housed
“I have really bad claustrophobia. I’m just afraid of being tied down to anything or anyone in that sense. I did have an apartment for six months, but I couldn’t do it. So now I live in the RV.

The mental health challenges, they are real. They do affect me. Mostly I’m fine, but when I’m not fine it’s really bad.”

What Services He’d Like to See
“The most important thing is always going to be mental health and connecting people to services. Whenever someone is asked to leave a shelter, there should be a functional procedure. ‘Let me take you down to Restpadd’ or ‘Let me call so and so.’ The services exist, but the connectors don’t. 

Staff need to be consistent and not arbitrary in how they treat people there. If I come to your service, but you treat me badly, you’re not going to get anywhere with me.”


Other Lessons from the Discussion

1. Fear of Theft or Losing Their Possessions Is Huge
Whether it’s by theft from other unsheltered adults or by police sweeps, the fear of losing one’s possessions can be a big barrier to seeking services, looking for jobs, or even going to work after getting hired.

“We need a place where we can put our stuff. I have a cat, bedding, other things. If I’m going to go out and try to get a job or get services, there’s going to be nothing for me when I get back. I’ll have lost everything,” one woman said.

2. Many Unsheltered People Fear for their Safety
Some mentioned feeling the trauma of witnessing assaults among other homeless people. One man said he believes unsheltered women felt especially vulnerable to assault.

The other danger that was mentioned was inclement weather. The extreme cold, rain and heat in the summer can contribute to homeless deaths.

3. Facing Discrimination on the Job Market
Many expressed a desire to work and said they were looking for jobs. Yet some said their criminal records make it difficult to gain employment. They also said many employers “look down” upon homeless applicants, who struggle to look presentable for interviews.

One suggestion was to create a hiring pool or job board at a shelter.

4. “There’s No Place to Go”
Many said they feel like they’re trying to be shuffled “out of sight, out of mind” by authorities. A few said they simple needed a place to sit and “just be” in peace without the stress of being forced to move or cited by law enforcement.

5. It’s Extremely Difficult to Gather Enough Income for Rent
Rent prices are unaffordable for many low-income residents, and landlords often require a deposit as well as first and last month’s rent.  In addition they often require an income of three times the rent, thus many said they find it impossible to gather enough money to get an apartment.

One participant mentioned that some hotels will also discriminate against people who appear homeless, even if they have money to get a room for the night.

6. The Struggle to Maintain Hygiene
With a shortage of accessible bathrooms, it’s extremely difficult to stay clean and look presentable. This can be detrimental to both one’s health and job searching. Finding clean clothes that fit for job interviews is also a challenge.

“I have the ability to get a job, but it’s hard to present yourself like a human being with no place to shower,” one woman said.

7. Disabled Homeless People Would Need Extra Support at a Shelter
Some are in wheelchairs or have other disabilities that may require assistance with daily living thus extra support is often needed.  

8. Homeless Folks Need Help Building Self-Esteem
Several participants mentioned how being homeless has battered their self-worth. Ideas of what could help included: a job training program, opportunities for volunteer work and mentoring from formerly homeless peers to help them transition back to stable living.

9. Many Ideas for Small but Significant Services
In addition to the huge barriers that prevent unsheltered adults from getting off the streets, there are many less obvious obstacles as well. Here are some ideas from the participants to address these:

  • Mailboxes so guests can send and receive mail, especially important documents related to getting IDs or vital records.
  • Phones for people to make and receive calls.
  • Bus passes and other transportation services.
  • Child and animal care for people looking for work.
  • A café where people can get cheap coffee and access hot water and ice.
  • Access to healthy, fresh food.
  • Access to a savings account and financial services.
  • Services to help people manage their medications.
  • Rooms for single parents and with teen children of the opposite sex so they don’t have to be split up.

The shelter discussion was just the first in many planned efforts to gather feedback. The current proposal for the Homeless Navigation Center is a work in progress. We will continue meet with and solicit feedback from important stakeholders and community partners such as the local hospitals, law enforcement agencies, business owners and unsheltered individuals and families themselves.

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