By BARBARA ANDERSON
Local guest columnist
— Editor’s note: This is the last installment a series of guest columns from Barbara Anderson on poverty and homelessness in the area. Read previous columns at newsandtribune.com
Many of the people we have served at Haven House Services Inc. over the years return to work, live on their own and raise their families. Some we never see again, while others come back to volunteer, to make donations, to hire other homeless people, and some come back forever because we have to bury them.
Living in poverty is hard — it is daily wondering how to pay the bills, stressing out over what you are going to feed the kids tonight, buying toilet paper, and even if you have the money for that. It is paying the rent one month, the light bill the next. It is taking your medication every three days to stretch it out long enough to last but too long to do any good. Most importantly, it is the strongest level of survival we can make with the exception of a front-line soldier.
There was and is a War on Poverty. The problem is that those who created that term and funded those programs don’t exist anymore. In fact, neither do many of the programs or services. Today, we have to worry how to cut 5 percent from the Head Start program locally while in Indianapolis there will be a lottery for the children of the Head Start Program. A lottery. Children and their parents will “pick numbers” and if there number is called, they will either receive services or not.
What have we come to when we make a lottery of the education of our children, those most vulnerable children, and the poorest of the poor?
The Section 8 program has been frozen at the state level, which means the burden will now fall to local housing authorities to house the poor in totality. Sequestration is here and it is affecting us. It will affect us even more in the future as we find out the totality of the cuts. How can we begin to end homelessness when we can’t begin to address it without resources?
For some, homelessness ends tragically. They simply die homeless. If you imagine that living homeless is hard, you should view it through our eyes when someone dies homeless.
You have to track down the next of kin and often times that is hard; sometimes you don’t find them at all. One of those cases still haunts me because we tracked down his family and found where he lived, where they moved, what school he attended, and all that did little good because not one of them lived there anymore. He is in a pauper’s grave and someday I will give his family a file that talks a little bit about his life.
Every year, we read the names of those who died homeless at the homeless memorial sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and locally done in conjunction with Jesus Cares at Exit 0 at their feeding site. This year we lost quite a few — more than any other year in our history, over nine people ended their homelessness through death.
Cash died from cancer. He was the first person to ever die in the shelter because he refused to leave or to be hospitalized. Adult Protective Services, his family, all of us tried to convince him but he wanted to die “at home.” Jo, a paranoid schizophrenic with a family who had disowned her, died from heart failure in the hospital. Michael had liver problems. Gene died from multiple physical illnesses — she died trying to help others as well. Lisa died from a drug overdose in her new home. Cincinnati John died from alcoholism. Tommy was hit by a car on his moped; Bob was housed and we still haven’t found his family, and then Lee, who died from health problems that plagued him most of his life.
Each one had a history here: Cash, Lee, Gene, and Jo were all people from this community. Cincy John was of course, from Cincinnati but married a local woman years ago. Tommy was from New Albany but had lived in Jeffersonville for many years. Bob was from Illinois but had moved to Salem years ago. Lisa was from Scottsburg and died there as well. Of those nine, there were 15 children left to mourn and wonder why this was to be their parents’ final legacy, to die homeless.
The way we look at life is often the way we look at death. We have hope, peace and acceptance when we know we have lived fruitful, spiritual and productive lives. When we no longer feel that surge of hope running through our veins, we tend to feel less like fighting for life.
We feel like a burden and wonder what others think of us. I know that because those I serve have told it to me and I believe it to be true. No one should ever die without someone knowing they have lived. As human beings, we owe that to each other.
— Barbara Anderson is executive director of Haven House Services Inc.