Once again it’s time for me to make a make changes to my online presence. When I started hardlynormal.com, the goal was to pick up some consulting work to get out of a horrible job. I worked for an employer that created the most horrible toxic work environment. Freedom of thought or speech was actually punished. It was hell! I only bring this up because my early posts reflect my trying to be free in a world where freedom was not allowed. The blog kind of was a mesh between marketing and whatever madness was going on in my head that day. There was really no direction to the blog until I started Invisible People and started writing about homelessness.
Back then the thinking was that Invisible People would just be homeless stories and Hardly Normal would be anything and everything else. At the time it made sense, but I started to look at the numbers and the future direction Invisible People is headed, and I realized I was sending traffic in two different directions. Even a bad marketer will tell you that’s kind of dumb, so I set on a quest of trying to merge the two.
Thanks to the amazing help from Raul Colon we were able to add a second blog to Invisible People and important all the homeless related posts off of Hardly Normal. This wasn’t an easy job. Raul worked hard to make it happen. Right now everything is good enough to go live, but there are some small ‘issues’ still being worked out.
Invisible People will continue to feature all the wonderful people I meet that are still experiencing homelessness, but now all the other great content created about homelessness will be right in the same spot. As far as the Hardly Normal site, since a lot of people have linked to posts, I figured I’d still leave all the homeless related posts up, but all new homeless related content will be on InvisiblePeople.tv. As many of you know, I became unemployed a few weeks ago. It’s actually a good thing. Given time and resources, my thinking is to transition hardlynormal.com into a resource for digital storytelling. But first I still have to create the We Are Visible community I have been trying to build for a few years!
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Some amazing things will be happening this year! Thanks everyone for your love and support.
I think we all agree that data is important. At this year’s SXSW, I kept hearing the phrase “big data” over and over and over! Homeless services is starting to adapt the use and sharing of data. HUD has now even mandated all service providers use HMIS (Homeless Management Information Systems) as a requirement to funding! That’s all great, but to make data really work we need policy and cultural changes!
For example, Homeless Management Information Systems is mostly based on satisfying funder requirements and is not client focused. Basically, HMIS is built to get money over providing care for our homeless clients. When you go to any hospital they collect data to both help a person’s wellness and satisfy insurance billing requirements – so it can be done! Another issue I have is the time it takes to do a homeless client’s ‘intake’! Sitting in an office for 5 plus hours waiting is the norm not the exception. No one wants to sit for that long in a lobby. Homeless people know an ‘intake’ means they sit there for hours, and if they are lucky – they get placed on a waiting list! The more vulnerable the homeless person is, the more the traditional intake process actually becomes a roadblock to services. HMIS is also far from being user-friendly, which makes it challenging to use and hurts data integrity.
Probably my biggest frustration is we have the technology to show availabilities but don’t. Technology allows me and you to find an available hotel room anywhere in the world from any computer in the world that has internet access. Yet, at best, what homeless providers give to a homeless family or individuals are ‘referrals’. Referrals normally are just a list of phone numbers. Now the homeless person or family has to contact each agency, often having to go there to physically fill out an intake (it’s how the agencies get paid). It’s a broken system that is completely inefficient, and is a huge reason why so many homeless people just give up!
I often get frustrated and take to twitter to vent. Over last few years, a few people would engage me with healthy conversation on data in homeless services. Well, that’s how this first Google Hangout started. For some time now I have been thinking about producing a Google Hangout on various topics. Now that I have ‘a little time on my hands,’ I asked a few friends to join me to talk about data in homeless services.
As SXSW Interactive comes to an end I simply must say thanks to Drew and Matt from Radar Creative. I wasn’t going to go this year, and when I told Drew, Radar Creative bought me a badge and a hotel room. It wasn’t a sponsorship in the traditional sense. Matt and Drew are friends and they have helped support Invisible People right from day one. Radar Creative never asked for me to promote them, but I have huge respect for their work and I am extremely grateful for the love.
Last year, as many of you know, Homeless Hotspots turned in to a maddening controversy. [My post from last year: Panhandling or Hotspot Vendor: Which is better?] I really think a lot of the negativity was “link bait” motivated. The whole thing was stupid. Basically, BBH hired homeless people for their promotion instead of college kids, and that’s a very good thing. My biggest concern was, that in future years like this year’s SXSW, no brand or agency would take a risk to help the City of Austin’s homeless (or any other philanthropy effort) and that’s exactly what happened. Except for a weak fundraiser that I’m not sure anyone noticed, and a party for charity: water, there wasn’t any cause campaigns being run.
To me, that’s very sad. With all the brand power at SXSW, and the sheer volume of people that attend, brands and agency’s at SXSW could have huge impact helping the local community.
As time goes on I hope people in charge start using their influence to make our world a better place!
Last year Street Treats, a new social enterprise helping homeless people, launched at SXSW. I was there, but most of the world didn’t hear about it because the noise from Homeless Hotpots was maddening. Street Treats only ran one ice cream cart last year, but it was such a success, they are launching with four vending carts at this year’s South By South West Interactive.
If you’ve been following me you already have heard me talk about Alan Graham, who is near tops on my hero list. Alan runs catering trucks in several cities because he believes by giving our homeless friends a choice he is also giving them dignity. I agree with Alan. Just think about it. True homelessness is absence of choice. A homeless person rarley has any say in how life is thrown at them, When one of Alan’s Mobile Loaves & Fishes catering trucks pulls up, a homeless person can walk up and make their own choice of food. That choice helps Mobile Loaves & Fishes build relationships, which they then use to rapid house people in used RVs. That’s right, Alan has his own “Texas Style” version of the housing first model he calls “community first”.
Today I was invited to a training and started to talk to a few of the homeless vendors. To my surprise, they are not living in a shelter. All of them are sleeping outside. To me, that makes this program even so much cooler. See, often opportunities like this go to sheltered homeless. Providing a social enterprise for street homeless people takes a lot of trust on everyone’s part. That trust alone my be better at restoring a life than the money these vending carts will generate.
For the next few days you’ll be seeing these vending carts all around downtown during SXSW. Please take a moment and buy an ice cream or coffee, and please make sure to leave HUGE TIPS. Remember, helping homeless people is not only delicious – IT”S GOOD!
I have been sitting here for some time trying to figure what to say about Skid Row. I do not know of any other area in the world that gets me as emotional as the fifty square blocks of downtown known to the world as Skid Row. As I have stated before, when I first moved to Los Angeles in 1987, I was scared to go downtown. I avoided the area until I ended up homeless and had to access services. Now, I walk around Skid Row with only one worry – I hope I never get used to seeing the pain and suffering. Now, I somehow feel drawn to the area. In fact, while waiting to record this interview, I started to wish I worked on Skid Row, and I probably would jump at the chance to do so. I’m not so sure if I just love the colorful community or I just want to give my all to help others – or a little of both!
Trying to describe Skid Row to someone who has never been there is like trying to explain light refraction to a frog. Skid Row really has to be experienced first hand! The closest media has come to portraying the realness of Skid Row is five short videos produced by Sam Slovick and Good Magazine. If you do nothing else today please take a moment and watch the first video in the series: Skid Row Part 1: Introduction.
After I watched a screening of “LOST ANGELS – skid row is my home”, I could not get Skid Row out of my mind. I decided Invisible People will spend some time focusing on Skid Row’s homelessness, empowering people to tell their own stories. Plus, I will blog here about homeless services and other issues that effect the Skid Row community. The Skid Row area has the largest population of homelessness in this country. Skid Row is also home to many low income families and singles, seniors, people on disability, working poor, and unfortunately – a large group of predators selling drugs and taking advantage of people who may not be able to put up much resistance.
Huffington Post asked me to produce a video about what our homeless friends thought prior to the last election, and the Los Angeles Mission was kind enough to give me access. That day I met John Kelly for the first time. Having come from the streets myself, you kind of get a sense about people. John was the real deal. I could also see he was respected, something that does not come easy on a place like Skid Row.
Normally I try and keep videos short, but John has so much first-hand information about Skid Row and homeless services we kept on talking and talking. John starts off with a little history about the area and the interview ends with his suggestions on how we may better fight homelessness and poverty. All of the interview is powerful so I hope you take a moment to watch and then share with your networks.
Being honest, when I first moved to Los Angeles in 1987, I was scared to go downtown. I avoided the area until I ended up homeless and had to access services. Now, I walk around Skid Row with only one worry – I hope I never get used to seeing the pain and suffering.
When I started Invisible People I figured you all knew about homelessness on Skid Row so I focused on cities such as Sacramento, Anchorage, and other locations showing that homelessness is everywhere and effects us all!
Then I was invited to see the feature movie “LOST ANGELS – skid row is my home” and I was blown away! The stories of the people changed me. All I could think about after the movie is Skid Row, and since right now there are no funds to travel, the best use of my free time would be using whatever influence Invisible People has by putting a spotlight on homelessness in Skid Row and the wonderful people who are giving their all to help others.
If you’ve followed me for some time you’ll know Robert Egger is tops on my hero list. Robert founded DC Central Kitchen, which is also tops on my list of unique services having genuine impact helping people. Well (drumroll please…..) Robert has relocated to Los Angeles and is fast at work getting the LA Kitchen up and running. This will be HUGE so please support Robert as he tries to make history on the Best Coast
A few days ago Robert contacted me wanting to do something about the TB outbreak being reported on Skid Row. We figured we’d shoot a quick video, but while walking around Skid Row and speaking to people and service providers, we heard the other side to the story. Tuberculosis as reported by media as an “outbreak’ was mostly hype. Skid Row is experiencing the same amount of cases as 5 months ago and 5 years ago. One service provider explained tuberculosis comes from the outside into Skid Row. He said people in prison get tuberculosis and then come to Skid Row when released because they don’t have anywhere else to go. Another example are people who are dumped on Skid Row from hospitals with tuberculosis.
Skid Row is not all homelessness and most certainly not all bad. Skid Row is home to working-poor, seniors with low income, and a whole range of wonderful people that make up a vibrant and colorful community. For the next little while I am going to focus on stories from Skid Row. Invisible People is about homelessness, but on this blog I will do my best to share the other side of Skid Row.
Many of you that already follow me know I am big on EVERYONE working as a team to help end homelessness. When nonprofits and brands connect to work together on a cause the power of impact multiplies. Often we see big brands running cause campaigns and that’s awesome, yet small and medium businesses can also help their local communities. Everyone wins when we share resources to help our hurting neighbors.
The Dog Haus, a gourmet hot dog restaurant with locations in Pasadena and Alhambra, first reached out to me when I was looking to have a Christmas Eve meal catered for the winter shelter. I was more looking for a traditional meal for the holiday and the folks behind the Dog Haus understood that. We kept in contact knowing that there would be another opportunity that would fit better. Well, last week, to help celebrate National Chili Day, Dog Haus brought chili dogs with all the fixins to the Ascencia Winter Shelter.
I have to tell you the meal and the event was amazing. Everyone was happy – everyone! It’s impossible to please 100 people but there was not one complaint. In fact, the next day, because the Dog Haus left enough for a second meal, everyone ate chili dogs instead of the normal food that was delivered!
Not sure if you feel like I do, but after I reached 40 I didn’t want to talk about my birthday anymore. Now I am reaching 52 and I have to say I am a little excited about my birthday coming up. Why? Because of your generous hearts, the last 2 years my birthday wish has raised $12,567 to help fight homelessness. In fact, this birthday wish campaign has become the primary fundraiser helping Invisible People get badly-needed operating funds.
I never thought my life would be here at 52, yet I don’t see any other path that would have been as fulfilling as helping to give influence to so many people who have no influence. As you may or may not know, in 2008 I started Invisible People during a long stretch of unemployment. Since then, Invisible People continues to make history as the most effective awareness campaign in the fight against homelessness. Because of your love and support, millions of people all over the world have been educated in the real truths about sleeping rough, living in a weekly rate hotel, emergency shelters, under bridges or in tent communities. We also continue to lead the way in new media storytelling and we will gladly share what we have learned with other nonprofits. Homeless charities have seen the impact from Invisible People and have started their own blogs and social media campaigns.
Invisible People continues to change the story of homelessness. Invisible People connects people to the face of homelessness in a direct and meaningful way that humanizes the subject and builds empathy in the viewer. This is way more important and impactful than simple awareness and has caused communities to rethink their policies on homelessness
But the bottom line is this: because of your support people who were once homeless slept inside last night.
With your help, 2013 can be our best year yet. We hope to launch a massive outreach campaign to accompany @home, a feature-length documentary about our work that will be released this year. We have already started to plan at least one, maybe two road trips this year. Although I hate cold, I have always felt we need to travel during winter. This will also be the year we launch We Are Visible.2, a online peer to peer network for homeless friends. We will continue to explore ways technology can help get people our of poverty and homelessness. This year we plan on reaching out to schools and colleges with an educational program, and we will continue to build a foundation that will help establish local Invisible People chapters in local communities.
A few months back I interviewed Kerry Morrison, executive director of Hollywood Business Improvement District, on the Community Care Facilities Ordinance proposed by City of Los Angeles Councilmember Mitchell Englander. To be honest, the Community Care Facilities Ordinance is such a dumb idea, because anything that would reduce affordable housing is flat out stupid, I thought anyone with even a little common sense would stop this from moving forward! Sadly, even dumb ideas sometimes move forward, which is why we NEED YOUR HELP!
In brief, the Community Care Facilities Ordinance requires that in a neighborhood zoned for single family homes and duplexes a home can have only one lease. If a home has two or more leases, such as where two families are sharing or where a person with disabilities is living in shared housing, the ordinance would categorize the home as a “boarding house.” Under current law, boarding houses are prohibited in residential zones. Thus, by categorizing all homes with multiple leases as boarding houses, the ordinance would eliminate shared housing in these residential zones.
The elimination of shared housing in residential zones would fall most heavily on people with disabilities for whom shared housing provides the best and most prevalent opportunity to live independently. Over 250 units of government-subsidized shared housing for people with disabilities would be eliminated under this proposal. By requiring that they be on only one lease, the ordinance either eliminates the housing (federal programs require separate leases for shared housing), or requires everyone who is sharing to be on one lease. Putting everyone on one lease puts a family at the mercy of a total stranger –landlords could evict one tenant based on the behavior of the co-tenant.
The ordinance would also devastate working families. In Los Angeles, over 43,000 families share housing in single family homes. Families share to make housing more affordable, to live in safer neighborhoods and to allow their children to attend better schools. Much of that shared housing is in residential zones. The proposed ordinance would eliminate this shared housing or require that they share one lease, making them vulnerable to eviction.
The following is taken from a letter from Corporation for Supportive Housing to Honorable Council President Wesson. Read the entire letter here.
The ordinance would exacerbate crime, rather than reduce it.
Given that homeless probationers and parolees are seven times more likely to recidivate than people who are housed, this ordinance reinforces a vicious cycle of incarceration and homelessness and threatens public safety. This ordinance would decrease opportunities for people with a history of incarceration from accessing housing, even though studies show that criminal history is not a predictor for transience or crime in a community. Conversely, homelessness increases an individual’s risk of arrest or re-arrest, often for quality of life crimes. Since sleeping on L.A. streets is illegal, for example, people experiencing homelessness would be twice-damned: they’ll have a record because they have no place to sleep and that record would become the reason they’ll have fewer places to sleep. The Council of State Governments has said, “Without stable housing, individuals [reentering communities from prison or jail] have a much harder time accessing employment, substance abuse treatment and other support services, and making or restoring connections with community resources and positive social networks.” Barring access to housing would only increase recidivism.
The CCFO would not close problematic homes.
The CCFO would require the Department of Building and Safety to develop a system of “lease police” that would either require landlords to show leases (even if verbal) in response to neighbor complaint. The CCFO will not deter bad actors who will most likely place all residents under a single rental agreement to skirt this law, or who will commit yet another violation of City law aside from laws they are already violating, knowing the City has no resources to enforce. Indeed, the CCFO will not give City staff more resources to enforce well-established City laws or the CCFO.
The CCFO would severely decrease, rather than increase, housing opportunities.
Proponents of the CCFO argue the ordinance would increase housing opportunities for people with disabilities. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the ordinance allows for some licensed facilities to exist by right in single family zones, licensed facilities are institutions, not housing. They are intended to offer care and supervision to people with severe disabilities, usually temporarily, when those individuals cannot live independently. Over 20 years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court demanded all jurisdictions promote the right of people with disabilities to live as independently as possible in homes of their choice. The Court ruled jurisdictions offering people with disabilities no other option but institutionalization violate principles of the ADA and the Constitution. The CCFO would impact programs intended to give people with disabilities greater access to housing that cannot be, and should not be, subject to licensure, as they do not provide care and supervision.
The CCFO would cost taxpayers millions.
Enforcement of the CCFO would cost the City millions, without any additional resources added to the City budget. Defending multiple CCFO lawsuits would impose costs, the Department of Building and Safety staff would have to increase to respond to neighbor complaints, the Planning Department has admitted it would have to add staff to process conditional use permits, and costs of increased homelessness to taxpayers would be significant.
More importantly, the CCFO would put in jeopardy the City’s federal housing funds. As more thoroughly explained in the attached letter from Disability Rights California (DRC), by enacting severe restrictions on people with disabilities, these provisions would write into law principles long ago abandoned: that Angelinos with disabilities can only live in certain neighborhoods or in institutions. Because the City is legally required to further fair housing rights to receive federal housing funds, because the record on this ordinance is replete with intent to eliminate sober living facilities, and because the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has signaled its belief that this ordinance is illegal by suing the City of San Jacinto for a very similar ordinance, this ordinance could cause HUD and DOJ to withhold vital housing funds.
The only way a dumb law like the Community Care Facilities Ordinance can pass is if we all do nothing! Please tell Los Angeles’s City Council the Community Care Facilities Ordinance is not a good idea!
Over the last four years Hanes has donated 2.2 million pairs of socks to the Salvation Army to distribute to our homeless friends. This year, Hanes made a flat out donation of 500,000 pairs and is offering an additional pair up to 25,000 pairs to Sandy relief effort every time the graphic below is shared on Facebook. Please click here or on the graphic below to say thanks by sharing on Facebook.