Because "love your neighbor" still matters

Why Everybody's Place?

2000 years ago Jesus said “Follow me”, then he went to the people in his community that were the most marginalized, lonely, and unloved…and made them feel loved and accepted. Then he invited them to join him in his mission to create a just, righteous, and truly loving world.

It seems obvious that people who claim to follow Jesus are required to go where he would go and do what he would do. Today, the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our community are those experiencing homelessness. That’s why Everybody’s Place exists. To build a safe, supportive community for people who are experiencing homelessness and invite the larger community to a lifestyle of love and service.

A Harsh Reality

It’s not news that our nation is experiencing an epidemic of homelessness. Whether large, urban cities or rural areas, no community is immune from the challenge of what to do about people who do not have a home. And no one is exempt from working together to address this problem. If you believe, like we do, that every human being is of sacred worth, you can join us in being part of the solution to the crisis of homelessness.

Unlike many problems in our society, there actually is a solution to homelessness. More homes! More to the point, homes that exist in a safe, supportive community.

Often we become overwhelmed with the underlying causes of homelessness: substance abuse, mental health challenges, broken homes, domestic violence, human trafficking, immigration, young adults aging out of foster care, loss of family, trauma, lack of affordable housing, and more. The reality is that solutions to these challenges are profoundly and frustratingly difficult. There is no shortage of opinions of ways to address these challenges, but it is undeniable that housing in a safe, supportive community will move people to a place where they are no longer living in unsafe, substandard conditions and experience dignity as human beings, created in the image of God. THIS is the starting point of solving the epidemic of homelessness.

Galveston County
Galveston County

Galveston County is home to 350,000+ people. Ten percent (+/- 35,000) live below the poverty line. Thousands of our neighbors live paycheck to paycheck, one incident away from eviction. For many, the great concern is not “What do I do if that happens?”, but “What do I do now?” 

Like every community, Galveston County has a homeless problem. Unlike many communities, there are few options for our neighbors in Galveston County experiencing homelessness. While there are shelters and some transitional housing beds, there are no permanent, supportive housing communities. 

Five bay area school districts self-report 2,000 unhoused children. This alone should set off alarms in every individual in our community who genuinely values the worth of other people. For sure, every follower of Jesus should be startled and moved to action.

Imagine…a nine year old girl. Her single mother works 40+ hours a week but does not earn enough to provide for groceries, childcare, transportation, medical needs, clothing, and housing. They’re bouncing from couch to couch, staying with friends, extended family, whoever would provide a place to sleep or they are living in places unfit for humans, much less children. That nine year old girl is the most vulnerable member of our community. She and her family don’t need judgment or condemnation, pity or hand-outs, they need a safe, supportive community where they can put down roots, have hope, and thrive. 

We can’t put the burden for solving the crisis of homelessness on the government. As a community we must do everything in our power to stop the cycle of profound loss and vulnerability affecting too many of our children every day. We should not be able to sleep so comfortably in our safe, comfortable homes until every child in our community also has a safe, comfortable home. 

Of course the trauma of homelessness affects more than children. Whether a veteran, a person escaping domestic violence, a young adult aging out of foster care, someone whose mental health challenges make them incapable of “normal” social interaction, or many of the other challenges our neighbors experience, without a family, these people quickly run out of housing options. Everybody’s Place can become that supportive “family” that ensures people who experience homelessness have a safe, loving and permanent home. 

Dumb things people think about homelessness...don't be dumb!

Most people (including us…Paul & Tracey Clines, the founders of Everybody’s Place…for a very long time) don’t spend a lot of time thinking about homelessness. Our lives are busy with many priorities, some of them are even somewhat noble pursuits. For sure we don’t like the idea that homelessness is such a problem, but it’s also pretty clear homelessness is an unsolvable problem. Our hearts go out to people who are experiencing homelessness and we want to help…but don’t know what to do. Does giving a few coins to the man at the intersection help at all? It seems like they’ll just use it to buy more drugs or alcohol. Does donating to an organization that helps the homeless do any good…because it seems like it’s about the same as throwing quarters into a wishing well. We don’t know what to think about homelessness, so we’ll just focus on “smaller” problems that seem more solvable. 

The problem with the above paragraph is that it is filled with partial truths and outright inaccurate information that most people believe. Let’s pause for just a minute and remember that people experiencing homelessness are not “homeless people”. They are people. When we lead with the adjective “homeless” we reduce their primary identity to a preconceived set of ideas that bear little resemblance to actual homelessness. They are people, created in the image of God. They have value and worth. They don’t need our sympathy (or leftovers), they need love, understanding and hope. At one time their lives were filled with joy and hope but something went terribly wrong. So let’s dispense with some famously dumb things people think (and we thought) about homelessness. 

Most homeless people prefer to be homeless

We hear this all the time. I suppose it’s because the person repeating it heard it, maybe from a guy on the street. The reality is there is no evidence to support this idea. Never ever has there been a third grade boy or girl who, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, answered “I want to be homeless”. No one wants to be looked down upon, pitied, ignored and made to feel unwanted. The reality is simple, if a person is homeless it means something, somewhere went terribly, tragically wrong. 

For sure there are some individuals experiencing homelessness who enjoy the freedom and anonymity of living outside, but those individuals are the great exception. The fact is that access to independent housing with support services is welcomed and accepted by most homeless. 

People on the street often reject the option of crowded, unsafe shelters—not housing in general. Shelters are often unclean, they are unfamiliar and may have strict rules that do not consider the unique situation of a person who has been sleeping outside just trying to survive. It is also true that not everyone is allowed into shelters, including many who suffer from mental illnesses or drug addictions. There are usually strict regulations against having pets in these facilities, so shelters are usually not an option for homeless pet owners who refuse to abandon their animals. There is also a growing rate of homeless LGBT youth, who face a greater amount of discrimination choosing to remain outside simply because they feel safer. About 40% of homeless youth who seek aid from shelters identify as LGBT.

They just need to get a job

This may be the most offensive idea regarding homelessness. It is arrogant and condescending. It assumes that a person experiencing homelessness can just go apply for a job and start earning an income that would pay for their rent, groceries, transportation, medical bills and other costs of living. Just do the most simple math and figure what kind of income that would take for a single adult. Then do the math for a mom with two or three kids. Where are the jobs that are accessible and hiring that pay that amount? 

This also assumes the individual has an acceptable form of identification OR is able to make their way through the arcane government bureaucracy to obtain a simple ID. What about transportation, a shower, a clean set of clothes…what about the mental and social challenges that living on the streets for just a short time creates. Whenever someone rolls down their window and screams to a homeless person “Get a job!”, the universe should supernaturally cause that person to spend about 10 days living in the (wrong-sized) shoes of the homeless individual they are destroying with their angry words. 

The fact is a significant portion of the homeless population do have jobs—they just cannot afford to pay rent. Some receive disability income due to physical or mental problems but still cannot afford rent. 

There’s a LOT of help/support for homeless people

Yes! Praise God for the amazing (overworked and overwhelmed) people and organizations that serve the unhoused and extremely low income population. They will receive so many jewels in their crowns that their heads may not be able to stay up straight! 

The difficulty is that most of the services for homelessness focus on emergency needs, such as shelters, clothing, toiletries and food. For individuals who are trying to escape a cycle of poverty and homelessness, emergency services alone are not adequate. 

People experiencing homelessness need a home. It’s not complicated, but it’s hard, expensive and takes an enormous amount of coordinated work. There is a need to focus on the larger systemic factors, including the lack of affordable housing and the criminalization of homelessness that prevent people from obtaining permanent and suitable housing. The crisis of homelessness is not a lack of services, it is a lack of housing that is safe and affordable. 

Homeless people are mostly drug addicts or mentally challenged

Ugh. This is like a bad movie trope. It’s a common perception that is based on superficial observations. The reality is that the prevalence of drug abuse and mental health challenges among the unhoused population is not measurably different from the housed population. 

It’s just that the unhoused population do not have the relationships, resources, access to adequate healthcare or addiction support services that the housed population have. Decades of research reveals that only about 20 to 40 percent of people experiencing homelessness have a substance abuse issue. In fact, addiction is rarely the cause of homelessness and more often is a response to it because living on the street puts the person in frequent contact with users and dealers and the simple fact that drugs or alcohol provide the only escape from reality they can imagine. Because the relatively small number of people living on the streets who suffer from paranoia, delusions and other mental disorders are very visible, they have become the stereotype for the entire homeless population. 

Homelessness is too overwhelming, let’s work on “solvable” problems

Permanent supportive housing, a model of housing that combines affordable housing with supportive services for individuals and families is the solution! It has been demonstrated in study after study over the past several decades that providing a “permanent” home with attached services is the key to creating the  community that is necessary to instill worth in a person or family, enabling them to discover a dignified path to stability, wholeness and long-term health. 

For years, people experiencing homelessness were simply housed in shelters. There is a place in the “homeless ecosystem” for shelters. They become necessary in the case of natural disasters and to provide relief to the crisis of chronic homelessness in many urban centers, especially on the hottest and coldest days.  

In the 1990’s, the concept of “Housing First” became the prominent “solution” to homelessness. Housing First is the removal of all barriers (substance abuse, prison record, mental health challenges, etc.) to housing…just put people in a “house” (typically in very low rent multi-unit housing that is rarely safe and marginally habitable). Residents may have social workers or case managers who “check in” but residents are typically alone in an uncomfortable place. Housing First has proven to work, for a while, but it lacks the critical component of community. Community is so important, it’s not unusual for a person with a key to an apartment to disappear, only later to be found on the street where their friends remain. 

Transitional housing is also a creative and helpful solution. This is similar to permanent supportive housing but puts a (overt or subtle) timeline on residents the day they move in. The fact is people experiencing homelessness are “messy” (just like the rest of us). Healing and wholeness requires a path and time-table unique to every individual. For some, a small place to live in a supportive community is the only version of “home” they can be successful in. If their “home” is transitional…when their time is up they are likely to retreat back to an uninhabitable and/or unsafe living situation. Because transitional is transitional, it’s difficult for residents to build the trust and friendship necessary for authentic community, a critical component of a person’s total health and wholeness. Also, according to HUD (Housing and Urban Development), a person/family living in transitional living housing is still considered “homeless”.  In contrast, the moment an individual/family moves into permanent supportive housing, they are no longer “homeless”. Imagine what a powerful reality that is! 

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) combines affordable, safe housing with no timeline plus on-site supportive services. Residents have access to case workers, childcare, healthcare, classes for nutrition, financial literacy, parenting, grief recovery, etc. It is not home ownership that requires an income to satisfy a mortgage (like Habitat for Humanity…another powerful part of the homeless ecosystem!), it is rental housing available at an accessible rate for people with little income or receiving government support. For some, PSH is truly permanent as it is the best option they could ever hope for. For others, PSH is in fact temporary but provides the freedom to recover, heal and reset on their timeline. PSH also provides the culture of community necessary for healing. 

Everybody’s Place is building the only permanent supportive housing community in Galveston County, TX

People get what they deserve

Every person makes mistakes, but the descent into homelessness is not necessarily the direct result of poor  choices. Far more often a sudden illness or an accident, expensive car repair, losing one’s job, or falling into debt leads to eviction. For a while a person or family may double up with family or friends but after a while that becomes unsustainable. The fact is there are a variety of different factors that contribute to an individual’s experience of homelessness. Alan Graham, founder of Community First! Village in Austin, correctly states that the number one cause of homelessness is not addiction, mental health issues or financial downturn but the “catastrophic loss of family”, in other words the safety net that so many of us have relied on doesn’t exist for others, leading too many to spiral into homelessness.

Most homeless people are lazy

In order to survive, many people who experience homelessness are constantly in survival mode, searching for the necessities of life, such as food, shelter and a source of income. Therefore, due to the barriers that they face, many people experiencing homelessness do not have the option of being stagnant or lazy. For example, searching for a job becomes even more challenging when an individual does not have access to a phone, computer, shower, clean clothes or fixed address on a regular basis. If we often see people experiencing homelessness sleeping in plain view, it’s not that they’re lazy, it’s that they’re wiped out from the mental and physical toll of homelessness, they’re trying to escape reality (when you’re asleep you don’t know you’re homeless) or they simply have health/mental issues that cause extreme tiredness. 

Homeless people are dangerous or violent

This is a sad and tragic idea because it perpetuates false ideas about people experiencing homelessness, keeping those not experiencing homelessness from giving dignity to the most unloved and vulnerable in their community. In reality, people experiencing homelessness are far more likely to be on the receiving end of violence. The vulnerability of homelessness increases the risk of being victimized. One study found that half of the homeless people surveyed reported experiencing violence, and the risks were higher for people who were older, women, or those who were homeless for more than two years. Stable housing is key to safety. 

Of course, some homeless individuals may commit acts of violence beyond self-defense but such acts rarely affect the non-homeless individuals they encounter. In other words, violence by a person who is homeless is usually either self-defense or due to the rare violent perpetrator who preys on other homeless people. 

Homeless people are mostly single men

Homeless men may be more visible on the streets, but the truth is that about 40 percent of the homeless population in the U.S. is made up of women. The most obvious expression of homelessness is the single, chronically homeless male. Chronic homelessness refers to a single adult with a substance/medical/mental health issue that has been homeless for at least one year. While most visible it is a small percentage of the homeless population. Over 70% of homelessness is “situational” (often called “invisible”) homelessness. This is typically a mom with 2 or 3 children. Mom probably works but just doesn’t make enough money to pay rent and everything else so they live out of a car, “couch surf” or they book a room at a hotel once a week for a shower and a bed…then back out to the streets. A common reason for a woman to be homeless is that she has escaped a domestic abuse situation. A lot of these women are single moms trying to support their children while dealing with the emotional and physical issues that may have plagued their lives. Homeless women often try to remain more elusive than their male counterparts because they face a unique set of challenges on the streets, often related to sexual abuse. Many avoid shelters because of the rampant abuse that is known to take place in these facilities.

Homeless people are dirty and gross

Living outdoors means having no regular place for bodily functions, to dispose of trash, to store food safely, or to bathe. Research shows that lacking access to a shower is one of the more humiliating aspects of being homeless.

It’s the government’s job to fix

Our nation is profoundly polarized over the question of the government’s role in addressing society’s problems. Most of us can agree that the government has a role to play, we can debate all day where the “line” is. More importantly, individuals, churches, businesses and communities have an undeniable, vital role to play in creating a community where every individual is afforded dignity, worth and basic necessities for life. When children are sleeping outside or in uninhabitable conditions in ANY community, that is a truly poor and broken community. The old proverb that a rising tide lifts all boats is an important call to action for people who have abilities, affluence and influence in any community. 

I’ll never be homeless

…said a large percentage of the homeless population! It may be easy for us to take the roof over our heads for granted, but circumstances can change for the worst in a moment. With a volatile economy or a bad domestic situation, there are plenty of things that can happen that can cause homelessness. We can look no further than the recent recession to remind us of this. It started in 2007 and continued until mid-2009, causing the U.S. homeless population to increase by 3 percent, or by 20,000 people, due to a lack of stable employment. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) reported that in 2012, there were 10.3 million renters across the country whose income was low enough to earn the HUD classification of “extremely low income.” Meanwhile, only 5.8 million rental units were available that the over 10 million ELI individuals could afford. And, on top of that, out of every 100 units, only one was available. 

Those figures have only gotten worse since then. The Census Bureau showed that in June of 2020, roughly 65 million non-elderly people lived with families whose total weekly earnings fell below the poverty line. For years, rents have increased while wages have remained stagnant making job loss the second leading cause of homelessness. Startlingly, in 2019, Charles Schwab reported in their “Modern Wealth Survey” that 59% of Americans are just one paycheck away from homelessness.

Few people want to be homeless. For an overwhelming number of the population just one unforeseen emergency can lead to homelessness.

Instead of believing that a person can only become homeless if they do something wrong, we should use our recent history as a way to spark empathy and to remind ourselves that homelessness can happen to anyone.