Letter to the Editor: Helper explains paperwork and places on front lines of poverty

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Letter to the Editor: Helper explains paperwork and places on front lines of poverty

I am sometimes asked about our “intake” process for our homeless, hungry or lonely guests who drop by for our free food, water and clothing. In other words, if our guest is hungry, thirsty or in need of clean clothes, then we serve everyone with no questions asked and no paperwork.

But if we step out of these three main lanes of offering free food, free water and free clothing, we might grab a pen and paper! In other words, if we start helping out by trying to solve more complicated problems — like providing housing or transportation; aiding with medical emergencies, water and utility shut-offs, emergency motel stays or case-management help; or stepping up with a Facebook Live video aired out to the community — then we dig in deeper with our guests to fill out some intake paperwork.

From my vantage point, many of our guests would avoid an “intake” process because they are living on the illegal fringes of our society. I don’t mean that they are criminals. What I mean is that they are illegally living in their cars, or they are illegally camping in the woods, or they are sleeping overnight while illegally trespassing in abandoned buildings, or they are maybe doubled up or tripled up, which may be in violation of current leases. And if you are a homeless mom or dad with your children, then you want to be invisible to the system of care because they would break up your homeless family.

Additionally, I always try to figure out which “block” our guests are currently in. I have five blocks, called “Roofless,” “Homeless,” “Halfways,” “Three-Quarters” or “Ones.” Ones are the people who finally make it and actually sign a housing lease or deed in their own names. The Ones are amazing and, sad to say, very rare indeed.

I also try to pinpoint people on a scale I call the “five levels of despair.”

The level near the surface is called “Hopeless,” and that is a better place to be compared to the deeper levels of despair. These are the five levels in the sea of despair: “Hopeless,” “Helpless,” “Reckless,” “Pointless” and “Soulless.” I can explain each level in much more detail to you in person if you would like.

As a helper, I can only stand on the shoreline and help the ones who are near the surface or who are trying to walk ashore. I refer to the nearby shoreline as the “Battlefield of Despair and Isolation.” I have found that the Roofless who are also Soulless are the ones most unreachable. They have the deepest poverty in terms of economics, and they also have a poverty of relationships. They also die the quickest, which is sad for us as helpers.

Jim Martin

Executive director

The Shepherd’s Office Inc.

Georgetown