Archive for February, 2012

Homeless: Feeding Honors!

February 28, 2012

I was at a local feed for the homeless this Saturday when I got to talking with the person organizing the feeding and the people that volunteer.  I’d asked him to read my blog before last weekend and he did so.   He’s still not commented but it’s ok.  I’m ready to be blasted for my views in some cases.

When I mentioned those that fed us homeless, I only mentioned the bad.  There are a number of people here churches included who do a great job of helping out.  Sometimes it’s only a few from a church and sometimes it’s a large group.  I’ve only mentioned those that I’ve dealt with.  Well accept one whom I’m now going to talk about.  Without further ado, the top honors go to two groups.  They are : The Soup Cellar and also Hotdog Joe’s.

First let me cover Hotdog Joe’s.  It’s been around now for going on 11 years.  Long before I had issues with homelessness, this group has been feeding the homeless every Saturday at 12 noon.  This is a day various organizations feed.  However, Joe’s is known by all.  Originally started by a man who goes by C.J. and I assume his church, they group together with churches, businesses, schools, and all kinds of other volunteers to feed us each week.  It’s been great and I thank all the core group as well as each and every volunteer they get.

C.J. is married now and the group stopped serving for a bit.  However, my friend and hopefully fellow blog reader Larry has stepped up to the plate to take C.J.’s place and they are going strong and feeding the homeless again.  They use a local law firm’s parking lot to feed.  Those to should be thanked for supporting C.J. and now Larry for this.  The best part of this group is, they do this out of LOVE for their fellow man/woman/child.  They DON”T do it for money like certain other organizations.

One other I’d like to thank as well who is no longer working with Larry as he’s got himself a job after a long term of unemployment.  Hat’s off to you Rick.  You split my eardrums with that whistle more times than I can count.  I wish you and your family the best.  And just for you, “How ’bout those Gamecocks.”  LOL.

There are many others who are a core part of Hotdog Joe’s who are good people.  Two I know of fairly well now.  Monica whom without we’d not have chili dogs.  Your chili is fantastic.  I’ve not had SWEET chili before having yours.  Also for lack of knowing her name “The Cookie Lady”  Bless her heart.  She slaves over a hot oven to bring us fresh baked cookies twice a month.  All your cookies are delicious (the chocolate chip are my favorite).  Many more deserve thanks but those are the ones I know personally.  Keep up the good work.  If no one else does, I love you all.

The final honor goes to the Soup Cellar of Columbia.  This place feeds the homeless Monday thru Friday between 10:30am and 12:00pm.  It’s only soup (fruit dish in the summer months) and sandwiches with a small desert and a drink, but it fills a need during the week.  This place relies on volunteers to help serve the homeless as does Hotdog Joe’s and is supported by the local food bank and 18 downtown Columbia  churches as well as the USDA Commodities Program and Donated Foods Program.  The Soup Cellar serves seconds when available.  It has been serving the community since 1979.  I think it’s the longest running project here.

I personally know Mike who along with a partner runs the place from what I’ve been able to see.  Mike is a fantastic guy if you don’t give him any static.  He’s worked with more volunteers than I care to count.  Between him and his partner, they look out for the homeless and the impoverished who use the services of this place.  I don’t know Mike or his partner’s background nor why they do it.  All I can say is thank you and all the volunteers that work there.  Without you a lot of people would not have anything for lunch during the week.

There are a lot of good people in Columbia, South Carolina.  as well as BAD people.  The good always stands out in a crowd.  These two stood out and will continue to stand out among those that help out the homeless and impoverished.  Please, by all means if you’re from here and read this help these two with donations or with your time and assistance.  Their the best Columbia has to offer the homeless.

Healthcare for Homeless Veteran’s: Good program, poor execution(at least in the southeast region).

February 25, 2012

This is a program near and dear to my heart.  It can be good if it were functionally administered which it’s not.  At least in the southeastern Veteran’s Administration region it’s not functionally administered.  Rumor has it from various sources that the director for the southeastern region is under investigation over her handling of the money involved in this program.  More on that later.  Let me tell this as it played out.

Back in 2007 during one of my times homeless, I ran into a counselor for the Veteran’s Administration what I assumed was new program called Healthcare for Homeless Vets program in a local feed.  We’d talked and I finally broke down about three weeks later and put my name on the dotted line of the so-called required contractual agreement for the program.  At that time I was not what you’d call mentally stable.  I’d been on the street almost a year in a town I didn’t know all that well and with only a few friends.

Let me explain the program as simply as I can here.  HCHV (as I’ll refer to it from here out) was designed to help homeless veterans to transition from the street into a job (not necessarily the best but still) and living on his own again.  You could not be an alcoholic or drug abuser.  Those people were referred to substance abuse programs before they were admitted to HCHV.  This program was set up to provide veteran’s a place to live off the street, food to eat, and help getting employment.  This doesn’t mention healthcare for service related issues as well as others.  Though those services were included.  The program was designed to last up to two years.  What isn’t told the veteran before or after signing the contract is that he has supported housing for no greater than 6 months.  Now’s where things get sticky.

I was placed in a transitional home called Alston Wilkes.  This belongs to an organization of the same name and they work in concert with Veteran’s Administration.  Here I stayed for 7 months (Yes it was one month beyond what the contract stated).  During my time there, I was not only expected to but by contract had to turn over 10% of any income I had while in the facility for upkeep and repair of said facility.  Sound suspicious?  It didn’t bother me then but after finding out what has been going on via the rumor mill, I’m very suspicious now.

Getting back to my story.  When I first entered Alston Wilkes, I basically had not much more than the clothing on my back.  I was assigned a duty which I had to perform on a daily basis for the upkeep of the household.  It wasn’t much but still.  You’re suppose to be looking for work and any time out of that is wasted.  I was provided a meal ticked for Richland Memorial Hospital cafeteria (I think at the time it was good for roughly one meal a day at $5) and you know how hospital cafeteria’s are on costs and decent food.  Twice a week, we’d get a home cooked meal albeit not what I’d call the best but much better than what was fed at the local shelters.  We had all the snacks we could want of course (snacks consisted of stuff from the local food bank, local grocery stores, and other donations.  Not necessarily the best things to eat but it would still put weight on when you needed to gain it.

It took me a month to get employed and only via a minimum wage job with Goodwill through V.A.  I worked that for approximately a month or two till I took a job with Kmart Corporation.  It was for a few dollars more per hour.  Next came a job with Sam’s Club at a rate at which I could pretty much afford to move out of Alston Wilkes.  During my time with Kmart I also took on a contract job for computer part replacement.  All the while I was doing what I had to at Alston Wilkes while continually improving my own self.  With all this, I managed to squirrel away about $3K in money in the bank.  I still didn’t have everything resolved but they decided to kick me out of Alston Wilkes saying I was a great example.  Little did they know I’d get some bad news 8 months later and be on the street again after a long trip back to Michigan to visit my mom and back.

Not all my needs were dealt with in the program and I feel used and abused through it.  What actually happened to the 10% of my wages meant for the upkeep of the Alston Wilkes building, I’m unsure.  I do know that the program manager at the time at Alston Wilkes was trying to get my stay there extended so I could help others out as well as get my own VA necessities finished.

If there had been a halfway house available (run by Alston Wilkes) at the time, I’d have been offered it.  Alas, I ended up in an extended stay motel and there I stayed till I left for Michigan.   Yeah it was costly but I didn’t have to sign any lease forms and it’s a good thing I was there instead of in an apartment.  My credit is bad enough without having being thrown out of an apartment.

A couple of other things, I was required to do while under than contract and living in Alston Wilkes were in my mind wasteful of time in one instance and good in another.  One thing was a weekly meeting with a HCHV counselor where I was asked how I was doing, had I found employment, and is there anything I needed help with.  What I should have done back then was to tell the counselor (often times these sessions were taken by students and not the people working as actual counselors) that the meetings were an aggravating waste of time.  It often took an entire day to get the meeting done.  Even after I scheduled them around work I was often in Building 106 at the Dorn Veteran’s Administration site for more than two hours or more for this meeting which lasted only 15 to 20 minutes.  Of course there were other things I wanted to say to them like “How come I’m doing all the leg work and not getting any assistance other than housing and food?”  This was one of my key concerns.  The other thing was a twice a week meeting at Alston Wilkes for the entire house occupants.  It was meant to address any issues with the residents or other matters involving the house.  It was mostly a farce.  The longest that meeting went while I was there was about 20 minutes.

It seems to me, that there were far too many counselors justifying their jobs while not truly helping the veterans in the program out.  And if you missed any of the what they deemed crucial meetings, you stood the possibility of being kicked out of the program.  No drugs or alcohol while in the program either unless they were prescription.  But your weekly meeting had to be met no matter what you had to do to attend.  Work or employment search or interview was no exception to the hard rule of the weekly meetings.  The use of student counselors should have been a no no here but wasn’t.  If anything they were used far more than not while the actual counselors got away with doing exactly what they wanted when they wanted on your tax payer dollars not to mention medical school tuition as well as program dollars.

Those counselors that actually saw their people or those that saw them only occasionally did NOT provide job leads.  They did NOT attempt to help the veteran obtain further job training.  Granted there was access to job training but again the veteran had to do the leg work.  Alston Wilkes did more in the way of providing job leads than the V.A. counselors.  From what I heard from a few people in the program while I was in and some even after I got out, one such counselor berated the people under her charge.  Maybe they deserved it.  I’m not sure.  Either way, the job the counselors supposedly did was a gross misuse of government funding.  I’m unsure how much was spent keeping Alston Wilkes in federal funding.

Again, I’d heard through the rumor mill that the director of this program for the state (later promoted to area director) was under investigation for fraudulent use of government funds and other things involving money.  I’ve not had this substantiated.  However, I’d tend to believe just this considering the quality of care given to the veteran who openly walked into the program.  Yes, what is in parenthesis early in this paragraph is true.  This person who from all known sources is under investigation is under investigation.  Typical government.  Promote those that screw up and not those that are efficient and get the job done.

As for Alston Wilkes, I’ve been back there and haven’t liked what I’ve seen.  I know the current director there (the last director retired for multiple reasons).  He’s a nice enough guy.  However, like the director of HCHV, I’m very suspicious of him and his motives.  Funny thing is now that I’m homeless again, he wants me back in the program.  NOT.

I was there seven months.  Did what was required of me.  I even gave back to Alston Wilkes by setting up a wireless network (I donated the router $100) for them to have Internet to look for work and take care of necessary paperwork [(i.e. prison records and the such) (yes there were people with prison records at the shelter who were also veterans)].  That network is no longer as of my last visit there it was dismantled and it’s set up completely different.  I refuse to go back to that place anymore even for a visit.

Will I re-enter this program?  Not in the southeastern region.  It smells of corruption.  When I leave here I’m heading southwest for my health.  Maybe, just maybe I’ll try the program out again out there.  It’s been almost 5 years since I left the program.  As far as I’ve heard there are still some issues with the program.  Some of the counselors are still there drawing a paycheck and doing little or nothing.  Alston Wilkes is still tied in and running.  Will the corruption end?  Doubtful in this area.  Would I recommend the program?  That would have to be up to the individual.  For me it failed miserably.  I’m pretty much back where I started and going no where fast.

Veteran’s Admininstration: Veteran Abuse Part 2 Treatment!

February 20, 2012

Now for the real meat of my discussion on the Veteran’s Administration.  This probably won’t amaze any of the current veterans out there.  It will get the attention of others who have not been through various Veteran’s Administration hospitals (I use the term hospital lightly).  And for those familiar with HMO’s, they’ll see the similarities and understand the frustrations.

Let’s start with an example of each and every visit to the V.A. hospital.  Each veteran is assigned a primary care physician.  No this doesn’t mean a doctor.  It could and very likely will be what is often called a nurse practitioner.  This has its upsides and downsides.  First off, it allows you to see someone with a bit more knowledge than your average nurse yet not quite the knowledge of a full blown doctor.  Oh, before I get to far, each and every primary care giver is part of a team designated by a color.  I’m unsure exactly what this entails.  Continuing on, there appears to be more nurse practitioners than doctors.  Nothing wrong here as most of the medical community is sadly lacking in doctors.  The process of seeing your primary caregiver is where it all begins.

To get to see your primary caregiver, the veteran has to call the TAP (Telephone Assistance Program)phone number.  There are both pay for and 1-800 (free) numbers.  The pay for numbers are meant to get direct into the offices of the local V.A. hospital.  The hours of this line is restricted.  The 1-800 line is 24/7 and 365 days a year last I knew.  In this phone call you describe to the party at the other end your symptoms and pain levels on a 1 to 10 scale.  From here you may be an appointment for a week to three weeks later.  Does this surprise you?  Not to me.  Sounds just like a HMO.  By the time you get to see someone about your illness, either it’s gone or you’re in the emergency ward.

Once your appointment is set, plan on at least 4 hours or more to get through with your primary care physician.  Yes, 4 hours.  An hour minimum will be spent just getting your vitals done and getting blood tests.  This could be longer depending on the number of veterans using the service at the time.  Most times, I’ve had to go this route, I’ve waited an hour to get through with this alone.  After your done with vitals and blood testing (not performed by your primary care giver but doctor/nursing students most Veteran’s Administration hospitals are medical schools as well) you’ll wait to see your primary care giver.  Again, the wait could be extensive depending on the number of people to be seen.  Now comes the real fun.

You see your  primary care giver (again usually a nurse practitioner).  You describe your symptoms and he/she will look you and your vitals (transmitted from the place taken by networked computer) over.  From here a determination is made as to if you need just a prescription or if you need to see a specialist (a real doctor usually specializing in a specific medical field).  Most times I’ve gone, I’ve had nothing more done but a cursory look over and then shoved out the door with prescriptions in hand.  Even the veteran’s get screwed here.  We pay $8/prescription out of what we make.  Like everyone out there a veteran has to pay attention to this.  If you don’t pay the co-pay as it’s called by the HMO, you’ll pay full price for these prescriptions.  I know for fact.  I’ve had it deducted from my disability.

If you’re lucky enough to get to the next step and see a specialist, that appointment can be anywhere from an additional week to months later depending on his/her scheduled appointments/patients and what specialty it is.  Yes, months later.  See a pattern yet?  Smell HMO here.  It’s all a ploy to make the most money off as little service as possible or to keep you from using the services at all.  Beyond the specialists appointments, I can not tell you as I’ve yet to even see a specialist, though I may have to very soon.

Big thumbs down to the emergency ward at Veteran’s Administration hospitals.  Yes, they are often times worse than an actual military emergency room and not much better than your local civilian hospital.  Case in point.  I went to the ER for a massive headache one night.  It felt as if my head were going to explode.  I was again pumped through vitals and cursory examination after roughly a 4 plus hour wait.  At the end of this trip, I was sent home with nothing more than Tylenol 3 with codeine prescription.  The next night I was back at the ER because this prescription wasn’t working and the symptoms were worse.  Again, another prolonged wait but this time I was given an MRI, an IV, after being initially seen by a REAL doctor.  After a short time the doctor returned to check on me then told me what was the cause of my ailment.  To say I was dumbfounded was an understatement.  Why had it taken two separate trips to V.A. hospital to cure my ailment?  Can we say shoddy work?  I’d say so.  Again, HMO style treatment.  Their in it for the money and not to help out.

Now for the real kicker.  I have a choice when I become ill.  I can either go to a regular doctor and pay through the nose for office visits and specialists to follow on, or I can go to V.A. hospital and deal with lack of timely vital care.  If I had the money I wouldn’t deal with them unless it were for a service connected injury.  Alas, being homeless only allows me this choice.  I deal with V.A. even when the service is even less stellar than most HMO’s.  Those that know what I’m talking about with HMO’s know how bad it really is.

Once again, too much administration and not enough help.  Why you think they came up with the name Veteran’s Administration?  The title explains itself.  They want to administer to the veterans, not cure them or assist them.  My next article will delve more deeply into this as I’ll cover a program set up by the Veteran’s Administration called Health Care for Homeless Veteran’s.

Veteran’s Admininstration: Veteran Abuse Part 1 Initial claim and appeal!

February 18, 2012

That’s right.  I said abuse.  If there was ever a more bureaucratic organization than this one, I’ve yet to find it.  The bureaucracy is astounding not to mention daunting to the fresh out of military service veteran.  It’s the biggest travesty in the United States government system to say the least.  The only more bureaucratic organization is probably the Internal (some call it infernal) Revenue Service.

Let me start off with the process for initial claim.  This is an almost all day affair.  I made my initial claim in San Diego, California.  In many ways, I’m glad I did.  There is a large base of veterans there both active and inactive.  You have the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines inside of a 50 mile radius there not to mention various U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force bases just up the highway (Interstate 5) in Los Angeles region.  Needless to say my initial claim though time consuming did get more done in a day than I can say about most places (especially Columbia’s own Dorn V.A. Hospital).  That and the entire staff (like Dorn V.A. Hospital run for the most part by students) was very kind, considerate, and above all professional.

After the initial claim, you wait what could be up to 90 days now.  Use to be a lot longer for the initial determination of percentage of disability.  Often times you get that determination too late to have time to sufficiently appeal it as you’re offered the chance (V.A. uses USPS for their delivery method) to.  Worse yet, the Veteran’s Administration only allows you 90 days to appeal when they often take longer than that to mail you your determination of benefits.  Not to mention that it’s 90 days from date of determination and you don’t know till 30 or more days go by because the V.A. bulk mails (likely 3rd class) for cheaper rates.  Surprisingly Uncle Sam does pay for his postage when it should be free.  Tax payer money goes to support the USPS (more on that later).

Ok,  you get your determination in the mail.  You get your 90 days to appeal.  So what.  Well, what if you move within the time of initial claim to the time you’re mailed the determination and notice of possible appeal.  I did move.  I lost my job in San Diego and was forced to move back to Michigan to live due to cost of living.  I never got my original paperwork.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who had this happen though I probably didn’t help it by not giving any forwarding address.  My guess is that fully 10% of all veteran’s go through what I do.  This results in more delays.

Now the sad part.  It is the responsibility of the veteran to prove someone who doesn’t even have a medical degree wrong on the determination of benefits.  Yes, you WILL have to pay to get the appeal process accomplished.  Both in time and quite possibly many dollars.  Every time you appeal, they may or may not come up with the figure you want.  To put it more generally, if you want 100% disability, you may be in for years and years of appeals while fat cat bureaucrats continue to get fatter eating the dollars that should go to the veteran.  Most of those bureaucrats are not even of the medical field and they are the ones determining the veteran’s disability compensation levels.

Oh there are organizations that are set up to help the veteran’s.  Some you’ve even heard of like The American Legion, Disabled American Veteran’s (DAV), and others who sit in an office on government property that are suppose to help out the new veteran.  Most of these groups want your money as a “member” to help you out.  What they don’t tell you is how much the membership costs.  That’s right folks.  If you’re not a member don’t expect help with your appeals.  Some of these organizations charge almost $1000 for a lifetime membership.  With that money they to get into the bureaucratic snafu (you all know the meaning of that acronym), spend money elsewhere instead of helping their fellow veterans.  Same tune as anywhere else.  Just another con job.

Last but not least, this appeal process continues on till you either give up or settle up.  It can take years appealing not to mention money and time.  Money for outside doctors or time chasing paperwork.  Sometimes it’s just faster and easier to sue the federal government.  Yes, I said sue.  You can actually sue the federal government as a veteran.  You can’t as a active duty member.  How do I know this.  A Vietnam veteran whom I’m friends with and who will remain nameless sued the government and settled for $1.2M.  Only issue with this method is you only get that money once and no more money afterwards.  It’s your choice.  You can fight via the appeals and eventually tire of it and settle for what the bureaucrats give you or you can sue and get a one time payment that still won’t be what you want since you’ll have to split that with the lawyers.

This is just a for warning about the headaches that begin with the Veteran’s Administration bureaucrats.  It continues even as you use the system other than for your disability.  This will come in the next installment.

Plague or Cottage Industry Part 3: Tying it all together! Politics and money!

February 15, 2012

Finally the most difficult thing to explain in this series of articles.  There is a lot of politics behind this entire issue.  Not just in this city but in others all across the nation as well.  They range from how do we house and feed these people to just plain throw them out-of-town.  It’s truly amazing what lengths local politicians will go to stay in power indefinitely.  Without further ado, here we go again.

First let me answer the title of this and the other two parts.  Is this a plague or a cottage industry?  In the view of the local politicians of Columbia, the homeless are a plague on a town they are trying with little success to rejuvenate downtown.  What do they blame the homeless of?  Are the accusations true?  Interestingly enough, the city council blames everything on the homeless.  Well, let me be more accurate.  City council blames the homeless for every bad thing that happens in downtown even if we aren’t doing the so-called crime.  We get blamed for broken beer bottles (there are 2 bars located on main street), breaking and entering (one store got broken into three times in one week), as well as public drunkenness, public urination, and last but not least public defecation.  Yes defecation.

I can only say one thing to city counsel.  The homeless don’t do everything you lump on us.  In most cases, like in other cases, only about 1% of the homeless are those that steal or otherwise make a nuisance of themselves. Most homeless want nothing more than a good paying job (one that pays enough to get off the street) and to be left alone much like the rest of society.  If anything, the homeless are the biggest victims of today’s society.

The homeless in Columbia, South Carolina have fallen victim not just to the politicians, but to themselves as well.  Like the society in a hen house, man has his own pecking order.  It’s not so much the strongest survive but the most creative liars, cheaters, or thieves that survive.  In the light of the homeless, it’s those that jump food serving lines, take more than they could possibly use in clothing lines, or in general make a nuisance of themselves in other manners including panhandling.  These are the lowest forms of homelessness.  These are much like our whining, thieving, cheating politicians and corporate CEO’s of today.

These people get ahead of things or they think they are doing so.  What they don’t seem to realize is they are alienating themselves from society.  Look at what’s going on in politics on the national level.  Same case here.  Politicians cut services to everyone but themselves.  CEO’s cut jobs for bigger bonuses.  It’s a vicious circle that has to end.

Currently, or in the past, several city counsel members of Columbia, South Carolina have been or are currently under federal investigation.  In the case of the current city counsel, there are three under direct investigation for misuse of Housing and Urban Development funds.  What little I know of this is from local news and it’s pretty well been quashed.  However, the investigation is continuing from all I currently know.  Frankly, I think they should investigate the entire city counsel and the mayor for corruption.  Yes, I said corruption.

Case in point, Oliver Gospel Mission is still allowed to operate in a building that should have been condemned 60 years ago.  In my prior posting I talked about the fire hazard in that building.  Now I’m going to speculate on how they get to keep this open.  Actually, I don’t believe it to be a speculation.

Here’s how Oliver Gospel Mission stays open.  Both the fire marshal and and state Department of Health Education and Welfare (DHEC) call up the mission prior to any inspections and they are alerted to an inspection.  This I know happens in many other cities as well as on a federal level.  Think OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Authority).  They do the same thing.  Usually this results in far fewer fines if any. In this case, no fines are leveled against Oliver Gospel Mission.  There is also an occupancy limit in the mission for during meals, during chapel, and berthing.  They may not exceed the berthing limit, though it is over crowded, but every time I’ve attended chapel or ate a meal there, they violated the occupancy limit by at least 20 people if not more.  Had a fire broke out in there during those particular times, there would have been deaths from exiting the building not just from the fire itself.  Of course I’ve witnessed this issue as well as a cook in Oliver Gospel Mission who continues to refuse to put his hair up in a net.  His “dreadlocks” are midway down his back and he has an issue with wearing them in a net during mealtimes while serving food.  He wears them down including several of the “locks” in front of his apron.  This is in blatant violation of health standards and he’s been spoken to several times before about this.  He’s yet to be fired and goes back to the same thing after a few days of wearing his hair up to keep the management off his behind.  I’ve spoken to the head cook twice.  Last time he told me that one of the managers “would not” hire someone else to replace this cook when they could fire him on cause alone.

As to Transitions, it’s brand new last year.  There shouldn’t be any issues either DHEC or the fire marshal need to do anything about.  Management keeps a tight lid on problems there and there is NO overcrowding whatsoever.  People there are not required to attend chapel or anything like Oliver Gospel Mission.  Last I knew, even those that were homeless and not living there could come in and do laundry as well as take a shower.  I look at those offerings and think.  Gee, this seems like a nice place.  Wrong.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

This year, the state of South Carolina chopped funding for state run mental institutes and booted a bunch out of those facilities stating that the community could take better care of those individuals.  Transitions picks up the slack where the state refuses to fund their own facilities.  They have 70 beds specifically for those mental patients who don’t have family or any way of getting help.  Do they get help if they come in there.  I can’t tell as I’ve not investigated that end of things.  However, I’ve heard some pretty horrible stories about the mental patients they house there.  Instead of the transients causing problems, it’s the mental patients there causing issues that have brought the police down there more than not.  And they have caused other issues where people who are normally good people get banned from those facilities.

Now we come to the cities own winter shelter.  This is run by the city from November 1st till the following April 1st or until temperatures get above 40 after the 1st of April.  The one time I tried it before their move, it was a pigsty.  Once they moved it, there were just as many fights and issues as before.  To be fair though, I’m told they are improving.  Still, I have no trust in this place being even remotely fit to live in after the first time I tried the city run place.  They also have started using high school gymnasiums when the main shelter is overfull.  It’s a step in the right direction even if they do overcrowd the place to begin with.  Do they get inspected by the state and local officials?  That I’m unsure of.  However, the one thing I can be assured of is, it’s run for the city’s profit and not to help the homeless.

It goes on and on and on.  Further implications of the cities politicians being discriminatory because their bribing constituents want us gone as well as the politicians themselves is the way the push through laws though not discriminatory in the way they are written but in the way they are enforced.  Two such ordinances come to mind.  One is the sleeping in city parks.  Less than 2 years ago they had the police go through Finley Park and cite all the homeless there sleeping on park property.  When you enter the park, if you read the rules there, they do not say a word of such an ordinance.  Not only that but the police did NOT cite people who were not homeless when they too were sleeping.  Again, this is just one shining example of perverse laws.  Next is the so called “Urban Camping” ordinance.  This was quoted in the last issue but I’ll go on about it here.  It as well as the prior ordinance is being used to target the homeless and get them out of downtown where ALL the services they need are.  I can’t wait till this summer when they have the police walk through Finley Park again and issue citations.  I’ll bet there will be more tickets for homeless sleeping or as classified before “Urban Camping” than those that are in the park sunning themselves on a blanket.

Oh, let me say a word on Columbia’s finest (i.e. police department).  Word that the homeless and even some of the tax payers have on CPD is that they are “uniformed gang members.”  I can’t say that as most of their officers have been friendly with me and not given me any reason to complain about their performance.  However, they have become the aforementioned “uniform gang members” with a number of homeless and I’ve come to find myself harassed by one said officer.  He seems to think I’m a special project of his.  I won’t say what happened that caused this as I want him to continue his harassment.  Can we say lawsuit?  Yes, that’s my next step for this officer.  There are one or two other officers on the force of CPD that are just like this guy.  They are nothing more than bullies or people who don’t want to face their real job which is to protect and serve those that pay there checks.  It’s a known fact that the CPD captain is following city councils orders instead of the letter of the law when the homeless are constantly rousted.  When they do have a real crime in town (one of the breaking and enterings) it takes an officer an average of 8 minutes to get to the location even when there is one around the corner.  Yes, I’ve witnessed just that.  And lets not go to enforcing speeding and traffic light ordinances.  These alone could put the city government in the black monetarily if enforced to the letter.  If the CPD isn’t harassing the homeless their in the local coffee shops.  Two mornings ago, my friend who is also homeless witnessed no less than 10 police cars outside IHop in downtown.  No it wasn’t being robbed.  They were there doing not a darn thing in the last 2 hours of their shift.  Do you call that to serve and protect?  I don’t.  If I did that on any job I had I’d have been fired straight away.

Now, let me not forget the mayor of this town.  He was elected and not more than an hour after he was elected he struck another lady’s car and darn near killed the lady.  I’m certain there is still a pending civil suit.  If not can we say “payoff.”   The newspapers here were full of speculations.  Most were probably true.  The mayor probably did have his lights off.  He most certainly was under the influence of alcohol.  But, when you have money you can buy the law.  Well, in this case it cost the last CPD captain his job.  Did the mayor look out for this guy and help him get another job.  Fat chance.  This situation was corrupt from the get go.  It took them two hours to get an someone of authority to decide how the investigation was  to go.  And then it should have been handled by the state police or county police instead of the local CPD.  He’s still mayor today and has a wife as a local judge even though it represents a conflict of interest in a number of situations.   More than likely he will not be re-elected.

And they (city council, mayor, and an scant few others) call us a plague.  Yeah right.  While they are calling us a plague there are others who use us to their advantage.  This was discussed in the feeding part of this series.  Many local churches owe the homeless a great deal.  Had it not been for feeding us bare minimums and charging outrageous administrative fees, they wouldn’t have had special renovation projects unless the church members themselves paid for that.  Would they?  I doubt seriously they would.

Another thing, there are no less than four and maybe as many as six “day” labor places within 5 miles of downtown.  Most are legitimate businesses.  But, they too,  rob from the people who use them to make a living when they can’t get work otherwise.  If you don’t have transportation they charge you for it.  Lunch you ask?  They charge you for that when it’s not much more than a bologna sandwich and maybe a bag of chips.  Yes, these people feed off our problems as well.

Now who is really the plague here.  Certainly not the homeless.  However, you yourself should be able to see that these people who put us down the most are in fact using us as a cottage industry to fill their pockets with hard working American’s dollars meant to help those in need.  Need I say more?

Plague or Cottage Industry Part 2 Sheltering the homeless!

February 12, 2012

I’ve already covered the feeding of the needy and homeless in the last installment.  This installment covers the sheltering of the same.  Here, it may get a bit politically charged.  The reason I see this is because it involves not only Oliver Gospel Mission, Transitions Center,but the city of Columbia politicians as well.

Let me start with what I’ve had experience with first hand starting with the City’s winter shelter.  I’ve only stayed there once when it was at the old fire station closer to downtown.  It in a word was horrible.  They used a trailer portable toilet and shower (two of each) connected to the sewage system via a 4″ hose.  There were over 100 of us crammed into the space of a 20’X40′ area.  The roof leaked and people were getting wet, sick, and health standards were abominable to say the least.  There wasn’t much more than a large space heater in the place to heat the building.  This of course has since changed.  This was the first time I was homeless.

Currently they have a different location and building.  The old shelter has been condemned.  I’ve not gone down to the new shelter, however I’ve heard tales from friends.  Those that told me are people I’ve known on the street for a couple of years now.  The new building is better (at least it doesn’t have a leaky roof).  As to over crowding, well it’s dorm style bunks.  My guess its the same.  However, they now have overflow shelter space (word is high school gymnasiums are being used).

Thankfully, it’s not been that cold this year and I have no need for this place.  Even if I had needed to go, I’d rather be outside than be crowded in with a bunch of people who DON’T want to go to sleep when the lights go out or are half drunk or drugged up or both in the later two cases.  Yes, there is security there.  However, I’ve heard of possessions what few some have, have been stolen.  There has been fights in this place where the police has been called in.  The last thing I want is to have some fool drunk or drug addict push what little patience I have left.  I know I’d go to jail if that happened.  Thus my unwillingness to go here not to mention I too have had some of my meager belongings stolen or vandalized.

The second option is Oliver Gospel Mission.  Again, I’ve no need nor want to go to this place either even if it got seriously nasty outside.  Here is the following reasons for this.  One, the building is a death trap.  The city fire marshal whom I assume is being bribed to keep the place open should have long ago condemned it as a major fire hazard.  Staff there has continually harped about smoking in the place and people have been banned from the place for ignoring that fact.  To quote a staff member there, “This place would go up inside of 10 minutes if it caught fire.”  They mean a total loss of contents and possibly lives.  Two, they have a drug and alcohol treatment program there.  You ask why would I fear this?  I don’t.  It’s the people in the program.  They have been found to violate the rules (some have been kept on in some cases stating it was but a minor infraction).  Some of these people have been known to steal from the transients (homeless).  Three, their security there is sadly lacking as well.  Yes, they have an armed security guard there from 4pm till 9pm but afterward their staff or the “program” people man the front desk.  Not safe by no means.  They are also limited to roughly 56 beds year round.  This doesn’t count them opening up their day room for an additional 33 people they put on gym mats when temperatures get below 40 degrees farenheit.  These people are packed in like sardines there.  Worse so at meal time.

This place isn’t as bad as it seems compared to the city winter shelter which is only open from November 1st til April 1st.  They do have a full time staff.  Their staff is generally better than their management.  At least they are more concerned for the homeless than management would be even though some of their management have worked with the transients themselves and were at one time rehabilitated by the same place.  This place also offers one other program for those upwardly mobile (seeking a job or have a job).  They provide beds and food for these people in what they call the “Hand Up” program.  In my last post I talked about food so I won’t mention it here.  However, out of the 56 beds Oliver Gospel Mission has for the homeless, they reserve a number of them for people in this program thus cutting the number of available beds down again (the rehabilitation program people live in a different part of the building and have their own beds as well).  To say getting a bed in there is an understatement.  Especially in the summer.  Of course their “Hand Up” program isn’t without it’s flaws.  They require those people to pay 10% of all wages to the mission in the form of a donation to help support the mission.  I’ll talk more on this later when I discuss corruption.

Last but not least is the Transitions Center.  Newly built it houses roughly 270 people.  Now here’s where the trouble starts.  Only 70 beds are up for grabs by the transient population.  Seventy of those beds are reserved for mental patients in need (they don’t have nowhere else to go).  And 70 of those beds are reserved for those transitioning from off the streets to the job force (think Oliver Gospel Mission’s Hand Up program without the payments).  This place has been open about six months now and they do have heavy security thanks to the local residents in the neighborhood complaining to city hall about it being there.  A friend of mine stayed there not even 3 weeks as a transient.  He said to me that they’d had the police down there no less than 4 times in one day once.  This doesn’t even count the number of people they’ve booted out (transients  that got into altercations with the mental health patients) for violation of rules including fighting.  Where’s the security in this for the average person seeking shelter on the street?  Granted I’m speaking in the third person here and have not had personal experience with the place or it’s staff or security there.  However, the rumor/fact mill on the streets is faster sometimes than the speed of light.  I won’t go into this place either due to what has been heard from myself.  To me, mentally unstable are like the drunks and the drug addicts.  They’d push my patience (what little I currently have) to the end and again, I’d end up in jail.

So where does this leave me?  Sleeping where and when I can on the streets.  I have limited number of friends out here and I refuse to put them under any pressure to help me when the economy is rough enough on them that have homes and jobs.  I have a sleeping bag and I can find shelter from the elements when necessary.  However! If caught using the sleeping bag anywhere in the city of Columbia, I will be ticketed for violation of the “Domestic camping” ordinance.  This ordinance states in essence, “Camp shall mean residing in or using a public street, sidewalk, or park for private living accommodations, such as erecting tents or other temporary structures or objects providing shelter; sleeping in a single place for any substantial prolonged period of time; regularly cooking or preparing meals; or other similar activities. ”  It is broadly defined and overused.  Not only that it will be abused and already has been abused by local law enforcement.  Would law enforcement do this normally when there are bigger fish to fry.  Doubtful.  This ordinance was passed by city council to get the homeless out in the street out of the city itself even though they are benefited by the homeless in tax write-offs (feeding, clothing, and sheltering them when they do) as well as cheap labor (labor pools abound down here where people are only paid minimum wage for jobs that would otherwise be well paid).  The city has also got an ordinance against sleeping in city parks.  It’s unenforceable due to the city not wanting to spend the money to post the regulation at any of their parks irregardless that they enforce it.  You can look both these up at: http://www.municode.com/Library.

This is but the second nightmare the homeless face in this city.  The horror story doesn’t end here.  This is but one city in the entire country.  I’d hate to see what it’s like in other cities.  I’ve heard many a story from people I’ve met on the streets.  Some believable, others not so.  I feel fortunate to have survived without being like the many who have jumped to their death at the Foxcon plant in China.  Or for that matter being put in prison where I know I’d die.  Onward and upward.  Next post in a few days where I’ll cover the political angle of this all.

Plague or Cottage Industry Part 1 Feeding the homless.

February 10, 2012

This will revolve around the city of Columbia, SC and their treatment of the homeless in general.  This includes feeding and sheltering those that are homeless as well as the views of the general public and those of a select few that push their political agenda onto the city counsel as well as the mayor and police department.  This will be a multiple part issue.

Let’s start with the feeding of the homeless.   This is done by many people and/or organizations.  Most of the groups are churches.  Only three main feeding places in town feed everyday of the week and of those only two feed 7 days a week.  Yes, I’m going to name names here as well as make my opinions known no matter what the cost.

The three main places are Oliver Gospel Mission, Transitions (run by the Salvation Army of South Carolina formerly using Eboneezer church), and the Soup Cellar.  What these people feed and how they are funded is rather odd.  A great deal of their funding comes from the United Way who was given several million dollars by the federal government before President Bush retired.  Of course the United Way gets their percentage cut of those funds claiming administrative fees.  However, this is further cut once in the hands of the sources I’ve already mentioned.  Two of the organizations (Salvation Army of South Carolina and Oliver Gospel Mission) are corrupt as hell.  Each charges a great deal of administrative costs and when all is said and done, the homeless in Columbia are fed stuff people don’t want, out dated food, or other people’s table scraps.

The average homeless person gets the proper number of calories/day (just barely 2K calories if that) but it’s all in fat or sugar.  Yes, I’ve eaten worse.  I’ve been served stuff I wouldn’t feed the pigs and cows that I worked with on farms  when I was a youth.  Yes, even third world kids you see advertised on the television get better food according to the advertisements via your dollars.  I’d wager they didn’t get any better.  It’s just shown that way for publicity and to garner further donations.  Yes, you’re well intentioned dollars hard at work feeding the needy!  Yeah right!

Between the United Way and all the other organizations, the homeless see less than 10% of all donated money or food stuff  in their bellies.  The exact same thing that happens to those poor starving children in Africa happens right here in your own back yard.  Wake up American.  These sorts of things are scams for people to dig into your pockets for money they don’t rightfully deserve.  They are worse than churches and I’ll even be writing on those at a later date.

Look hard at where you’re donations are going before giving to any charitable organizations.  Ask how much they pull out of contributions for so called “Adminstrative fees.”  I’d bet less than 80% of any charitable donations goes to where they belong in any organization, whether or not its for the homeless or for say Muscular Dystrophy.

Homeless

February 10, 2012

Homeless!

Now here’s a topic you don’t hear a great deal in the news about.  What?  You say it isn’t so in the good ole US of A.  All I see is the advertisements on television about feeding children in Africa you say.

Let’s get realistic now.  Homelessness is growing in the United States.  In the city in which I am currently homeless, there are over 3,000 like souls.  Yes, I said 3K.  Granted that isn’t homeless people just from here but  it accounts for those passing through as well.  You ask, “Passing through.”  Why yes.  This town is a way station of known repute for the homeless who travel up and down the east coast.

I’ve met people from as far north as Massachusetts all the way south to southern Florida here on the streets.  I’ve asked many their story and a lot of it is either total crap or it’s heart wrenching.  Each party, including myself, has his or her own reason.  Some are drug related, others are alcohol related, and some like me just are tired of working for a wage that will NOT keep you off the street.  That last statement is interesting as it’s prevalent here in South Carolina.  More on that in another entry.

Being homeless is an interesting life.  In many ways, I feel like a herd animal.  Yes, like cows.  When I’m not doing something along the lines of finding work, I’m going from place to place for food and clothing.  Many a times I’ve stood in long lines for both.  Lines you say.  Think Walmart or for those that have seen films of the Great Depression of the 30’s soup lines.

Oh we even have one of those here in Columbia.  It’s called the Soup Cellar.  A local church runs the place.  The homeless go there and get soup and two sandwiches (one is always PB&J) as well as whatever else is available along with all the ice tea you can drink.  Yes, seconds are available on soup.  Seconds on sandwiches is another story altogether.

There are other places to eat here and other organizations who feed the homeless and help cloth them when they have the availability.  Most of these organizations are church run.  Some require you to attend a service (chapel as one place calls it) or just listen to a short prayer.

Shelters are another sore spot I’ll address in a different posting.  Suffice it  to say that the locals here have made a cottage industry surrounding the homeless and still bitch about us being on the streets.  More on eating and shelters in the next post.