November 21, 2005
Hello. I am writing this diary on behalf of Jeff Seemann. As many of you know, Jeff is running for Congress in Ohio's 16th District, and he's trying a different strategy. He believes that you cannot represent people until you truly understand their lives. Currently, he is spending 100 hours homeless, in an attempt to better understand what life is like for people who have lost everything. We all witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but Katrina only magnified a problem that exists in every town on every day of every week. I just spoke with Jeff, and he has asked me to relay the story of his first 20 hours to you and several other blogs. The following is Jeff's entry;
Hello everyone. After my first day out here, if I can give you any amount of wisdom, it will be this; don't take anything for granted. You can always end up worse off than you are right now. It hasn't been easy here. The experiences and lessons I've learned already range from harsh to easy, but it's certainly been an eye-opener.
Last night, I tried to find a place to sleep. It was dark by the time I got downtown, and being a Sunday, everything was closed. I went into this experience blind, so I had no idea where any homeless shelters may be located, and I therefore decided to try a few churches. No luck there, all the doors were locked at the 4 area chuches I could find. I ended up by myself for the entire night, and found a bit of warmth behind the Palace Theater sometime around 10pm. I had hoped to find somebody to help me locate a place to sleep, but again, no luck. It was an awful night of sleep, if you can call it that at all. The temperature was probably in the 30s or low 40s. By midnight, I had a splitting headache. It's amazing how many things we take for granted in our everyday lives...like aspirin. I'm pretty sure I fell asleep a couple of times, but it was never anything that one could reasonably call sleep. By about 7 or 8 am, I was chased out of my space by a police officer. I've heard the words "move along" more times than I thought I would today. This morning, I found myself a few agencies that can help the homeless, but they are few and far between. So far, they've been helpful, but the people I've spoken to who benefit from these agencies tell me that the help doesn't last very long.
At one agency, I was told that I "picked a bad time to end up homeless" (as if there's a good time). This is the end of the year, and the grant money has dried up. Agencies don't have any money left to set anybody up with accomodations, and until January 1st, you're at the mercy of the streets. Churches do step in from time to time, but that's usually for one night only. I didn't know that a "homeless hotline" existed, but was advised to call them. One of the agencies allowed me use of their phone, and the hotline referred me to Open Door, a shelter at the Turnaround Community Outreach. I'm to report there tonight between 930 and 10pm, and I have to leave by 6am tomorrow morning. It's an African-American church, and I've already been by there for a meal at 2pm today. Very nice people, very comforting. Tomorrow, they're also having a free meal at 2pm at Open Door, but in order to eat you have to attend a church service first. I'm not willing to question this policy, but I wonder if they would still offer to feed the hungry if they were Buddhist, Jewish or even Muslim? At today's meal, there were 28 people in attendance. Almost all were homeless, but a few had homes but were well below the poverty line. The ages ranged from 18 months old to 70+ years. The 18 month old was a sweetheart. Her mother lives near the church and has no money, so she does what she can to keep her baby fed. The church gave her a few extra biscuits, and she slipped them in her baby's diaper bag (which was not really clean enough to handle food).
For the benefit of those of you concerned with whether or not I may be taking food or a bed from somebody who needs it more, I will gladly report that I waited until everyone had their plates of food before I approached the line (and was told that there was plenty if anybody needed more), and the cot I will sleep on tonight is not the last one. They can fit many more than will attend tonight, so everyone who has requested a place to sleep will get it. Also, no I have no money to make my situation any more comfortable than it is. I have no ATM card, no pocket change, no photo ID, nothing. If I was going to deprive anybody of anything during my experience, I will gladly give it up and go elsewhere. It's only been a short period of time, and I'm only 25% of the way through this, but I can tell you that I've learned a lot.
For starters, there's a whole system you have to know and those who can work it best survive with the least amount of trouble. There are a few phone numbers to call and get assistance, but most places can only offer you referrals to other agencies. It's a messed up web that you have to maneuver through in order to get anywhere. And I'm told that the funds are being slashed for 2006.
That half-eaten corn dog I saw on theground last night....I was too proud to pick it up, a move I could later regret. That bag of Fritos I saw in a trash can while walking down 12th Street...it might have had food inside. Earlier today, maybe some of you stopped by Burger King or Wendy's. Did you finish your french fries? If not, I know of a few people who would love to have what you just threwaway. Man, just that small handfull of leftover fries or the pickles you took off your burger would be a wonderful gift to some people. No, I'm notasking you to take some cold leftover food to people right now....but I am asking you to never again take for granted what you have. Tomorrow, you may not have it anymore.
I'll be posting this diary in a few locations that Jeff has directed me to. I'll try to answer any questions you have if I have the time. In the meantime, you can help out Jeff's campaign - he's promised to deliver 10% of all funds raised to homeless shelters in the area. Visit Jeff's ActBlue page or his blog.
And trust me, as his friend, I heard it in his voice that he's not having an easy time with this. He's surviving just fine, but the people he is meeting are really eating away at his soul. He's going to walk away from this a very different person, even more sympathetic than he is now.
Peace be with you all, Michelle
I have no idea how people suffering from chronic illness survive on the streets. Or what it must be like to be a child on the streets. I do know I'm grateful for what I do have, and try to what I can to help. One person at a time can make difference, some people, like Jeff, may make a bigger difference.