Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Homeless People Speak Out on What They Want from Politicians

by Mark Horvath
Founder of InvisiblePeople.tv

Posted: 08/29/2012 9:30 am

Like many Americans, I am sick and tired of always being broke and terrified about
what's going to happen in 2013.

Late in 2007, I found myself unemployed. I lived off my credit cards for nine months hoping things would get better. I eventually lost my house to foreclosure, and because I acquired huge credit card debt, I'm in a way actually still paying the mortgage on the house I lost.

My last good-paying job was in 2008, and that lasted only three months before they laid me off along with 49 others.

I am grateful for my homeless shelter job because any of us who have a job should feel lucky, but I don't think I'll ever make a living-wage that will get me out of my financial crisis. This is not how I dreamed my adult years would be.

Producing this post has slapped me around more than a little.

The main reason this was challenging to produce is the number of homeless people who
do not vote. Over the last two weeks, I must have asked over 100 homeless people and a
huge majority told me they do not vote. To be honest, I was a little shocked.

Over the years, in tent cities, motels, under bridges and in shelters I've recorded powerful stories
from people experiencing homelessness. When Huffington Post approached me about
helping to get our homeless friends voice heard, I thought it would be easy, yet this has
been a hard post to produce.

I just figured I'd go out and rather quickly get a few people on video talking about their political views. But it wasn't so easy.

When I started to think about it, I realized that when a person is homeless they feel
powerless. For the most part, any real choice has been removed. They don't have a choice
of where to sleep, when to wake up, what to eat, when to shower, what to wear -- most
every choice is taken away.

Also, the amount of bureaucracy in homeless services is maddening. One homeless
veteran I have worked with for the last four years has had to fill out the same paperwork
over and over and over. I always say -- it's not as miracle that a person gets housing -- it's
a miracle that the system worked -- so no wonder people just give up.

To a person focused on daily survival voting does not make sense. I would guess this feeling of
"helplessness" is felt by many in this country and not just our homeless friends. Still, I got a numer of profound interviews.

The homeless people I talked to asked politicians to focus on everything from education to housing services to empowering young people.

"Education is extremely important," one homeless woman, Katherine, said. "Don't make
it so hard to pay back loans. Don't stomp on people for graduating college and put them
in a no-paying job."

The young couple I met on Skid Row today, who was kind enough to be in this video,
looked exhausted and broken. They had been walking from mission to mission trying to
find a place to stay. Most homeless services just offer referrals that do not show
availability. This couple was given phone numbers to places that were full so now they
were walking until their feet were blistered trying to find help.

The other big issue is many homeless people are not informed. Street homeless obviously
have less availability to the internet and television. Sheltered homeless have more access,
but computers have time limits and many shelters restrict computer use just to job

Normally in a shelter there is one group TV for everyone. Usually movies are
played. Television news is rare so forget any political convention coverage.

Not sure about you but the more I thought about homeless people not voting the more it
upset me. The very people who desperately need change the most are not speaking up.
From what I see there is very little effort by any political party to empower those of us
close to or in poverty.

All the focus is on the rich and the middle class, when the people at the bottom are
ignored. I'm not saying this is on purpose. But I would bet things at the top would change
fast if the people at the bottom actually had a voice, which is the theory behind this video

Being a person who believes the glass is half full, I want to believe we'll soon see a
change. Hopefully by the next election. We already have reduced landline services but
who the heck uses a landline anymore.

We need to break the generational curse of poverty with educational programs when families are placed in transitional housing.

We need to fix homeless services and start treating our homeless friends with dignity.

We need more help for school-aged kids experiencing homelessness. There is a lot we can do,
and should be doing!

And greater access to information is empowering -- more free public WiFi and the lower
cost of laptop and tablets, technology and access to the internet will help educate people
experiencing poverty. There is a movement to bring free cellphone service to low and no-
income people.

I think the man I met on Skid Row today sums it up with his last comment on the video:
"After you finish with homelessness and you're dealing with their conditions and their
problems, then you can meet the community and say I'm the guy to elect". If you don't
meet those issues I don't think it's proper for you to talk about that you need to be elected
if you're not helping the people that's trying to elect you."

I hope this video reaches both presidential candidates. Special thanks to LA Mission and Ascencia

This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three
issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions:
The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.  HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at the persistence of poverty in America August 29th and September 5th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.

Follow Mark Horvath on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hardlynormal

"Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of Homelessness"
by Kevin D. Hendricks. Available from Amazon books.

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