First World Problems

by Michelle Farley

Women's First World Problem. They have so many to choose from, it's such a hard decision!. I MINT Maille WWW WERE WITH THIS DRESS.

Photo from funnyjunk.com

“That is such a First World problem.”

I’ve heard this phrase many times, but applying it recently to some personal circumstances made me stop and think about First World problems vs. Third World problems and how the statement relates to homelessness in our area.

When people say, “that is such a First World problem,” they are usually being dismissive of whatever the expressed (some might say trivial, or whiney) concern might be: like breaking a fingernail immediately after completion of an expensive manicure; being served a super healthy salad with far too many blueberries; or not being able to make a decision about which of your many shoes look best with your new outfit.  Some people do allow these events to cast a slight shadow on a perfectly great sunny day, but can these “First World problems” truly compare to the potential Third World problems of death from starvation or from an easily treatable disease?  Even though the United States is considered a First World country, I would suggest that some aspects of homelessness in our area have distinct comparisons to Third World conditions.

Manicures are generally considered a First World issue. Most of the people reading this can visit a salon (or a talented friend) and pay money to have his/her fingernails massaged, buffed, filed (amazing how much time people will spend trying to decide on a round nail vs. a square nail) and painted a pretty color (Brad Pitt was recently photographed with nails painted dark blue). Even if a manicure is not for you, you have that access if you change your mind.  Pretty nails are probably not tops on the list of a homeless person’s list of “Things I Need Today to Survive Tonight.” People living on the streets can’t always wash their hands regularly (because there are so few public restrooms), so that pesky hangnail that your manicurist would quickly snip can become a major health concern if located on the hand of a homeless person. A hangnail becomes an infected finger, which becomes a staph infection, which may turn into extended hospitalization – a hospitalization for which there may be no insurance coverage (not to mention there’s no respite care to aid recovery and there’s a history of homeless clients having difficulty accessing health care in Birmingham). The next time you have a manicure (or any personal service for that matter), think about someone on the street with no ability to wash dirty hands.

Food choice in many instances is a First World issue. Most of the people reading this blog can request a restaurant to prepare a salad a special way, and can send it back if it is not correct. Most readers of this blog can go home and prepare that salad in any manner they choose. Most readers can choose to skip the salad entirely and go directly to dessert! If you live on the streets, your food choice may be limited to what you can purchase at the over-priced convenience store on the corner or what is handed out in the park (but please remember the can’t- wash- your-hands scenario from above, and read another blog post on the matter of public feeding here).  I’m also almost 100% certain those choices will not include either salad or blueberries.

If you are in a homeless shelter, you probably have to either eat what the volunteers bring, or you don’t eat. Some people would argue that a person who is hungry will eat what is given, and that is certainly true in most cases. However, what if you have religious reasons to eat only certain foods? What if you have food allergies or a medically restricted diet? What if five groups of volunteers brought the exact same meals five days in a row (yes, that happens)? The next time you get to make a First World food choice, especially if that choice includes fresh fruits and vegetables, think about our homeless citizens who have no choice.

Choosing from a vast array of shoes is certainly a First World problem, but one our homeless community does not experience. There are kind people in our community who donate gently used shoes to our homeless service providers. However, people who are homeless generally walk a lot – and the more you walk, the more important it is for your shoes to fit. What if you have very narrow feet? What if you wear a very large or a very small size?  I can tell you that well-fitting shoes in good condition are very difficult to come by in most of our homeless agencies. New shoes are seldom donated, most donated shoes are “average” sizes, and most donated shoes have already been molded to fit the previous owner’s feet.

The next time you have the opportunity to make a First-World choice about what pair of shoes to wear, think about those people who didn’t even get to choose the single, worn-out, uncomfortable pair they are wearing right now.

This blog is not meant to make you feel guilty about having a manicure or about owning a closet full of shoes. This is simply meant to offer information about the realities faced by the 1,329 people who are homeless in our area tonight. This blog is meant to point you to the One Roof website if you are interested in solutions to ending homelessness.  The work that One Roof does to end homelessness in central Alabama is based on answering the needs we know exist in our community, and understanding where there are gaps in services; it means researching the best ways to make sure that men, women, and children in Alabama have a safe place to sleep at night; and it means that one of the most effective ways that you can end homelessness in Alabama is by supporting One Roof and our member agencies.  You can end homelessness by supporting agencies who coordinate their efforts to fill the existing need, and who know what’s needed or missing in our community.

Making a donation to One Roof before the end of this year is tax-deductible, and it’s a smart step in the right direction for ending homelessness (and “third world” conditions) in the community we share.  This blog is meant to offer you a way to get involved in ending homelessness in our community.  Contact us!  It is a First World choice whether you use snail mail, a land line, your cell phone, Twitter or Facebook.  But no matter which method you choose, we hope to hear from you soon.


Michelle Farley is the Executive Director of One Roof. 

National Homeless Awareness Week and Housing in Alabama

Written by One Roof’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Stacy Oliver. 

NHAW web banner

National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week takes place each year the week before Thanksgiving, and this year it will be honored across the United States from November 16 -22.  As a part of our mission to equip and empower central Alabama to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education, and coordination of services,One Roof is observing this week by raising awareness of the barriers to housing and solutions for ending homelessness.  One solution that we, in partnership with the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama, would like to suggest during Homeless Awareness Week is a dedicated revenue source for the Alabama Housing Trust Fund.

For the past four years, One Roof has been advocating for more safe, decent, accessible, affordable housing for homeless men, women, and children in central Alabama.  In recent years it has become clear that there is an overwhelming shortage of affordable housing units for the number of families who need them.  Many of the phone calls we receive in our office come from families who are working as hard as they can, but still have to seek rental or utility assistance in order to stay in their homes.  Additionally, that rental and utility assistance is scarce and runs out quickly each month due to the overwhelming number of people who need it.  Many other families call us in need of shelter or other services after they have lost their housing.  On any given night in 2014, 139 families will experience homelessness in central Alabama because of a serious lack of safe, decent, accessible, and affordable housing.

 One Roof implements a region-wide information system and case management tool called PromisSE, which records homeless services that are being used and helps us understand where there are gaps in services, trends in homelessness, and other important data.  At this time, our numbers reflect a very serious, dire need in our state — and that need is for more places for people (and especially families) to call home.

 While it may seem like a fairly simple statement to make, One Roof believes that the answer to ending homelessness is having a home.  At this time, we know that families are struggling to meet even their most basic needs while holding on to their housing.   We know that it is nearly impossible for 30% of low income renters to afford a modest two-bedroom home at fair market rent.

Having a dedicated revenue source for the Alabama Housing Trust Fund would mean that more families could feel empowered to live healthy, independent lives.  Their children can have a safe place to sleep at night, and the family can afford to put a warm meal on the table.  We feel so strongly that Alabamians should know about what the Alabama Housing Trust Fund can do to end homelessness, that at 6:00 PM on Friday, November 21, at the YWCA Central Alabama, we want to honor National Homeless Awareness Week by inviting our community to a documentary screening about homelessness followed by an educational session on the Alabama Housing Trust FundWe want all members of the community to feel welcome to attend, ask questions, and learn about this smart solution to ending homelessness in our state. In addition to the documentary screening, One Roof is hosting an educational homeless simulation activity in Railroad Park on Thursday, November 20, at 6:00 PM.

We need our neighbors to know about what amazing things could happen if the Alabama Housing Trust Fund had a dedicated revenue source.  To learn more and get involved in our two Homeless Awareness Week events, we invite everyone to register online by visiting One Roof’s website, www.oneroofonline.org.  For any questions or concerns, contact One Roof’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Stacy Oliver (stacy@oneroofonline.org).

Enacted in 2012 without funding, the Alabama Housing Trust Fund can be used to construct and rehabilitate affordable homes, both for rental and homeownership opportunities. It could also be used for down payment assistance or for emergency repairs to keep people in their homes. A trust fund is a flexible source of funding to address a community’s most pressing affordable housing needs. It is time for Alabama to invest in its communities and its people and capitalize the Housing Trust Fund. To learn more about the Alabama Housing Trust Fund, please visit www.alabamahousingtrustfund.org


Let’s Talk about the NFL just One More Time

Image taken from Chicago Tribune online. Click image for CT article.

Let’s Talk about the NFL just One More Time

An important national discussion about domestic violence and child abuse has been ongoing since accusations against NFL players Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice were first publicized a few weeks ago.  The national dialogue thus far seems productive; individuals and organizations alike are asking the NFL to hold its players accountable for their actions. This call to action suggests that as a culture, there is some meaningful work being done to ensure that violence against women and children is a thing of the past.  Public outrage over these players’ violent actions — and the NFL’s uncommitted response to them — has made conversations about ending domestic violence and child abuse more of a priority.  The recent news coverage of these cases has raised awareness about child abuse and domestic violence, but it has also triggered an entire movement that finds violence against women and children completely socially unacceptable.  If our heroes are condemned for committing violence against others, in theory it would mean that such violent behavior is unacceptable in society at large.

In our office, conversations surrounding the NFL and the Peterson and Rice cases have raised a few questions.  Why did it take the harm of Peterson’s son or Rice’s now-wife to draw national attention to the fact that violent and abusive behavior is, in fact, unacceptable?  How has there been such an apathy toward the violent behaviors of our cultural figures and role models?

We’ve also asked this:  if it takes such public evidence of the violence being inflicted on women and children to begin a conversation about stopping it, what will it take for our country to have a national discussion in which homelessness and the effects of homelessness are deemed unacceptable?

The leap from talking about domestic violence and child abuse to a conversation about homelessness itself is not a far-reaching connection to make.  Victims of domestic violence make up 15% of the individuals who are homeless on any given night in our continuum alone.  Many of these individuals (usually women) are fleeing from abusive partners with their children. They have had to choose homelessness for themselves and their children in the face of a violent and abusive relationship.  The fact that homelessness could be an ultimatum for anyone trying to leave a domestic violence relationship should be unacceptable.

There are also 139 homeless families with dependent children on any given night in our continuum (Jefferson, St. Clair, and Shelby counties).  In homeless families, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH), about 83% of homeless children are exposed to at least one serious violent event by age 12.  And children experiencing homelessness have three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems compared to non-homeless children.

We also know that people who experienced trauma, abuse, and homelessness as children are more vulnerable to homelessness as adults.  NCFH also reported that 63% of homeless mothers experienced severe physical assault by an intimate male partner, with 44% of homeless mothers reporting that they had lived outside their homes at some point during childhood.  For more statistics about family homelessness, take a look at this fact sheet from NCFH.

Violence is often part of the experience of homeless women and children.  The ongoing national conversation about child abuse and domestic violence is an important conversation to have, and it draws attention to the unacceptable pairing of violence and close relationships (of partners, of husband and wife, of child and parent).  But what is not being discussed on a national level is how the effects of this kind of violence often coincide with homelessness.  This is no coincidence; the link between violence and homelessness is strong.

One Roof’s mission is to equip and empower our community to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education, and coordination of services.  Educating our community about the inherent violence attached to homelessness and advocating for more conversations about homelessness is just part of how we see change happening — so that no one experiences homelessness.

When will it also become unacceptable that for many women fleeing domestic violence, youth fleeing abuse or neglect, or homeless families, homelessness is sometimes the safer or only option?  When will homelessness as a condition for someone to live in become unacceptable?

Member agencies serving women and children:
First Light
Salvation Army

Member agencies serving women fleeing domestic violence:
SafeHouse of Shelby County
YWCA of Central Alabama

Member agencies serving homeless youth:
Family Connection/Project Hope
Youth Towers

Member agencies serving homeless families & families in crisis:
Family Guidance Center
YWCA Interfaith


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