Hillsborough Homeless Coalition honors Homeless Heroes listen11/15/10 Kelly Benjamin
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Last Friday, the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County presented their 2010 "Homeless Heroes" awards at their annual meeting in Westshore.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, The US's economy's ongoing recession has left more than an estimated 1.5 million Americans without a roof over their heads. Floridians in particular have been among the hardest hit with job losses, foreclosures, and people seeking government assistance in the state among the highest in the nation.
It's in this climate that the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County held their annual meeting on Friday and honored their 2010 Homeless Heroes: those members of the community that have worked tirelessly to meet the needs of the homeless and implement long-term solutions in the face of growing demand and financial constraints.
Among those honored at the meeting was Florida State Representative Betty Reed.
"Since I've become an elected official, I have really worked with my colleagues. And some of the ones that really cannot envision homeless, I've worked very hard with them to make sure that they understand that a lot of these people are not there because that's where they would like to be there but because they have no choice."
Do you see the problem with homelessness being solved any time soon or getting better or do you think it's getting worse?
"I think it's getting worse at this time but I do believe if the economy gets better it will get better. Because I know that everybody that's homeless really doesn't want to be homeless. I know the face of the homeless has changed. It's no longer just single people, it's whole families out there. And I know that they would prefer to be in the house with their children and taking care of their families. And I know a lot of the single people that are on the streets would prefer to have a job."
In Tallahassee do you find other legislators as sensitive and sympathetic to this issue as you are?
"There are a few but there's not nearly enough. It's just a few."
The Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County also presented a Lifetime Achievement award to Jim Joyce honoring over three decades of service assisting the Homeless.
"Well, I've been in social work with Hillsborough County for 33 years, starting in 1977. And at that time I started working just like a lot of fresh out of college kids, you know, going to change the world through social work. And I had my notion of who the homeless were. But when they started sitting on the other side of the desk, the face was a lot different from then what I had perceived and imagined because now the face was kids, young children. It was people without addictions. It was moms, it was young families. It was basically, when you look into the mirror, that image that reflects back at us. That's who I was seeing so I realized I had no idea of who folks that were experiencing homelessness were, or why they were. So I really started to focus on that population, did a lot of work in trying to understand, trying to study the issues. And most particularly how we as service providers, and a lot of times how are attitudes of who and why folks find themselves homeless will prevail in the types of service that we provide, that we give out."
Since that time do you feel that there's been progress made in ending homelessness in this area or do you feel that the problem, particularly in this most recent year has been more difficult?
"Well, it's funny because that's actually one of the things that I reflected on the way over. It's like 'have we made a change, have we made a dent in homelessness?' And part of the answer is no. We really haven't because it's still here. It's still prevailing, but when you look at one of the things I tried to mention up there, on an individual basis, with the individual lives that maybe we are able to impact, or we're able to engage, we've made a hell of a difference. We've made a hell of a difference in the way...when I started back in the mid-80's, in the early 80's, the services that we provided were very punitive. It was you were blamed for being homeless. You were bad because you were homeless. You were a jake, you were a bum. And our services, the way we provided service reflected that. It was 'we'll give you a meal but we're kicking your butt out 4 o'clock in the morning because we don't want to make it too easy for you.' So there has been a lot of change in recognizing that homelessness is not just an issue of personal dysfunctioning. There may be some of that involved and we have to address that, but it's also the society, look at what's happening today, that's why the numbers are up. People are losing their homes, people that were financially stable are now finding themselves homeless and they don't know how to dance that bureaucratic ballet. They don't know how to access the services so they're falling into the cracks again and they're becoming homeless. So we still have, it's a constant battle every day."
The Homeless Coalition is currently seeking hundreds of volunteers to assist in their biennium Homeless Count in Hillsborough County. The next count is scheduled for January 27, 2011.