By Donna Westfall – February 1, 2017 – I spent the morning interviewing Mike Justice, the Director of Our Daily Bread Ministries (ODBM). Justice has a long history in this town. His grandparents started what is now Renner Petroleum. His parents took it over. After 44 years of combined family ownership, they sold it to a party that put it out of business in short order. The Renners picked it up at auction.
In his personal life, Mike Justice is very open about his problems with the law and addictions. He spent time in rehab and time being homeless. He knows intimately the pressures of being homeless which is what makes him so much more knowledgeable than most others. When he turned his life over to God, his life changed for the better.
Specifically we went over the 2-page survey used for the Point In Time (PIT) and Mike’s suggestions for a simpler survey, the important questions and the questions to eliminate and his reasons why.
MJ: “Funding is coming into this town, but I think it’s for the wrong use. Let me explain. They are attempting to get the chronic homeless off the streets…. the ones that have been homeless for more than three years. That’s not going to happen. They will move into a place but as soon as there are rules they have to obey, they’ll leave. The homeless we need to go after are the ones in the one to three year range. They will be far easier to help.”
DW: What are the important questions on the PIT survey?
MJ: Knowing if they have a pet and if the pet limits their access to housing. Many homeless consider their pet(s) as family and will not give them up.
DW: What other questions were important on the PIT survey and why?
MJ: Knowing if someone was in foster care is an important question. Spending time in foster care and being shifted from foster home to foster home, they don’t learn a lot of life skills like managing their money and making good decisions.
DW: What about the question, “Are you couch surfing?”
MJ: That a good question, because there are four different levels of homelessness.
1.) Couch surfing which means sleeping at a friend or relatives house temporarily.
2.) Living in the car.
3.) Living in an RV or trailer but the power is off along with water and sewer.
4.) Bartering for a roof over their head. For instance, going to someone and asking if they can stay in their garage or shed in exchange if they mow their lawn.
MJ: The survey is too complicated, they’re asking too many personal questions and it is being done at the wrong time of the year. The survey should be done during the summer, more people would show up. During the winter times, they are more reluctant to leave their camp and worry about their stuff being stolen.
DW: Which questions would you eliminate and why?
MJ: I would eliminate asking where they spent last night because the homeless don’t want to divulge where their camps are. If people find out they’re not at their spot, their stuff will get stolen.
MJ: I would eliminate any of the personal questions, like date of birth. The homeless are afraid of being arrested. Even though this survey states it is confidential, if information leaked out it can be used against them. Like sex offenders. Or people with restraining orders out against each other. In ODBM we accept everyone equally and treat them equally. If they’re hungry, we feed them. If they need a shower, we provide that. If they need clothes we have a lot of gently used clothes they can chose from. Our motto is to feed body, soul and spirit with the love of Jesus.”
DW: What other services does ODBM provide the homeless?
MJ: We do “passport services”. That means we write letters verifying they are homeless in order to get them help with an agency. Also, we have rules and we pray. Sometimes we can’t apply for grants because they stipulate no praying. Some of our rules are that when the meal is over, they have to leave the premises and not hang out on the street bothering any of the businesses or the neighbors. If they do, they are not allowed back in. We try to treat everyone equally. Another organization would get food in and before distributing it to the needy, they would let their workers and volunteers have first pick. We don’t do that at ODBM.
Also, before 2008, we used to get in 100 sleeping bags and tents to give away. We don’t get that anymore. So if anyone has any to donate, we’d appreciate it.
DW: Thanks for your time, Mike. This has been educational.
One thought on “Counting the Homeless – Part 3”
If I were doing something about the homeless problem, I would split the problem starting at those who are caught stealing and those who haven’t. This includes running into Safeway or Rite-Aid to steal alcohol.
I would then have two groups. Those who I would refuse to help and those who I would keep on the list to help.
Of those left on the list, I would separate out those with serious mental health issues that require more serious intervention. A separate program would have to be in place to deal with those with serious mental health issues.
Of the remainder, I would now know where to put resources which include providing temporary housing opportunities, offering clothing, and vouchers for transportation services if needed.
100% of those who are in need of help who are not literate, this would be a required program: Services will not be provided to those who refuse to work to learn basic reading and writing skills. I find it unacceptable for people to refuse to learn how to do this.
I have been homeless a few times in my life, so i’m very familiar with issues of being homeless. Crescent City does not invite homeless populations but it doesn’t serve to stem the problems very well. The city does not have the resources at the city and county levels to address all the issues but the community as a whole can. Instead of making things difficult for agencies and groups like Daily Bread Ministries, we need to be supportive of their mission as it is a noble and the support is badly needed.
I don’t have the answers for those who keep stealing or thieving. There is a small population that is doing this, but the resources to help those should NOT be spent on those people. The resources should be spent on those who actually want to get back on their feet and stay on their feet. If there are resources after that, then they can be wasted on the idiots who don’t want to change.