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.