Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Project Five-Star

Project Five-Star Overview

Project Five Star is a conceptual process for the elimination of homelessness. At it’s core it will provide safe, secure shelter and high quality food for individual male and female adults who are homeless. It will provide basic education and specialized education so that these homeless people will be able to find jobs upon the completion of the program. It will provide necessary medical, dental and optical services for those that are part of its program. It will provide them for an outlet for their talents and use income from that to help sustain operations.
The buildings needed will consist of: 4 10-story buildings suitable for dormitories. Each building will house 250 men or women. One building, set in the center of the four other buildings, will serve as a medical/dental clinic, a classroom area, and administrative offices.
Each dormitory building will have an exercise area on each floor, as well as a dining hall on each floor. Food for each building will be prepared within that building, cooked to the standard of a five-star restaurant by Five-Star members, served by Three-Star members. The staff for this operation will be trained and supervised by a certified professional, and taken from the those within the program who are willing to abide by the rules of the Five-Star program. The cleaning staff for each building will also be taken from those within the Five-Star and Three-Star program, trained and supervised by a certified professional, also be expected to provide services equal to a five-star hotel and be willing to abide by the rules of the Five-Star program.
Within each building each program member will be assigned his or her individual room. 250 rooms per building, 25 members per floor. One member per room, no exceptions. Each room will have a bed, television set, a bathroom with a shower and other amenities depending on the level of program they volunteer for. The size of the room will likely be small, but with enough room to walk around in.
Each building will have access to wifi, however no pornographic sites will be allowed and internet usage should be monitored by a staff consisting of trained and certified five-star program members.
Absolutely no drugs or alcohol is allowed within any shelter building. All guests will be thoroughly searched and recommend using drug sniffing dogs at the entrance of each building. Members caught with alcohol on their person will be permanently banned from the program. One-Star program guests may come into the shelter under the influence, however they may not enter the three or five-star program while under the influence.
Five-Star Program
There are 3 levels of program members.
One-Star program guest are simply there to have a place to sleep and food to eat. Their rooms have the basics outlined above, and nothing more. One-Star guests may use the medical clinic for basic health maintenance, but may only use the training program if space is available, based on a first-come-first-served waiting list. One-Star members can use the case management services provided within the shelter to find jobs and suitable housing. One-Star members will be assigned rooms on a space-available basis. Once rooms are filled, there will be no more rooms assigned. One-Star members will have to leave in the morning, and  return in the afternoon to see if they will receive a room. They are not guaranteed a room every night.
Three-Star program guests are expected to work, either within the program or at outside jobs. They are expected to save their money and use the resources within the shelter to find alternative housing. They are guaranteed a room and have second choice of training classes. All three-star program members must pass a drug screen and alcohol test before being admitted into the program. Three-Star members have access to a small washer and dryer in their rooms and a drop down ironing board and iron. Three-Star members also have access to a computer within their room.
Five-Star program guests have the highest level of expectation. They are guaranteed a room. They are expected to enter one of the Five-Star training programs, which include cooking, cleaning, and computer certification. Other training programs may become available. They are expected to be at work on time, be prepared to work to the satisfaction of their Five-Star trainer and maintain a professional demeanor. Profanity will not be tolerated from Five-Star members. Five-Star members will have the same amenities as Three-Star, and will be issued a laptop computer for use with their classes. Once the Five-Star training program of choice is completed, the member must use the resources of the shelter to find permanent employment and housing.

Both Five-Star and Three-Star members will be randomly tested for drugs or alcohol in their system. Any presence detected will result in removal from the Three or Five-Star program, but will not prevent them from being accepted as a One-Star member.

Training Programs
Basic training programs will consist of GED training and testing. Arrangements may be made with a local college to provide training to the equivalent of an Associate’s Degree. Five-Star program members will have their education paid for with a combination of Federal and Project funds. No loans should be applied for by these members up to the Associate’s level. Three-Star members will have help filing their Financial Aid packages, but the members should apply for loans and Grants to cover their non-Project related training.

Project training should include the Five-Star Food Preparation/Chef training, the Five-Star Hotel Maintenance training, the Five Star Computer Maintenance/Networking training, a Five Star Landscaping training, Medical/Dental Assistant training, Security training, Administrative training, Multimedia training (including creation of online content, published content, audio and video recording). Chauffer training (with drivers driving members to certain destinations via van.)

While the initial costs of the project can be expected to be high, once the buildings are built and furnished, the month-to-month costs will be covered in the following ways:
Medical costs: The cost of maintaining the medical facilities will be covered by Medicare/Medicaid billing where possible.
Other costs: Those costs not provided by government grants or private donations will be covered by selling various Five-Star Services, including Landscaping, computer repair, set up and troubleshooting, as well as Internet services such as Web Design and maintenance. The possibility exists for establishing a Five-Star restaurant close to the shelter grounds. The recording studio will not only be an outlet for members, but the results of the recording sessions will be made available for purchase online. Other shelter-made products could also be sold online to help defer costs.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Cost of Being Homeless: Part 4 - Solutions?

If, like me, you're tired of the whole homeless rants I've been posting lately, and saying 'Why don't you do something about it rather than sit there complaining?', then I've got the blog for you. What follows are some of the things I've seen that present a solution to the problem, and my own suggestions on how to permanently fix the problem.
Occasionally in the shelter, we get guest speakers. We had such a team come in Wednesday and present themselves as trying to help, especially those with criminal backgrounds who might have a hard time finding a job because of it. They offered help in the form of classes to get you over that hump of having to answer the questions regarding your criminal history.
While the group held no particular help for me, since I don't have a criminal history to speak of, they did offer a certain hope and motivation for others in the shelter. More power to them.
There are other such entities floating around Raleigh. All of them seem to be after a particular niche of homelessness: Either you're doped up or an alcoholic, or just out of prison. There doesn't seem to be an organization aimed at my particular needs. I am what's classified as an 'able bodied male' and I am expected to get out there and find a job doing anything I can. No matter that I am not really able to stand for long periods of time, am not fast enough for fast food preparation, am not really fit enough for physical work. I did try, once, to be an installer for Dish Network. That lasted 3 months. I don't have the physical stamina to do a job that requires physical labor. They don't call me 'big guy' for nothing, though there are far 'bigger guys' in the shelter.
So I need an indoor, office job. I've spent time trying to assess my own skills, and they are substantial. For instance, in addition to my writing skills, I have some web development skills. I know the ins and outs of HTML and Javascript. The problem? I have no real experience. My experience comes from designing my own web sites, and those have all gone by the wayside. I could get certified in all the computer skills I have, but each certification costs money. I don't have any to spare.
Now my situation may be slightly better than the average homeless person, except for that they can do the physical labor while I can't. I do have marketable skills. The problem them becomes where are the jobs in this immediate area? I don't have a car, I need something that is on the bus line and that works while the buses run. I got as far as an interview with Time Warner Cable in the Morrisville center, was going to get a job offer (this was about 2 years ago) and then I was asked how would I get to and from work, and would I work the late shift? That stopped me cold. TTA doesn't run that late to Morrisville and taking a taxi would be prohibitive. So I did not get that job.
Okay then. What is the solution? First, we need to take religion out of the shelters. I'm not anti-religion, but I think spiritual help needs to be separate. Second, we need to get government out of the shelter business, because they are only interested in getting people out of the shelter as soon as possible. So what we need is a non-profit organization, that may get a little help from the government to get started, but would be better off getting a starting donation from someone with more money than they need. Someone who is less interested in profit and more interested in helping people. Let's build a shelter around two things: The health and safety of homeless people, men and women, and the training of those men and women for the jobs that are available now and in the future.
So build a new shelter, with today's technology, using homeless people as the builders, training them as you go forward. The shelter would have solar panels, the latest technology, the fastest internet and wifi, and more importantly, one room for each occupant. It will be a small room, with a small bathroom. Privacy issues solved, more or less. The cooking and cleaning staff will be made up of the homeless people, trained to cook and clean to five star hotel standards. The food will be nutritious and in sufficient quantity and diversity to satisfy every person's taste and medical needs.
There will be a medical facility there, for the health, dental and optical needs of the homeless. There will be a training facility there, to make sure everyone has at least a high school education, and specific job training for the jobs that are available in that area. Have computer jobs in your area? Train and certify for the specific skills that employers want. Have a need for builders? Let's get people trained and certified on the latest technology and equipment so they can move right into those jobs. Need office skills? Let's get people trained on that too!
And now, the most important question of all, who's going to pay for it all? Initially a grant from that wealthy and generous individual would help matters considerably. Let's get some of the local businesses together, since it's their jobs we want to fill. Maybe they can even provide trainers and equipment.
But I'd like this project to be self-funding over time. So let's do this: There are a lot of talented people in shelters. I kid about the singing talents of some of the residents, but some of them have fine voices. Let's add a recording studio to the list of services we offer and let residents record themselves. Then we can sell the results over the internet, on pages designed by the residents too! We can offer our own web design services, our own landscaping services, our own cleaning services, and after wages are paid to the homeless workers who do the job, the rest of the fee goes toward running the shelter.
My my, what a paradise. Who would want to leave? Exactly why most shelters are not comfortable and friendly, because no one would want to leave them. Yet leave they must. Set a timetable for earning money, finding a job outside the shelter and then finding a place to live. That sort of thing exists now.
It's a dream. I hope it's not a pipe dream. If, someday, I get some money together, I'd like to try doing it myself. Use Raleigh as a testing ground. Let's see if this will work. Anyone out there want to try to do something about homeless people rather than complain about it or ignore it? Let's see hands?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Cost of Being Homeless: Part 3 - Health

In the last episode of this blog, I touched on the subject of health issues in homeless shelters. Let's dig a little deeper.
Let's face it, most homeless people aren't in the best of shape upon entering the shelter. Part of losing a home, and living outside for even a day or so at a time can take its toll. So when you combine 300 men in a shelter, some of them are going to be sick. Which means you stand a good chance of catching whatever it is they have. Colds, flu and coughs run rampant through a shelter, especially in winter months.
And what about people with allergies? I'm allergic to a lot of different things, including cigarette smoke and perfumes and colognes. People can't smoke in the shelter, but they come in reeking of cigarette smoke. My own symptoms range from coughing and hacking, to sneezing and migraine headaches. With the smells that permeate a shelter, it's no wonder people try to cover it up with cologne, even though they've been told not to, repeatedly.
Then there's other health issues, like lice, which I touched on briefly earlier. The mattresses in the emergency dorms are sprayed down every morning by the cleaning staff, but that doesn't solve the problem of people coming in with lice. Just sitting next to a man who is scratching is enough to spread it.
Mental health issues run rampant in a shelter. People talk to themselves, people yell out in rage or in sickness. OCD people do OCD things. These are things the normal person might see once in a while, from one or two people they know or meet. It's seen every day in the shelter.
Men fall out of beds. Men have seizures. Men have disabilities, and a few of them get disability payments because of that. Others with a disability wait to get their claim processed. More than a year in some cases. I do not claim problems with mental health. I am not disabled. I have allergies, and I get migraines. Technically, I should be taking medication for High Blood Pressure and Diabetes, but health care, while it is available, is generally hard to come by and expensive.
There are programs that will pay for prescription drugs -once, and a free clinic offers a nurse to come by twice a month. But that's not enough to care for 300+ men. So they go to the Emergency Room, mostly at Wake Med. Wake Med will charge them for the visit, but as my mother used to say, 'You can't get blood from a turnip.' So the bills go unpaid, written off by Wake Med. Guess who pays for that?
Finally, there's the general wear and tear that living in a shelter can do to a man's body and spirit. No one likes to live in the shelter. We'd all like better lives. When we can't get that for one reason or another, despair might start to sink in. I have no data on the suicide rate of homeless people, but it's something that happens.
Just chalk it up to being another cost we who are homeless have to bear.
This is all coming to a head, people. There are a lot of things that GOVERNMENT can and should do to fix this situation. I'll cover that in a later blog.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Cost of Being Homeless: Part 2 - Privacy/Solitude

Most people would lump privacy with solitude, and I guess they share a few things in common. But for me, they are two different things. Solitude is when I need to be alone with my thoughts; privacy is when people feel the need to interject themselves in whatever I'm doing.
That distinction made, being a writer who relies mostly on his imagination, I yearn to be alone with my thoughts at times. The only place to do this in the shelter is in the dorm. And even then, your chances of being interrupted are pretty high. Men come into the dorm talking, mostly to themselves, and have no idea or every idea how loud they are. Not just in talking, but in the others sounds they make. Too many of them will wear flip flops or other shoes/sandals that make a loud noise whenever they step. This is quite distracting to someone who just wants some peace and quiet.
Just last night and into this morning I had a migraine (more on health costs in a later blog), brought on by someone who decided to sing into a voice recorder and then play back his terrible singing over and over again. This was just before dinner, and I ate as quickly as possible and attempted to retreat into the dorm for a little quiet time, because noises in general tend to make the migraine worse.
But getting quiet time is impossible in a dorm setting. Flip Flop, Flip Flop, over and over again. There's one guy that I call the 'Sniffer' because he will sniff in over and over again, 20 times or more, an obnoxious sound that really makes my skin crawl. I've tried to tell him to blow it out rather than sniff it in, but he won't listen to me.
Anyway, trying to get quiet time in a dorm is like expecting spring to come to Alaska in January. Ain't gonna happen.
Privacy is another, similar issue, brought on by the fact that there are 300 men living in this shelter. For instance, I'm sitting at a table in the Dining Hall, typing on my computer or playing a game. I sometimes have a bottle of Mountain Dew beside me. One of two things will happen: Either someone, seeing the Mountain Dew and assuming I have money, asks me for 35 cents or a dollar. Mind you, I've never really met this guy. He's just someone in the shelter.
There is no law, written or unwritten, that says I have to give what little money I have to other residents of the shelter. I always, ALWAYS say no. That does not stop them from asking. Sometimes I think about putting a sign by my computer that just says 'NO!' But that would be 'uncooperative behavior.'
The second thing that happens is they make a comment about my computer. 'You got internet on that?' 'What you doing?' 'What game is that?' 'You writing?' 'Can I charge my phone on your computer?' It's endless.
When I do finally get my Cricket broadband card, I'm going to have to hide the fact that I have internet, or I'll have people wanting to check their email, or surf the web on my dime.
I had one guy just the other day who sat close to me, watching me type. I noticed he was scratching. Soon I was scratching. A shower had to be taken. I took mine, I doubt he took his.
And speaking along that line, when someone sits close to me and I can smell them, it's time for me to move. Thankfully that's not a problem at the library - most of the time. Yet the whole smell issue is something that is really hard for people outside of the shelter to grasp. Think of the scene in 'Trading Places,' where the girlfriend, waiting to bail out Dan Ackroyd's character, sprays a homeless guy with perfume (that's another health issue). Why people would want to smell like that is beyond me, but it is yet another cost of being homeless. Either you smell or the person who sits next to you smells. Are we having fun yet? NO!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Cost of Being Homeless: Part 1 - Free Speech

Over the weekend I had put together a 3 page, single-spaced diatribe on what to expect when becoming homeless in Raleigh. It occurred to me, though, that people don't want to read how bad things are for homeless people. They might want to hear about overcoming homelessness, as this link suggests. Then after further reflection, the costs of being homeless finally came to mind. Not the monetary kind of costs, but other costs. This is the first of a new series of articles, short articles, I promise, that will cover those costs.
Let's start with the most important cost of all. LOSS OF FREE SPEECH.
When you become homeless and complain about it, people get turned off. It happens. 'Get a job' and things like that. I can't complain about how bad things are because people will think of me as a whiny, ungrateful bastard. 'You're getting everything for free and you have the nerve to complain about it?'
The problem with that, is things are so bad that complaints need to be registered and heard. If people tune me out because I complain about the 'free' food and 'free' shelter, then things will never improve. And they need to improve, or things will never get any better. Trust me, they need to get better, or the whole homeless situation will never go away.
And it's not just outside the shelter where free speech is lost. I can't complain to a person who's in a bunk next to me, because he refuses to take a shower and is stinking the entire dorm. He just tells me to 'F*ck off.'
Complaining to staff frequently falls on deaf ears, because they are understaffed and overworked, and since they have heard it all before, they think they can ignore you and get away with it. And they do.
Because no one likes to hear how bad a homeless person has it. Because everything is free.
Anyone else see a problem here? Or am I just talking to myself?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dopey Malopie

All right, first, I want to say that I have no idea where the name for this character I created came from. My imagination must have taken a left turn at Albuquerque or something.
Yes, the name of my main character on my proposed children's book is Malopie, rhymes with Dopey. Malopie Miller. I haven't settled on an age yet, but I think she'll (yes she) be around 7 or 8.
I had planned on calling the book Magic Malopie, but first that would have made it hard to pronounce the name correctly, and well, at first, she is kind of Dopey. So Dopey Malopie gives kids and parents a base for pronouncing the name right, and it's kind of funny.
So what's the premise? Malopie isn't good at anything, except telling people how to pronounce her name. She can't play soccer, she trips over the ball. She can't even jump rope. She can't add without using her fingers and toes and her handwriting is unreadable. She has tried and tried to find something she is good at but can't find it. Then on her birthday she receives a magic kit and finds she can not only do the tricks in the kit, but she can make up her own tricks. Card tricks especially. Near the end she makes herself a wand out of paper mache and a drumstick, and tries to teach others about magic. At the end she is no longer called 'Dopey Malopie', but is now called 'Magic Malopie,' which could lead to a whole series of books like that.
Now, I've never written a children's book. I'm not sure what age group it would appeal to, whether it should be a picture book (though I get a picture in my head of the wand, a barber pole style of color (every color) and a light at the end her father puts on.) or even a pop up book.
So, I need help. If you are an experienced writer of children's books and want to collaborate with me on this, we can make a partnership. Send me an email at mike.fox.wow 'at' gmail.com, and we'll talk about it.
Beyond that, the lesson learned, and this is something I've believed in my whole life, is that everyone is good at something, you just need to dig deep enough to find out what!

A Good Weekend!

On Saturday morning, I met a friend who had invited me to see a movie with her. 'Pirates of the Caribbean.' It was a most enjoyable afternoon, spent away from the stagnancy that is the shelter. The movie was better than expected as well! I may write about that later.
When I did get back to the shelter, one of the staff told me I had a check waiting for me. I was elated, the NC DOR had come through. I found, though, that the check was not delivered through the normal mail system that the shelter uses. In fact, checks are held in a back office. I was not aware of this and had been checking the mail every day in anticipation. When I did get the check, I found that it had been delivered 5/17 and had been sitting in the back office since then. Why no one bothered to tell me this is anyone's guess.
I could rant about that, but I'll have a chat with the center director at a later time.
Also on Saturday night, I was doing a bit of daydreaming, as is my wont, and my imagination came up with a children's story, or at least the framework for it. I've had a chance to think about it consciously for a day and a half now and I think it could work. But that I will discuss in another blog, because I'll need help on this one.
On Sunday, I cashed my check and bought a new phone. Feels good to be connected again and have a number potential employers can call. I also bought some underwear and socks, something potential employers would appreciate if I get to the interview stage.
I checked into Cricket, but I think I'll wait until I get a few more dollars under my belt before I commit to that.
So overall, I had a very happy weekend and I'm looking forward to the week for a change! I'll post another blog shortly about my book proposal.