What is a Bridge Shelter Program?
It is defined by the concept that this shelter is a stop on the way to permanent or rapid re-housing. At the moment, staying here is indefinite.
There Goes The ‘Hood
The Barrio Logan/Downtown San Diego East Village border area has been covered recently in the local news as a hot location for local residents’ outrage, misinformed racism, and shock over the proliferation of homeless people circulating in its touristic areas. I’m Orlando Barahona, a local guide on Google Maps, an author and an activist against homelessness in San Diego. I’d like to offer you my insider’s view as a client of the Alpha Project Temporary Bridge Program near Barrio Logan for a less prejudiced view of this remarkable emergency shelter.
After my last OpEd for the San Diego Free Press was published, what I can only describe as the ancient Chinese curse “May you lead an interesting life” had me live another round of experiences as lessons in the Art of Homelessness.
Proposition 63 provides funds to several Recovery programs for substance use — it is no longer PC to use the word “abuse” by the Behavioral Health Advisory Board and Mental Health programs, residential or not — It is also one source of income for programs fostering Mental Health education and Recovery as well. Thank you Prop 63!
I suffer from both a Bipolar 1 Disorder and a Major Depressive Disorder, which I can only describe as feeling some mornings as if the earth were calling me to make me its own. These conditions are just states I’ve come to accept as parts of me, quite like any physical attribute.
“And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
When I had a minute to sit down and work on my timeline of events leading to my homelessness, I used both PowerPoint and Excel to find something exciting: my manic cycles surge in intensity and discomfort after four months of staying in any program. Knowing myself better every year is rad! Hmm. I’m starting to absorb and flaunt Californian expressions! Right-on!
After what seems to be apparent as a rut of unfortunate events, I have come into a holding pattern into permanent supportive housing. My support team includes a Medical Case Manager at Neighborhood House Association, my mental and physical health squad at Owen Clinic in Mission Hills and Episcopal Community Services’ Friend to Friend Clubhouse now in Downtown San Diego.
Friend to Friend outreach workers have managed to complete my VI-SPDAT (“Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool”), for which I scored thirteen on the scale that can reach up to eighteen, and after becoming a member expedited my referral for permanent supportive housing. Thank you, F2F. Other agencies offer the same assessment.
None of this would be possible without a reduced fare disabled bus pass. Most people forget that some of the best agencies are scattered around San Diego County and so many homeless individuals and families have a need to advocate for much more inclusive disability passes with MTS to change their lives. MTS is slow to accommodate mental illnesses, compared to it’s accommodation of physical disabilities, and this is wrong. Eighteen dollars a month for a bus pass is a pittance, compared to the current full and student fares. Shame on them! Don’t you think being on the streets is a traumatic experience? After my own, I vowed to contribute to the change in this system of poverty and ignorance.
A note: Neighborhood House Association has a contract with Lyft to pick up clients and bring them in for appointments. Ask your Case Manager at the organization if you are an HIV-positive individual. Some public clinics and other agencies offer similar services to non-HIV+ persons, yours to ask for.
The Wilderness of Mirrors
However, I have also come to understand that some of the homeless population groups are pointing in a direction I did not expect to notice: many prefer being outdoors rather than being in the hands of the government. Is this an evolution in our so-called Democracy?
Theories aside, a disproportionate group of the homeless are found in the seductive world of substances. Methamphetamine and Heroin are so easy to find that now a chasm between addicts and Recovery from latent physical and psychiatric conditions seems impossible. If I can recall correctly, there is a ruthlessly callous expression I found in a crime novel by Patricia Cornwell: “Poor neighborhoods are self-cleaning ovens.” Perhaps I am paraphrasing here, but it rings pitifully true. The death count is staggering: 377 people ceased to live in 2016.
And The Winner is…
Alpha Project! Yay, guys! The following are facts and impressions of this space-age looking shelter:
- These people run a tight ship, indeed: any threats of violence, bad behavior in general and substances introduced into the shelter merit an immediate exit from the program.
- It’s Co-Ed and security personnel’s supervision makes it safe to stay within bounds and encourage respect.
- Petty thefts occur as par for the course, so I keep all my valuables with me in a messenger bag as well as some of my personal grooming items in another man-bag, which include hair clippers and tweezers (for unsightly nose hairs).
- Important: because sexuality and gender identity seem to not be an issue, I would encourage fluently LGBT people to avoid staring at someone for more than 2 seconds, which can be perceived as a come-on. Proxemics is alarmingly relevant in this space.
- What is offered to watch on the two enormous flat-screen televisions is put to a vote amongst residents.
- Clients of this shelter are offered meals, but I might campaign to encourage common sense in understanding that some meals are mushy food because of a few people with dentures or no teeth.
- Portable showers offer relief and hygiene. Portable restrooms are cleaned every day. Hand-washing stations proliferate like wildflowers in and out of the shelter. Healthcare workers come often to offer vaccinations against most STDs and especially for Hep A.
- Instead of being expelled every morning, I can stay and work on myself by meditating, practicing Mindfulness exercises, studying and hopefully, playing some chess with other residents. Why loiter around town?
- Also important: Alpha dogs (to be clear, not staff) among the clients can be spotted quickly by the speed in which the greeting and welcome occur, so I pre-empt the impression of being the submissive person by introducing myself first.
- Outreach workers remain in the building in full shifts, so there is little excuse to not follow-up on progress in housing.
- Two meals are served every day and some snacks are served in the morning in lieu of breakfast. Coffee is offered every day, in generous portions. Thank you, donors!
To be fair, I am including the very few items to criticize:
- Companion animals are allowed. Ugh! Noise at night is prevalent and some people allow the animals to defecate at random, which is something that staff is quick to correct.
- I find it necessary to admonish my peers to find rolling trunks with locks to prevent theft.
- Only eight to twelve items can be washed in one week.
That’s it! Excellent work shows in the versatility of the conditions and rules by which clients abide. Some kind and enlightened soul must have thought those through and for that I am grateful. Kudos to Alpha Project! On a personal note, I am also grateful to Peter Seidler, managing partner of the Padres for his commitment to providing personal funds for the tents.
What is next for me? I do not worry and remain in the present, a concept from which Mindfulness has sprung forth as a modern biopsychosocial philosophy.
“Depression resides in the past and Anxiety in the future.”
I hope to share with you later on details of a recent event that has anchored me in my Recovery: I am dating again, after three years of loneliness! Knowing professionals and peers contractually bound to not be my friends due to Ethical codes and HIPAA requirements feels indubitably alienating internally. The next chapter shall reveal itself. Thank you for your support!
“Skin and clothes are merely costumes of the souls we are.”
— Orlando Barahona
Image: © Jim Gottlieb/Flickr