[Hpn] Transcript: Washington Post Interview of Michael Stoops, Excutive Director, National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH); Washington Post; 7/26/2005
Morgan W. Brown
Morgan W. Brown" <email@example.com
Mon, 1 Aug 2005 15:16:28 -0400
My apologies if you have already come across the following. -- mwb
July 30, 2005
Schizophrenia Daily News Blog
Interview: National Coalition For the Homeless:
Found at Washington Post:
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National Coalition for the Homeless
Acting Executive Director for the Washington, D.C.-Based National
Coalition for the Homeless (NCH)
Tuesday, July 26, 2005; 2:30 PM
Michael Stoops, acting executive director for the Washington,
D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) [
http://www.nationalhomeless.org/ ], was online Tuesday, July 26, at
2:30 p.m. ET to discuss homelessness in the Washington, D.C., area and
the work of the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Stoops has been working full-time (primarily as a volunteer) with
homeless/formerly homeless people and homeless advocacy groups since
1972. He was a founding board member of NCH, and joined NCH's staff in
Stoops is the project director for NCH's National Homeless Civil
Rights Organizing Project. He also serves as the project director of
NCH's Faces of Homelessness Speakers' Bureau. He is one of the
founding members of the North American Street Newspaper Association
and serves presently on its board of directors.
The transcript follows.
Michael Stoops: Welcome, thank you for all of your questions and being
part of this live discussion brought to you by the National Coalition
for the Homeless.
Please feel free to contact us after this program if you have
additional questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-462-4822.
Washington, D.C.: In the "homeless advocacy" literature, the lack of
affordable housing is primarily to blame for homelessness. But the
curious thing is, how little "advocates" devote to investigating the
causes of the shortage. If it's addressed at all, the usual
explanation is that government has not devoted enough taxpayer dollars
to create "affordable housing." Why the hesitancy in fully
understanding this root cause of homelessness?
Michael Stoops: We think we know the causes of the shortage of
affordable housing. What we do know is that all levels of government
aren't doing enough in addressing the affordable housing crisis.
We also know that communities rarely "want" to affordable housing
units built in their neighborhoods. This "Not in my back yard"
mentality creates a situation where there is no real drive for
affordable housing to be created expect from advocates and low income
people who rarely control resources.
Los Angeles, Calif.: You have been working in this field since
1972--what have homeless advocates accomplished during the past 30
years? The problems seem worse, not better.
Michael Stoops: We have made significant progress even if it may seem
like the opposite. We have helped many thousands get off the streets.
When I began there was virtually no federal funds for emergency
shelter or affordable housing, although we still are sorely
underfunding emergency shelter and affordable housing at the federal
and state level we make small progress every year to increase those
badly needed funds.
Do to our efforts the majority of Americans are concerned about this
issue proving that our awareness and education efforts have had an
impact. We still have a long way to go to end homelessness for all
people but with every year we come closer.
College Park, Md.: Thank you for taking my question. I am a college
student and I would really like to volunteer at a homeless shelter as
a mentor or tutor for children of the shelter. Is this a possibility?
I didn't know what the process would be for volunteering in a local
shelter. I would love to help but I don't know where to start.
Michael Stoops: Shelters always need people to help, especially family
shelters with children. Contact our office at
email@example.com and we can refer you to a shelter in your
Washington, D.C.: Like all of us who work in D.C., I walk by many
homeless men and women each day. As I'm sure that I am not alone in
this, I cannot help but feel a moral dilemma as I see the same people
day in and day out seeking money from me and others near the metro
stations and near my place of employment. The moral dilemma that I
face is, "Should I give money to them?" or "Shouldn't I?" It is
disheartening and sad to see the same people having to beg each day
and I give when I can, but am I acting as an enabler by giving money?
In your opinion, does my giving and others giving money to the
homeless act as a disincentive for them to seek out a shelter or help
from a place like the NCH?
Michael Stoops: This is the most common question that we get. We
support the right and choice of people to give or not to give and we
support the right of people to ask for money. Homeless people asking
for money on the streets really do need it. There are always a few
scammers among any class of people. In addition to needing money
people need someone to say hello, smile, offer a friendly handshake,
and ask their name. If you choose not to give you should always
acknowledge a person.
Washington, D.C.: Michael, Why do you think there are so many homeless
people in the nation's capital? I work near Franklin Square in NW DC
and I see homeless people all the time. What's going on?
Michael Stoops: Washington DC has one of the most visible homeless
populations of any city in the country. You would assume that the
world's capitol would be a model for capitol cities, however
homelessness persists. We don't have enough emergency shelter beds or
sufficient low income housing units for the majority of our poorest
There are homeless people in every community in this country, the
visibility issue is controlled by the number of shelter beds and the
cities commitment to their most vulnerable population.
Washington, D.C.: Has there been an influx of Gypsy/Romani people to
the D.C. area lately? I've seen more begging on the streets in the
last month than ever before.
Michael Stoops: The stereotype of all "beggers" being Gypsy or
Romanian in America is incorrect. People pandhandle for various
Not all homeless people pandhandle and not all panhandlers are homeless.
Washington D.C.: I am wondering, in your opinion, how much has
changed, or have we progressed at all over the years in respects to
homelessness in the city? If so, what is presently being done to
further the decline of homelessness. If not, who are the people that
need convincing and what is there view on how to fix this problem.
What needs to be done or said in order to get the right folks to
listen and make the needed changes?
Michael Stoops: In 1984 DC voters overwhelmingly passed a right to
shelter ordinance, during that same time period there was great media
attention given to this issue as well as celebrity involvement. That
created the ground swell for the passage of Federal homeless
legislation in 1987.
Due to a growing backlash and a sluggish economy DC voters rejected by
a narrow margin the right to shelter law in 1990. Since that time
homelessness has continue to increase.
Local advocates as well as ourselves continue to work on not only
prevention but programs that will address current emergency shelter
issues outreach in DC.
Washington, D.C.: What percentage of homeless people are thought to
have some type of mental illness? When they go to a shelter, can they
get help, or just a bed?
Michael Stoops: Most studies say that 30% of homeless people have a
mental health issue. Many more have never been diagnosed or treated.
It is a tragedy that we have literally thrown our mentality ill out
onto the streets of downtown America.
It depends on the shelter. We estimate that half of all shelters
provide the basics, food and shelter. The other half are able to
provide case management and health services. However there are more
mentally ill folks then there are resources available to treat their
Denver, Colo.: Mr. Stoops-Thank you for taking the time to share your
thoughts with us today. I participated in the Urban Plunge this past
March in San Francisco, and certainly received a unique experience and
perspective. I would like to ask you what you and the coalition try to
provide through the Urban Plunge, and what other programs you sponsor
and work through to introduce people to issues facing homeless men and
Michael Stoops: We had a great experience with your group in San
Francisco. We are pleased that the experience was a meaningful one for
you. The Washingtonpost.com just put a video of a plunge group in D.C.
online. These students were from the University of Florida.
We have a unique educational program called the Faces of Homelessness
Speakers' Bureau where we take currently and formerly homeless
individuals out to schools and community groups to teach about
homelessness. We feel that education and awareness especially among
young people is critical to ending homelessness.
The Urban Plunge and the speakers' bureau travel around the country
and reach thousands of people every year.
This is especially important in light of the recent trend of some
young people committing hate crimes and violence against homeless
Philadelphia, Pa.: Several panhandlers repeat the same story, they
were from some small community, and people in that community gave them
money to come to Philadelphia. Is this a panhandling con of some kind,
or do other communities really pay to send their panhandlers to
relocate in other cities?
Michael Stoops: We stories of cities sending their homeless people to
other cities or homeless people going to other cities seeking help.
Homeless people don't travel as much as they used to. Homeless people
don't go from one city to another to be homeless again, they generally
stay in their home communities in which they have more familiarity.
Washington, D.C.: What are some of the key reasons that you find for
people becoming homeless? I've heard about vets, mental illness,
battered women with kids, series of bad events that simply leads to no
other place to go, etc... But statistically, why do so many people
find themselves without homes?
Michael Stoops: The 3 major causes of homelessness here in DC and
elsewhere are the lack of affordable housing, the lack of affordable
health care and poor paying jobs.
We could cut the homeless population in half (in a good way) if we
tackled these root causes of homelessness and poverty in America.
Washington, D.C.: We often see homeless folks when walking the dog,
heading to work, etc. We offer to buy meals on occasion or we pack up
some food (cereal/water/fruit?) to give to those we see at night. I'm
sure that it could be suggested to volunteer at a shelter or to donate
money to one... but if we'd like to continue doing one-on-one
contributions, what would you suggest? We've presumed that healthier
stuff is better (i.e., skip candies and sodas), but perhaps giving
someone a toothbrush or a t-shirt is a better option. Ultimately, it's
a personal preference of the recipient, but since you have a better
knowledge of the homeless population at large, what sort of
items/foods are most useful/desirable to someone on the street? Thank
Michael Stoops: If you prefer to work on an individual basis one of
the most important things you can offer is your time and friendship.
If you see the same people every day make sure you know their name and
begin to find out their story. That way you can find out what they
need and want instead of having to guess what they could use. Each
person is an individual, one may need new socks and someone else would
need toothbrush. Your friendship is invaluable.
Washington, D.C.: Do you think D.C. has any sort of adequate plan to
reduce homelessness and begging over the long term? I've seen
virtually no improvement in my years here...
Also, what are the intersections between lack of health care (esp.
mental health) and drug/alcohol treatment and homelessness? It seems
most homeless are fairly insane and/or addicted, yet they're treated
like they just need a job....
Michael Stoops: Many cities including Washington DC have been
developing ten year plans or plans in general to end homelessness.
Talking about ending homelessness is one thing, doing it is another.
Unless we have additional substantial public and private resources
aimed at the root causes of homelessness we will continue to see
Baltimore, Md.: Mr. Stoops where is the coalition between local
governments ands developers and builders. How often do they get
together to plan and build affordable housing?
Michael Stoops: Local advocates and providers do attempt to work with
developers more partnerships need to be developed and public officials
can be the ones to bring all parties together.
Washington, D.C.: To what extent do you think the homelessness problem
can be attributed to the "deinstitutionalization" movement 20-odd
Michael Stoops: Deinstitutionalization as a practice began way back in
1959 in NY state. Mentally ill people were released from the hospitals
to the streets. Just about every state followed that practice.
President Kennedy initiated the community mental health centers but he
died before the law was enacted therefore of the 2000 community mental
health centers that were to be built less then 800 came to be. The
mentally ill have been a large part of our homeless population since
the 1960s. I don't see their situation improving in any city in
America. Mental health services are few and far between for all low
income and working Americans.
Southern Maryland: Years ago I worked at an organization that set up
cooperative housing in Third-World countries. I was merely a bottom
rung admin. assistant, but learned a lot there. World Bank, AID, and
other agencies would fund housing where people got housing, but had a
collective voice in how it was run. Certainly not like the rich
peoples' co-ops here in the States.
Is there some reason a co-op housing movement can't be started among
the lower-income sections, rather than having their dollars go into
the pocket of a greedy landlord, or be out on the streets? I've worked
and supported myself for 40 years and was never homeless. People have
to take responsibility for themselves and for their situation in life
and stop expecting hand-outs.
Michael Stoops: We support such initiatives as cooperative housing.
Countries like Canada are further ahead then us in promoting and
developing and promoting this alternative form of housing. Low income
people need a wide range of housing alternatives from single room
occupancy hotels, apartments, home ownership, and last but not least
Takoma Park, Md.: I'm hoping you can give me some advice. About two
years ago a neighbor took in a homeless man with his dog that she
noticed were sleeping in a small Takoma Park park. He is around 60
years old with some mental handicaps. He does have a job delivering
handbills door to door. He does not have a social security number and
has not been able to locate his birth certificate. He has since moved
out and is currently sleeping in a laundromat at night. Neighbors have
found a home for his dog but every place we have checked with,
Salvation Army, Goodwill, Melwood, they have offered no help or the
waiting list to get help is hundreds of people long. We have tried to
get him a room in various group houses but once people meet him, he is
never asked back. (He does mumble and ramble at times). Would the
Montgomery Coalition for the Homeless be able to help? He has such a
positive attitude about things. He is also very proud and I doubt that
he believes he has any mental handicaps. It is hard to get a lot of
history out of him but the neighborhood feels he must have been
homeless for many, many years. Any advice would be greatly
Michael Stoops: This is sadly an all to common situation. Please
contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org 202-462-4822 and we
can refer you to some providers or local coalitions.
Washington, D.C.: "This is especially important in light of the recent
trend of some young people committing hate crimes and violence against
Would you please elaborate on this comment? How does NCH's work relate
to hate crimes, and where do homeless crimes (not homeless on
homeless) and violence fit in that picture?
Michael Stoops: For the past six years we have documenting a growing
trend on hate crimes and violence committed against homeless people.
Over the past six years 156 homeless people have been killed and 230
have been victims of non-lethal attacks. Sadly the majority of these
crimes are committed by people under the age of 21. The majority of
the victims are middle age homeless men. A recent example happened in
Holly Hill FL on May 28th where 5 teens killed a homeless man who
weighed only 100 pounds. We are lobbying Congress for a Government
Accountability Office study on this important issue. Representative
Conyers from MI had taken the lead on this issue.
Washington, D.C.: In a meeting at 2:30, so posting early:
When are the authorities in this area going to realize and take action
on the fact that homelessness is a symptom of greater diseases: the
cost of housing in this area, even seemingly middle-class people who
are one house fire, medical crisis, or lost job away from being on the
streets, the lack of mental health care for the poor, and the lack of
a living wage? I spent four years volunteering at a family shelter in
Fairfax, and most of our residents were there for one of a few
reasons: uncontrolled mental illness, a crisis such as the working
spouse breaking his back while on a construction site as a day laborer
and thus no workman's comp or finding out that the parent whose name
the house is in has been raping his children, or a house fire, or
fleeing domestic abuse.
Another unrelated question: What do you think of the impact of library
policies that require people applying for a card to have a mailing
address and photo ID on the homeless? When most of your homeless
population consists of families with kids, this is a huge injustice
and one that policymakers don't consider.
Michael Stoops: Libraries should continue to be places for all people
to go to. Requiring an address and a photo id is a needless barrier
for someone wanting to access free library services.
Mailing address requirements and photo ids also create barriers for
voting and obtaining public benefits.
Many shelters will allow residents to use their address as a mailing address.
Great Falls, Va.: What do you feel is the best means for working
people, the wealthy, or people that have addresses to be able to begin
to understand why there is homelessness in such an affluent and highly
educated region in the first place?
Michael Stoops: For the past two decades we have been educating
Americans about the causes of homelessness and its solutions. We
continue to do this important work, we are simply waiting for
Americans to call for an end to homelessness. It will take all
segments of society working together to end homelessness for one
person at a time or one city at a time.
Lancaster, S.C.: Early this year, there was a state-by-state count of
the homeless. Where can I find the results of that count? Thank you.
Michael Stoops: To find out the count of homeless folks in South
Carolina you can contact the Upstate Homeless Coalition in Greenville
SC. If you cannot locate the number contact us.
Alexandria, Va.: Submitting early due to meetings ...
Where can someone donate items for the homeless, such as blankets? My
wife is in the process of knitting a few blankets for the homeless to
use during the upcoming winter months.
Michael Stoops: To find out the name of a local homeless shelter
nearest you call you local crisis line, United Way, or look in the
yellow pages under social services.
There is an Arlington Coalition for the Homeless that will be able to
direct you. Also Carpenter's End is a shelter in Alexandria.
Silver Spring, Md.: I work off of K street NW, where there are tons of
homeless people. Some of which, look perfectly healthy (but could have
some mental issues however). What programs are being set up to assist
homeless ones back on their feet - esp. if they are healthy and
competent, but just down and out? Thanks!
Michael Stoops: You can't always tell by looks alone someone's
physical and mental health status. For all the homeless folks that are
out there there are simply not enough services. So while it is easy to
blame the victim we should also ask ourselves why we don't have the
York, UK: Is homelessness directly linked to mental illness, in
particular schizophrenia? Do you think that the improvement of the
mental health care system in the United States would lead to the
reduction in the number of homeless people in cities such as
Michael Stoops: More permanent housing with supportive services would
greatly reduce the numbers of the homeless mentally population.
Bethesda, Md.: First, let me commend you on your work with the
homeless. I think if more people took the time to help solve this
growing problem, we would have less homeless families on the street.
One reader states that affordable housing is a contributing factor of
homelessness; but there are other factors to consider -- There seems
to be a lack of education and job training opportunities so that
people can acquire the skills to earn a wage they can survive on. Are
current educational/job training programs available and accessible to
people living in shelters?
Michael Stoops: For every homeless person there is a different cause
and therefore a different solution to ending their own homelessness.
You are correct that lack of education and job training greatly hinder
people in obtaining decent jobs.
The late President Reagan once said that they best social program is
offering people employment. We would take that a step further and
offer people employment with living wages. If we did that we could cut
in half the homeless population.
During the 2004 Presidential campaign Senator Edwards spoke eloquently
about the working poor. We now have homeless people who work every day
(40%) who are stuck in shelters and on the streets because they cannot
As you can see all of these issues are closely linked.
Washington, D.C.: I have volunteered at a transitional women's shelter
in D.C. for almost 20 years and disagree with your statement that
affordable housing, in and of itself, will solve the problem. Many of
these women have no life skills or job skills whatsoever. They have no
concept of the meaning of budget and spend whatever money they get as
quickly as they get it. Nor are they willing to delay gratification
for their greater long-term good. Most are fighting alcohol or drug
addiction. Many have young children, often several young children,
living with relatives or in foster care. We try to help them develop
these life skills, help them find jobs and require them to save a
significant portion of their earnings, which we pay back with interest
when they are ready to move on, or leave for any reason. Even so,
unless the affordable housing was, say, $200/month, they would be
unable to take advantage of it.
Despite these many problems, we have a good track record of helping
these women move on, regain their children and their lives. But it
takes time, intensive intervention, and a willingness and ability on
their part to work with us towards this end. Affordable housing is
only one part of the equation.
Michael Stoops: You are absolutely correct in that affordable housing
is only part of the solution, but it is certainly one of the largest
part of the solution.
Penn Quarter: What is the lag time between a person applying for
low-income housing and them receiving it? I have a suspicion that even
if a homeless person "does everything right" and applies for housing,
it may take several years before it materializes. Is this in fact the
Michael Stoops: The waiting list in DC is 10 years for public housing
and the wait for a section 8 voucher can be just as long. Sadly this
is the case in most cities.
It is cruel to place someone living on the streets on a waiting list
for housing. This is why many people lose hope and believe that they
will never get off the streets.
Washington, D.C.: I disagree with your answer to the question of
whether to give money to beggars. If I have only so much money to
give, wouldn't my money be better spent donating it to a charity that
provides for homeless people? If someone is mentally ill or is a drug
or alcohol addict, then my donation to them is wasted. But if I give
to a reputable charity that helps and assists homeless, I know my
money is being used properly. And sorry, I refuse to acknowledge
someone who thrusts their cup at me or shakes their coin jar as I
pass. You want acknowledgement? Treat me with respect and it shall be
Michael Stoops: As we said it is a choice to give money to someone. If
you feel that your money is better spent with a charity then you
should absolutely give them your money. If you give money to a charity
there is no guarantee where that money goes, why not by pass the
middle man and give to someone on the street.
Concerning acknowledgement we owe it to each other to acknowledge
every human being. By not acknowledging them we are treating them as
less then human. Many people on K street dressed in suits show less
respect when they push you out of the way for a cab then a homeless
person asking for money.
Michael Stoops: Thank you all for your questions and for taking part
in this discussion. If you would like to be involved with ending
homelessness for all people at a local, state, or national level
please contact visit www.nationalhomeless.org, email
email@example.com or call 202-462-4822.
Thank you again.
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over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions
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-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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