Facing homelessness

Roughly two years before I became homeless, I remember seeing evidence of people living in their cars in parking lots and garages. As I walked past, I tried to figure out what the drivers could do differently to prevent such obvious detection.

It turned out I would need to know. Due to a job loss, lack of sufficient savings and an ultra-slow re-employment process, I ended up living in my vehicle in Ashland this past fall and winter.

Car living is hardly a lifestyle choice, as many people incorrectly believe. It's a last-ditch effort to survive and stay off the streets.

The most stressful thing about it is that it doesn't have a defined end. There are a million things that can go wrong and so few that can go right. It is a daily, draining existence of "How long is this going to go on for? Months? Years?" that gnaws at you until the situation resolves.

It is much harder to climb out of the hole of homelessness than it is to fall in. And luck and help from others play a huge role.

So I wrote a book called "Car Living When There's No Other Choice: Tips & Strategies for Survival & Safety" to help others should they ever find themselves in a similar position. In it, car dwellers are given specific tips and strategies to live day-to-day in a vehicle with minimal stress, handle common problems, stay within the law, keep healthy, find help where it's available, and transition back into housing.

Because without the stability of a home, it's difficult for people to get and keep a job, stay healthy, keep their kids in school and get their lives back on track.

Here are inexpensive ways you can help:

  • Many of the newly homeless are not aware that the Department of Human Services office at 1658 Ashland St. in Ashland can assist with food stamps, cash for families, health care coverage and housing services. Call 541- 482-2041.
  • People living in cars generally can't cook and need nonperishable food items. Donate to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank at 560 Clover Lane (541-488-9544) or through the Ashland Food Project (www.ashlandfoodproject.com).
  • Contribute to local homeless housing projects such as Homefree Hostel of Ashland. In this fledgling program, the homeless provide community service in exchange for subsidized housing.
  • Donate blankets, coats and sleeping bags to emergency overnight warming shelters for distribution based on need.
  • Encourage local and state legislators to address the primary causes of homelessness: lack of a living wage and affordable housing. Studies show that raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation will boost the economy. Tax incentives can be given to encourage affordable housing to fund projects for the homeless.

Veronica Harnish is the pseudonym of an Ashland writer. Her Kickstarter project can be viewed at http://goo.gl/dLl3I.

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