Project Dignity was founded in 1991 to help the homeless in our own neighborhood. We provide services to low income homeless families living in residential motels in Orange County, California. For the most part, our adult clients are working, but “underemployed” in low paying and/or part time jobs without benefits. There’s probably not a community in the United States that doesn’t have at least one of these motels. They generally start life as a tourist motel and after years of aging transition from tourist to residential accommodations.
There are nearly 2,000 homeless children living in the motels in Orange County, California, alone. Families don’t live there by choice, but by necessity because housing prices and living wages are miles apart in most communities. In Orange County, California they have become the substitute for “affordable housing”. They are a sad substitute but without them, there would be even more homeless on the streets.
Many ask, “What is the government doing about this?” Our founder Linda Dunlap’s response was, “Who is the government? We the people”.
She decided the time for pointing fingers and shifting blame had to end, because while the debate raged on, children were going hungry within walking distance of her home. They were living with their parents and siblings in single motel rooms the size of her master bedroom.
Linda knew she couldn’t build homes for the families, but she could certainly feed them, and so she did. She knew one person could make a difference. She proved it by caring for her homeless friends until her death in 2008.
Her example remains an inspiration to all of us at Project Dignity. We hope it will inspire you too.
A STRANGE NEW WORLD
You may be out of your depth if…….
You suggest to a client that they get shampoo from the 99 cent store and they reply, “Yes, but you have to have the 99 cents.”
You look around at the motel you’re serving and remark to a client that “This place doesn’t look so bad”. The clients replies, “Yes, but you don’t live here”. The client is 8 years old.
You’re at a motel on a Sunday afternoon and comment on how peaceful a place it is. You notice 3 or 4 clients giving each other the side eye.
One of them finally speaks up and says, “You should have been here last night. We couldn’t sleep because of the noise, cussing and flashing police car lights”.
You encourage a client to take some of the cans of tasty soups, chili’s, fruits or vegetables you’ve made available. They reply that they’d love to, but they have no can opener.
In spite of being taught not to, a volunteer asks a child, “What did you get for your birthday?” The child answers tersely—-Nothin’.
You see a child running around on a school day. You ask why they aren’t in school. They reply, “Because I don’t have any clean clothes”.
GET YOUR EXERCISE BY BEING POSITIVE AND HELPFUL, RATHER THAN BY JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS
If you think you’ve got the answers to the above statements, you’re probably wrong. Working hard but still not having enough money to buy everything you family needs is not a crime, but the “know it all” attitude so many people display to the homeless should be.
There are a million reasons to be poor and homeless and very few of them have anything to do with bad decisions. Unless of course becoming seriously ill, losing your job, then losing your house is a bad decision. Or being “right sized” out of a job at a major corporation is your fault.
Every day we meet and serve people who were teachers, nurses, engineers, physicians’ assistants, and now they’re starting over. Instead of judging them with contempt, try assuming they’re trying their best in a very difficult world, unless they give you a reason not to. Try kindness, not ridicule. It’s free and accomplishes a lot more.