Tammy Callanan: A streets perspective

*Editors note: This article was originally published in the Salem Gazette. Tammy Callanan writes a regular column for the Gazette, and has generously agreed to contribute separate content to Spare Change.

First let me introduce myself. I am a grandmother, mother, sister, friend, wife and daughter. I am a Salem native and have experienced being homeless four times in my life.

Homelessness, as far as I am concerned, is defined by not having a place to actually call home. “Home sweet home” may be an endearing term, however it is a term that many with today’s economy may never be familiar with or it is a term that some people have recently forgotten from days that are now nothing but a memory.

Home is really defined as a refuge where an individual can contribute domesticated affection to their household and hence their family. Homelessness is not a recent social concern and there are varying degrees of being homeless.

Historically, people have been without living quarters and without a place to shelter themselves for hundreds of years. For example, in Great Britain constables in 1530 would sentence vagabonds and beggars to the stocks for a three-day and three-night whipping. By the 16th century, housing was finally offered by the British government. The English also introduced the term “workhouse” which was really a place for the homeless to work and sleep while at the same time discouraging total reliance on state help.

Homelessness increased in the Americas during the post-Civil War era when many Europeans emigrated to America. The lack of shelter became an epidemic during the Great Depression when over two million people were homeless across the States.

Most towns and cities had a “skid row” and smaller towns had a population of hobos who lived by the railroad tracks and traveled nomadically via freight trains — certainly not the romantic life as portrayed in the movies.

Social concern was sparked by the increase in this population. One of the first rescue missionaries was founded in 1872: the New York City Rescue Mission, which still operates today. Provided at the mission are meals, sleeping quarters, guidance and job training. This became the template of local organizations that now operate today, such as LifeBridge in Salem (formerly called Salem Mission).

The demand for shelters today is on an upward swing. A 2009 USA Today article states that homelessness increased over 9 percent since 2007 with at least 1.6 million people without a home, receiving shelter.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s July 2008 report to Congress was based on counting homeless people on a single night in January 2007. HUD reported there were 671,888 individuals known to be homeless, either unsheltered on the streets or sleeping within a shelter.

There are too many people without a place of their own, and perceptions vary as to what home actually is. In my opinion home could be the streets, a room rented daily or weekly, a nook in an alleyway, a bench, a hallway or a space shared with a loved ones.

Yet home really should be a place that someone feels at ease: a place where after a long day you can rest your tired body and tired soul, a place where you can sleep at night feeling safe and secure, a place where you have meals with your family and any pets you have, and most importantly a place that you consider yours and decorate with the personal items of your life.

Many reasons lead to homelessness and there are also, in my opinion, many levels to homelessness. I personally have been in a family shelter located away from my hometown and resided with my family and friends no longer around me. I have also lived in rented rooms, slept in hallways and couch surfed between the homes of my family members.

I was once told that there are three main types of homeless: The “deadbeat,” the mentally challenged and the economically deprived. Yet do most of us really want to not have a home of our own? I say no to that question because the underlying causes can create a sort of acceptance for the way things are and not a want for the way things are. Some examples that create homelessness are: social services being cut, unemployment, poverty, domestic violence, low-paying jobs, lack of affordable housing, addictions and mental illness.

There are many outlets available to anyone seeking assistance, but unfortunately many programs have been cut to accommodate the current economy. Typically, it is the social services that are cut from federal, state and local budgets.

I can attest, though, to having a want to move forward and a belief that you can move forward. Why stay stagnant and not improve the situation if you are not happy where you are currently? You can contact your local churches, HUD, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or a food pantry. There are nonprofits such as the local Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, NSCAP, Goodwill Industries, United Way, the local Department of Transitional Assistance office — or even a homeless mission or shelter in your area.

So as the “Martha Stewart of the ghetto,” I will be writing a regular column focusing on social issues and everyday dilemmas, and offer bits and pieces of my personal story to you all. I sign off at the juncture in my life where I am concentrating again on moving forward in order to once again find a place that I can call home. If readers have any issues or ideas they want me to write about, feel free to contact me at salempoet@hotmail.com.

Tammy Anne Callahan-Callanan is a mother and grandmother who lives in Salem, MA. Tammy also is a monthly contributor to The Salem Gazette and on-line at http://www.wickedlocal.com/salem/news/lifestyle/columnists and also writes articles as a Boston Examiner Grandparent on-line at
http://www.examiner.com/grandparenting-in-boston/tammy-callanan Tammy majored in creative writing and English literature at Salem State University. E-mail her at salempoet@hotmail.com

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