More Determined Than Ever Before

Let me just preface this post by saying I hate Thursdays.  I know its only one day away from the weekend, but it seems that all the bad things that happen in our lives occur on a Thursday. Today is no different and even though it’s only 7:15 in the morning, we’ve already gotten off to a bad start.

For us, Thursday’s are paydays. Rob always goes early on Thursday mornings to grab the rent money from the bank, because the place we rent from does not take debit or credit card (I know, too strange these days), and a few items from the grocery – usually coffee, creamer and something for his lunch.  Money is always tight, but we usually manage to make it through well. However, for the past two paydays (he gets paid every two weeks), a garnishment has been taken out of his check for taxes that we owe from the time of the economic downturn – or as I call it, the “crash”.

We do not dispute that we owe these taxes and in fact are more than happy to get them paid off considering what we want to do in the future. Had we known that we owed the taxes, they would have been paid sooner, but that’s neither here nor there. No, we do not dispute the tax assessment against us. However, the agreement states that the amount taken from his check is not to exceed 25% per pay period. BUT, the company that handles the payroll for his place of employment has been taking 50% every payday – two full payments at once, twice a month! Once we pay rent, this leaves us with $50 to do everything we need to do for the next 14 days – eat, put gas in the car, do laundry. I have personally not had clean clothes to wear for over a month now, except the few things I can manage to wash in the sink and hang to dry.

So, no, this morning did not start out great. In fact, it started with both of us being upset, a bit shell-shocked that this is STILL an ongoing issue even though he spent the better part of a day on the phone with this payroll company last payday and was assured it had all been straightened out and that the amount they took in overage would be on this week’s check.

In the car, on the way to his job, I could tell his blood pressure was already high. His breathing was intensified, he was red in the face and he was taking everything as a personal afront – a clear indication of his hypertension in action. I had to bite my tongue several times and tell myself that we’re both under a lot of stress and that this was not anything either of us could control.

“Honey, we’re in this together, and we’ll find a way to be okay.” I said to him as I dropped him at the door, but as I drove away I prayed “God, I don’t know that we’re going to be okay. I really don’t.”

As I drove home I thought about all the things that have happened to us since 2010 and all the news that continues today that the economy is improving and that there are more jobs now and that standards of living are on the rise and I got a bit angry. Where are they getting their numbers from? More importantly, what age brackets and factions of society are they looking at when they do these surveys and studies?

The truth is as I look around my own community I see where these numbers just do not add up – 25 year-olds who were in the foster care system now forced into menial labor for less than a living wage just to survive; vets who cannot get proper medical care, proper housing assistance or any other kind of assistance forced to live in one-room motels just to keep a roof over their heads; and people like us, who’ve lost everything and seem to keep loosing ground no matter how hard they fight – over 50 but under retirement age, sick and unable to seek medical treatment.

The fact is that once you’ve hit poverty, it’s a steep and slippery climb back out and many do not make it Poverty in and of its self-poses a whole new set of problems that have little and everything to do with money. Without money, an unfortunate but necessary evil in today’s world, you cannot afford proper nutrition nor medical care. Without those two things, you soon begin to experience illness, which generates more debt due to doctor’s bills and missed days from work This, in turn, causes a decrease in funding for proper and well-maintained shelter, and the ability to set anything aside for a better future. It’s a never-ending cycle that needs to be broken, but how?

The necessity for cash for all things is where we lose it. The barter system does not work for certain necessities and if it does the goods exchanged or services exchanged are often not enough nor the right kind to aid where needed. Many things that are basic tenants of above-poverty level lifestyles cannot be bartered for – gas for vehicles to and from work, above sub-standard housing, good, nutritious and healthy food and medical care, and often, energy (gas, water and electrical) cannot be bartered for and in those instances where they can be traded in exchange for a live-work arrangement, the workload far outweighs the benefits provided.

We are making it our life’s mission, through the creation of Osiyo Eco Village Farms, to change this standard and provide real solutions for real-life problems.

Over the next few weeks, if we can maintain the hosting of this website, I will be publishing a series of articles that describe in better detail not only the challenges we are currently facing but also the benefits and solutions we hope to provide with Osiyo. I’ll also be looking at some other living, working models of the type of community we plan to build, as comparison studies.

The hosting of this website is $19.00 Per Month. If you would like to donate and help us grow, please use the button below.

Thank you,

Rob and Cher

Osiyo Eco Village Farms founders




Why an Eco Village?

When we first began dreaming about having our own farm, the idea of a village was far from our minds. “We can help people in our own way.” We thought.  As the years progressed, though, and we began to experience some seriously life-altering set-backs, we realized that our thinking was far too small to make any lasting, drastic impact on anyone’s lives, including our own.

When we say we want to build a sustainable eco-village, our idea of sustainability includes more than farming or living methods. Our ideal of sustainable living includes providing those things that all communities need in order to not only survive but to thrive and grow and be available for future generations.

All communities, whether urban or rural, need access to water, food, and resources. These resources are where the largest of our efforts in planning have been concentrated.

The portion of our society that we intend to serve first and foremost, is a portion that, unfortunately, is hard to service through conventional means. People with criminal backgrounds, drug histories and health issues who find it difficult at best to obtain gainful employment, housing or housing assistance and vital services such as healthcare, education, and vocational training. In many cases, these factions of society are relegated to menial labor positions at a barely-livable or below poverty wage. Eventually, they are either forced into housing communities.

A community that is either solely or largely reliant on outside resources for its basic needs – food, water, energy – the system, over time, begins to crumble. In the case of a disaster a non-self reliant community can be, and in certain cases has been, completely obliterated, forcing its inhabitants to either re-build with a better model or move on.

By creating a community that provides services to our surrounding communities, rather than relying on services and outside resources, we are planning for a future that can and will avoid these issues.

Aside from having the farm to generate our food, and using sustainable reclamation practices for daily living, waste production and the byproducts of human existence, we plan to have several other programs in place to provide an income for the community as well as for our individual residents. In our next few posts, we’ll be discussing some of these plans and what they will mean for us and our neighboring communities. We want to become a model for others to start such eco-villages and make our world a better place.

 

 

The Rules of Building Compassionate Communities

During the past 24 months, we’ve had ample opportunity to observe a community much like the one we want to create – operate on a day-to-day basis and have been privy to some of the decisive conversations that take place to create their operating procedures. What we’ve seen, heard and read has both shocked and appalled us at some points and given us pause to consider our own desires and living standards for Osiyo Eco Village.

What We’ve Learned

People from all walks of life fall on hard times and can become indigent at any moment. All it takes is a single, catastrophic incident, and it is impossible and highly unethical to lump all people who need help into a single category. Not all homeless people are there by choice, not all are drunks, drug addicts, and grifters or scammers and not all are lazy.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest proponents of homelessness is the very system that was set up to prevent it. There are so many rules and regulations in place to qualify for help, that are actually stumbling blocks for large populations that need the help most. Those who’ve been incarcerated for a period of time and are either still on paper (parole, probation, etc) can have extreme difficulty in finding stable, decent housing due to rules against providing low-income rental property to individuals with certain offenses or who are still on paper. Most public housing communities do not allow any resident who has a felony record, and many privatized property management companies will not allow anyone who has a drug or theft charge within the past 7 years.  When a basic tenet of human existence is made unreachable by those who are genuinely trying to change their life’s path, it is almost inevitable that past behaviors will be repeated.

One of the reasons we’ve observed these patterns is because Osiyo will be a community filled with people who are starting over, and many of those will have records, or be on parole or probation, and will have a drug history.

Through our observations we’ve learned one very important lesson: If you treat people as they are worthless, they soon begin to believe and act as if they are worthless.

CASE IN POINT

In our current community situation, the owner – who shall remain nameless for the sake of liable – refuses to invest any actual maintenance or development into the property. The property its self-was built in 1955 and has been added on to, broken apart, and partly removed since then. What remains is a small motor lodge with 42 rooms that were at one time considered “travel lodge suites” with a small kitchenette. They were never intended to be long-term homes, however, some members of the community have been here as long as 17 years. We have been here 2.

In this facility, you cannot rent a room for more than 2 weeks at a time, therefore your status remains “homeless” even though you live in the same place. While it is understandable from a landlord or owner’s perspective to not want to change the rental terms due to tax and city codes, for those who rent, it can be very detrimental.

Because the properties are run down and neglected, the type of people who move in is often those who are actively dealing or using narcotics such as meth or heroin.  This brings with it other elements – theft, destruction of property, fighting and prostitution – as well as the possibility of meth psychosis or overdose. The police are on the property at least three times a week, and people being evicted for domestic violence, or other crimes, is not uncommon.

Studies have shown that in order to create a community that is peaceful, productive and proud, the actual housing and neighborhood structure needs to be maintained so that those who live there feel they have reason to maintain the property and mind the rules.

When rules are loosely, or disproportionately enforced, those who are good, law-abiding, hard-working community members, begin to fill as if their efforts to maintain and create a good life are being thwarted, while those who continue to do wrong, are rewarded.

Another area of concern is the fact that according to Missouri Law and Federal Law, many of the rules enforced by management are not legal. Yet the people that rent here are in a position of not being able to argue this point for fear of being evicted with nowhere to go.

  • Deposits are not returned or refunded, even if you clean the room to a cleaner status than it was when you moved in
  • Some people are allowed to have “service animals” even though those animals do not have tags or vests, and are considered “emotional support animals” while others are told they cannot have an ESA, even with proper registration, chips, and training.
  • Residents are not allowed to change their rooms in any way or fix anything wrong in the rooms.
  • Many of the rooms do not have windows that open or open with no screens allowing disease-carrying insects inside. Hood vents do not work over ranges and there is not proper ventilation nor egress in case of fire or emergency.
  • The wiring is the original 1955 wiring with very few changes
  • The entire facility is serviced by 3 hot water tanks and depending on your location on the property you may wait up to 45 minutes to have enough hot water to take a shower, wash dishes or clean
  • The laundry facility on the property, while very reasonably priced at first glance, actually costs more than a laundry matt by the time you factor in the 3 trips through the dryer it takes to dry a single load of clothes.
  • Complaints filed with the office for maintenance are taken care of by a single maintenance man who also handles more than 22 other properties, so having anything repaired in an emergency or timely manner is not possible
  • Certain members of the management staff are rude, and cocky with residents, and often feel they are “above” others. This has caused animosity within the community on more than one occasion.

While these issues are serious in themselves, this article is not to denigrate the property or its owners or managers. It is what it is – a temporary living facility that, unfortunately, for many, has become a long-term residence.

And while these issues are disheartening, there are some encouraging benefits. For under $600 per month you are provided a room that is:

  • Within easy access to shopping (Wal-Mart, Dollar Tree, two convenience stores and a gas station)
  • The bus stop is just across the street
  • Rooms are furnished and even include a shower curtain, a roll of toilet paper, pillows, sheets, and covers
  • Except for the two-day rooms, there are mini-fridges, stoves, sinks and a place to prepare food
  • Internet and cable are provided, as is a “room” phone that makes free long-distance calls
  • The longer-term residents have cook-outs and parties and tend to watch out for one another

Still, because of the way things are run, people who live here feel they have very little reason to actually “invest” their skills, their concern, their compassion or their loyalty into the community and what results are a community of shady characters who have no qualms about destroying property or breaking laws. Its the “If no one else cares why should I?” mentality at work. And those who do remain, tend to pull away from the community as a whole, denying newcomers the benefit of their experiences, guidance, and friendship.

OUR DIRECTION

In using the data we’ve collected for the past two years, as well as other research by such entities as HUD, we’ve come to believe that by giving the residents of OSIYO well-maintained homes, a voice in the communities standards and practices, and genuine compassion, we can improve the odds for a better future.

One study provides evidence from major metropolitan areas with nationally known crime and homelessness issues showing the direct correlation between community improvement efforts and the reduction in crime, safety concerns, and drug and gang-related activity, while strengthening relationships not only between the residents themselves, but also between the residents and those put in place to govern them.

At Osiyo, this is our desired goal. We want every person who comes to us for help to find a compassionate, knowledgeable and helpful place to call home, where real solutions to sometimes overwhelming problems can be found and implemented. Our goal is to move people from temporary shelters and housing situations to long-term residency in a healthy, safe, and invested community by giving them not only reasons to invest their time with us but also to invest more in themselves and the world around them.

CONCLUSION

As we close the research phase of our project and move into the beginning phases of development, we will use the data we’ve gathered to develop a sustainable and forward-moving program of residency, a series of community guidelines and by-laws by which our community will operate. Of course, as we grow and expand, we will have to revisit these programs, however, we will have the input of residents who are experiencing life at Osiyo on a daily basis to help us make things better for those coming in next.