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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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