Fullerton Advocating Community Transformation (ACT) presented a seminar Saturday at Cal State Fullerton about homelessness in Orange County.
“Homelessness 101” was designed to educate the community about the causes of homelessness, how to help homeless individuals and what can be done to prevent homelessness.
Jacob Mize, a member of Future in Humanity, an organization that works to empower those in need, spoke about some of the barriers that keep the homeless from accessing services, such as not having a mailing address, being in poor health or being unable to store their belongings.
Many homeless people have carts full of important keepsakes, clothing, memorabilia and documents, Mize said.
“You can’t take public transportation if you have all these items; you can’t go into certain buildings with carts,” he said.
Deborah Stout, Psy.D., a professor at CSUF and executive director of the Fullerton Collaborative, spoke about how people may not realize how homelessness affects demographics.
“The rising cost of tuition, the rising cost of living in the city, has really hurt a lot of the students in regards to their ability to find secure housing,” she said. “The starving student is real.”
Some students are dropping out of school because of these issues, Stout said.
Carrie DeLaurie, a representative from St. Jude Medical Center, talked about how mental illness affects much of the homeless population. She explained that a mental illness is a condition that impacts a person’s feelings, mood or thought processes and affects his/her ability to carry out daily functions and relate to other people. DeLaurie spoke about how it negatively affects the homeless population, and how individuals with mental illnesses can often become homeless.
“They’re unable to secure or keep their housing because of their mental illness,” DeLaurie said.
She talked about how individuals with mental illness can become stuck in a cycle.
Mental illness interrupts daily living and compromises a person’s ability to relate to others, she said.
Cpl. Mike McCaskill, a member of the Fullerton Police Department Homeless Liaison program, spoke about being safe when interacting with the homeless population.
He advised against giving money directly to homeless individuals, invading personal space or being alone while doing outreach. He also spoke about reaching out with compassion.
“It’s really important that if you’re going to engage the homeless, that you care about what you’re doing, that you’re not just going through the motions,” he said. “Every homeless person is an individual.”
Briana Stickney, a member of Fullerton ACT and one of the event’s moderators, offered some practical tips on how anyone can help to end homelessness. She suggested measures such as giving gift cards to individuals to help them buy food, helping to connect them to resources, donating high-quality clothing, creating hygiene kits and snack packs and being an active supporter in forums such as city council meetings.
“All people are worthy of compassion. We’re all human beings regardless of our circumstances, so never lose sight of people’s humanity,” Stickney said.
In a Q & A session after the seminars, Mize, DeLaurie and McCaskill answered questions from the audience about where Fullerton’s homelessne are located, how to approach individuals suffering from both homelessness and mental illness and how to help portray the homeless population to the public in a positive manner.
Jason Phillips, a member of Fullerton ACT who helped moderate the event, added that it was important to look past the label of “homeless” when doing outreach work.
“They’re people first. They just happen to be homeless,” Phillips said.