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Paint It: Homes for the Homeless: 3

“Ruth” could be found, nearly every day, on a computer at the local library. She caught up with the state, national and world news. She read authoritative articles and blogs on health/medicine, nutrition, fitness; business, politics, government; education; culture; environment; animals.

 

She kept up to date on happenings back in California. She applied for jobs in private transportation. She played online brain teasers, Solitaire, and action games.

 

She was intelligent, curious, and friendly. She dressed neatly, and always smelled like roses, lavender, or French vanilla. Her full, curly black hair enveloped her full, glowing face.

 

“Ruth” was homeless. Ordinarily, she lived at the back of a nearby closed-up gas/convenience business. When the temperature dropped to the 30s, she went to the Methodist Church’s shelter four blocks away.

 

One of her friends, “Angie,” pulled a small luggage cart in and out of the library. It was loaded with a 14.5+ inch screen HP laptop computer in a black satchel, a black accordion file case full of papers, and a large handbag with an app-loaded cell phone inside.

 

She plugged her computer into the library’s WI-FI power plug. Then, she conducted online research. She wrote poignant letters to the editors of newspapers around the U. S.  She emailed government officials, congressional subcommittees, and non-profit leaders about societal, employment, economic, and health legislation and imbalances. Discreetly, she snacked from a pocket-sized re-sealable plastic bag.

 

“Angie” was homeless. She was also a former Fortune 500 businesswoman.

 

Certain Methodist Church parishioners kept an eye out for both women. They made certain that “Ruth” and “Angie” had a safe, hygienic and warm place to shampoo their hair, and bathe regularly. A place to launder their clothes. Ways to live “in mormalcy,” as Ruth put it. For a little while, anyway. Between Ruth’s and Angie’s usual street lives.

 

For the homeless, having a “place to live” is an urgent necessity. And, it is the moral responsibility of the rest of us to help those with such dire needs.

 

How do we provide a home for our homeless?

 

ONE SOLUTION:

 

A few communities – eg. Central Florida – are forming collaborative commissions, agencies, foundations, etc. They address what Andrea Bailey, CEO, Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, calls “chronic homelessness.”

 

Focus emphasizes (1) getting large Federal grants (eg. $6 million) and (2) emulating homeless housing programs, like the one in Houston, Texas. They focus on designing, building, and developing an all new housing complex for the homeless.

 

Some Pros:

 

  1. All new structure(s).
  2. 100 percent code compliant facility.
  3. Property custom designed and retrofitted for a set purpose, and specific type of occupants.

 

Some Cons:

 

  1. Higher costs and overhead.
  2. Management intensive, and top heavy.
  3. Heavily dependent on government, public, corporate, and political backing.
  4. Operations and administration wrapped in red tape and beauracracy.
  5. Takes 1-to-2 years, or longer, to get from conception to “Open for Occupancy” stage.
  6. Location un-centralized.

 

ANOTHER SOLUTION:

 

More communities around the U. S. are getting very practical and quick responding in their approach.

 

Focus emphasizes: Converting existing multi-family, unit housing into code certified transitional homes for the homeless.

 

 

Some Pros:

 

  1. Property is located within established community.
  2. Public transportation is accessible.
  3. Housing sets within proximity of jobs – eg. entry-level, renewal, lower-skilled jobs.
  4. Structures are solid and adaptable to comply with local codes, state regulations, etc.
  5. Property is paid for. (Caution: See “Cons: 2” below.)
  6. Facility is part of the neighborhood.
  7. Facility can get up and running much faster.
  8. Administration, management, and operations are more grassroots and mission oriented.

 

Some Cons:

 

  1. Structure may need major repairs and upgrading to comply with local codes, and state and federal regulations.
  2. Property and/or business may have liens and old bills attached to it.
  3. If located in a run-down neighborhood, serious problems may be embedded – eg. drug trafficking, vandalism, numerous abandoned properties.
  4. Maintaining safe property environment may be difficult, dangerous and costly.

 

 

Both housing solutions named here are viable. Deciding which direction to take depends on many factors. Many more than I can name. Many beyond my background and capabilities as a painter and decorator.

 

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“Help starts with a home.”   RDH     

 

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Thank you for visiting “Painting with Bob.”

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Painting with “SYMPHONY SAM”

STRADIVARIUS
My mother told me recently about “Symphony Sam.” That’s the name she gave the homeless man that played virtuoso-quality music with his violin, in Chicago’s Pedway. And, he handed out free copies of the official Vietnam Veterans of America newspaper.

 

She met him one morning, in the Pedway between Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue, and S. LaSalle Street. She took the underground walkway, when Chicago’s temperature dropped to the 30s (wind chill factor 20 degrees or lower), and freezing winds bit into one’s cheeks.

 

“Symphony Sam” was a Vietnam Veteran. He suffered from PTSD, the debilitating effects of Agent Orange, relentless pain from the shrapnel still in his back and legs, and major depression. He always wore “a frayed, dark blue suit” when he played in the Pedway. And, a “subtle smile of absolute acceptance.”

 

Prior to serving three tours of duty with the U. S. Marines, “Symphony Sam” taught music at Julliard. Also he played Second Violin, part-time, with the New York Philharmonic, and violin in the orchestra of an on-Broadway theatre.

 

WHAT DOES “Symphony Sam” HAVE TO DO WITH PAINTING?

 

After “Symphony Sam” was released from the military hospital in Japan, he returned to the United States. The only job he could get was painting sublet apartments for a New York City real estate company. He lived with a fellow Vietnam Veteran and his wife, in a small, three bedroom flat.

 

One Christmas, he ended up on a Greyhound Bus, as it pulled into the main terminal, in downtown Chicago. He told my mother that he never remembered buying a ticket, and getting on that bus.

 

He said that he checked into a cheap, but clean hotel on Randolph Street. He carried a few clothes in a small suitcase, and his Stradivarius violin. No painting tools.

 

The hotel’s manager helped “Symphony Sam” get little painting jobs at other small hotels, located in the Loop.

 

One night, he suffered a severe PTSD episode. He said that he’d been fortunate. All of his previous attacks, in New York and Chicago, had been mild ones. He ended up in Michael Reese Hospital on the South Side.

 

Since then, he’d been unable to work regularly. When he had enough money to get by, he stayed at that cheap hotel, managed by the friendly Sicilian. Usually, though, he “lived underneath the city…with a few friends…also Vietnam Vets.”

 

My mother saw “Symphony Sam” for the last time in 1989. The week before Christmas. “He wore a newer, used suit, and a pair of polished black boots,” she told me.

 

He told her that he had been living back at the hotel. He worked part-time doing repairs and painting for “a list of steady customers.” He called them “small hotel people.”

 

“Symphony Sam” seemed content,” Mom told me. But, her eyes told me a different story. A major concern of hers, over twenty-five years later.

 

Did “Symphony Sam” make it? For how long? In 1989, when she saw him last, he was over 55. PTSD and Agent Orange’s lung effects had become less manageable. Several common medical conditions had set in. “His newer suit hung on his frame, always very bony,” my mother recalled. “His eyes an eerie tornado green. . .”

 

“Florida has ‘Symphony Sams,’ too,” said my mother recently. On “FLASHPOINT,” two Central Florida homeless coalition officials were describing the modern housing facility to be built for the homeless in the area. A plea was made for major capital support from corporations.

 

What about the “foreclosure-bound” hotel that a church congregation and volunteers converted into studio efficiencies for the local homeless? (“Painting It: A Multi-Family ‘Home for the Homeless,” posted December 11-12, 2014.)

 

What about the abandoned mansion, turned into a transitional residence for the homeless? (Watch for: “Painting It: Existing Home for the Homeless,” to be posted December 23-24.)

 

What about “Symphony Sam?”

 

“I would offer these people a much quicker solution.” I told relatives during Thanksgiving.

 

“Constructing a new structure – a large transitional housing facility, for millions of dollars – could take a couple of years,” I explained. “The groups involved in the Central Florida project – facility – haven’t even selected the land yet.”

 

Here’s one proposal to help people like “Symphony Sam” have a safe, clean home – and a chance at a better life.

 

  1. Rescue a few smaller hotels and motels along U. S. Highway 192. The ones plagued by low occupancy rates, disrepair and damage, and the threat of foreclosure.
  2. Repair them. Reconfigure their rooms and public areas. Set up a central dining area for the homeless residents.
  3. Recruit homeless persons, who once worked as skilled construction workers. Put them to work. They can help in making certain repairs and reconfiguring the rooms and common (public) areas. Give them a chance to regain some of their dignity. Their basic skills, like riding a bike or typing, will come back to them.
  4. Offer these workers future housing there, when the property opens for occupancy.
  5. Give the homeless residents a good reason to take care of their respective room, and the overall property.
  6. Keep the housing as simple and practical as possible. Recycle whatever furniture, desks, fixtures, appliances, window treatments, kitchen ware, dishes, etc. that are in good condition. Repaint, re-stain and refinish all surfaces.

 

By the way, expensive wallcoverings, flooring, furniture, and state-of-the-art systems are unnecessary. Research and reports about homeless shelter accommodations show that “pricier” amenities tend to make persons just off the streets nervous, self-conscious, apprehensive, distrustful, and even ill.

 

Every community has a “Symphony Sam.” A person who still possesses the skills and abilities, the passion, and the interest to give back! To get off the street! To once again become a more productive part of the universe.

 

Every community has do-able options to meet the dire housing needs of the homeless. Every community has at least one existing multi-unit property, that can be converted in a time-cost-manpower efficient manner.

 

Our local hotel GMs and their staffs can do only so much. They can help only so much. Their resources are very limited. Their ability to use their properties – which they do not own – is very, very limited.

 

What needs to happen to provide safe and clean housing for the “Symphony Sams” in our respective communities? To get this job done sooner than two to three years after they become statistics?

 

Local entities such as the Central Florida Coalition on Homeless and Central Florida Foundation (http://www.cffound.org) are proactive, and motivated.

 

Special projects such as the “Reconstruction of Housing for the Homeless in America Project” focus on providing safe housing promptly.

 

Professional and trade projects like the AIA’s new redesign/rebuild internship project tap young talent. Among other things, they offer fresh, new approaches to “reconfiguring and retrofitting” solid existing structures into great multi-occupancy housing.

 

What is your community doing to get your homeless adults and children, into safe and clean housing?

 

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“Best wishes for a healthy, safe and peaceful holiday season – and Year 2015.”

 

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Thank you for visiting “Painting with Bob.”

 

 

Painting It: A Multi-Family “Home for the Homeless.”

A church congregation purchased a 210-room, two-story hotel that was headed into foreclosure. Most of the property was in reasonably good condition.

 

Mission: Provide safe, clean “transitional-to-permanent” rooms for local homeless persons. The small restaurant on the property would be converted into main kitchen, and central dining area. The food court would be removed.

 

Immediate goal: Clean, repair and renovate the property to meet local codes, and to pass regular health and safety inspections.

 

Volunteers manned the entire project. Five groups of construction people worked on repairing and renovating the property to qualify for multi-family, private, non-profit housing.

 

Group 1. A retired architect volunteered his firm’s design/build capabilities. He did the renderings, and put the plan on paper. Two student interns handled the blueprinting, CAD, schematics, etc.

 

Group 2. An area construction project management company oversaw the project.

 

Group 3. Two church members served as co-general contractors. They handled the actual remodeling of the two buildings, including repairs and replacements, and the reconfiguration of the hotel rooms into efficiency apartments, minus kitchens.

 

Group 4. Local certified trades persons did much of the code-compliant work. They included: environmental remediation/mitigation specialists, carpenters and framers, drywallers, plumbers, electricians, heating/air conditioning specialists, insulation specialists, mechanical systems specialists, roofers, pool specialists, etc.

 

Group 5. Certified craftspersons handled interior and exterior surface repairs, prepping, and finishing. They included: painters and decorators, finishers, glazers; tile and carpet installers, landscapers and nursery experts, pavers, etc.

 

A church member’s son – one of the general contractors for the project – brought me on board. While in college, he had worked summers at the hotel. Bringing a new life – and fresh purpose – to the hotel was a labor of love for him. His “in-kind” donation to the community that had nurtured him from childhood into adulthood.

 

I had five bosses, simultaneously. And all of them worked as volunteers.

 

Employer 1. Church consistory, representing the congregation.

 

My job: Match church’s painting and decorating wishes to the property’s project needs. Help select a color scheme that was “restful”. . .”harmonious”. . .”cheerful”. . .”appealing to the average person.”

 

Employer 2. Architect.

 

My job: Read the blueprints. Using renderings for each area, match the color chips for paints, stains and finishes for all surfaces. Make color-coded order lists of products and materials. Estimate the quantities for each, adding 20 percent allowance for most items, as much as 50 percent for others. Help the interns develop painting and decorating spec sheets.

 

Employer 3.  Construction project management company superintendent.

 

My job: Help select project painters. Help the lead painter to (a) comparison cost-out and order all paint, materials and supplies, and tools not standardly a part of commercial painter’s tool kit; (b) set up written work assignments for each painting and finishing crew; (c) establish flexible duty schedule; and, (d) help identify and set up “in-kind” donations of paint-related products, materials, supplies, tools, and equipment.

 

Employer 4. Co-General contractors.

 

My job: Help “generals” put together painting and decorating prospectus. Help “generals” determine the needed painter and allied trades’ skill sets.

 

Employer 5. Hotel management.

 

My job: Help identify team members interested in future employment with the non-profit housing limited liability corporation. My assigned departmental list included: facilities/maintenance, groundskeeping, housekeeping, and outdoor activity areas.

 

None of my “jobs” required me to do any actual ordering and purchasing; and/or prepping, priming, painting, and finishing of any surface. The “employers” used local people to fill the spots in Groups 4 and 5 above.

 

At least one-third of the volunteer workers in Group 4 had been homeless. Nearly one-half in Group 5 were homeless.

 

One feature of the working arrangements for Groups 4 and 5 workers that had been homeless: They were given first-choice, priority residency in the complex once it was opened for occupancy.

 

On December 20, 2014, the complex will celebrate its one year anniversary. Everyone that worked on the project, located in the southeastern part of the United States, gained many things from the experience.

 

The greatest reward for the project’s volunteer leaders and craftspersons: Seeing over 52 homeless workers walk in those front doors, and watch them being escorted – individually – to their new homes.

 

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Read about “Symphony Sam” in the true-story, co-written blog to be posted on December 22-23, 2014.  An excerpt:

 

“My mother told me recently about Symphony Sam.’ That’s the name she gave the homeless man that played virtuoso-quality music on his violin, in Chicago’s Pedway. And, handed out free copies of the official Vietnam Veterans of America newspaper. . .”

 

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Have a friends-family-fun-filled holiday season.

Thank you for visiting “Painting with Bob.”

 

Painting with Bob blogs to look for:

Week of December 8:

1. Painting in Company Policy, Common Sense and Common Courtesy.

2. Painting It: A Rooming House for the Homeless

3. Painting It: A Multi-Family Home for the Homeless

4. Decorative Finishing: Adding Life to Your Space

 

Week of December 16:

1. Painters’ Link: Southern Indiana and Central Florida

 

Special Thanks to Good Samaritan Hotel/Motel General Managers – and Staffs!

Kissimmee, Florida – In January and February of 2014, The Osceola News-Gazette published a series of articles about the “homeless problem” in Osceola County, Florida. The Op-Ed piece here was submitted to the editor for publication in “YOUR VIEW.” The cover letter, shorter in length, made it on page 5 of the Saturday, March 15 edition. The submission/blog that follows here did not. It’s being posted here, because “Good Samaritan” hotel general managers and their staffs live around the world. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanks to the help of a caring group of hotel and motel general managers (GMs), and staffs, along U. S. 192 in Osceola County, countless numbers of homeless families – many with young children – have been sheltered, fed, clothed, and protected since the economic downturn started in 2007.

During the last seven years, these Good Samaritans have lent helping hands with humility, respect, discretion, and tact. They have supported their ‘homeless residents” in the ways they could, to help them in efforts to survive and to get their lives back on track.

The GMs and staffs have offered homeless individuals and families a place to call “home,” at least temporarily. They’ve provided affordable housing – single or double room, or two-room suite – with essential utilities (electric, water, sewer, phone). They’ve included basic accommodations such as beds and cots, showers and tubs, air conditioner and heating systems, refrigerators with small freezers, and microwaves.

They’ve offered a solid roof, walls, and floors to protect these struggling individuals and families from dangerous rains and lightening, extreme heat and humidity, and brutal cold. A place where they felt safe and secure. A place, and persons, that they could trust to protect them THEN, while seeking more suitable temporary and permanent housing. A place where their children, under parental supervision, could roam, play and explore the world outside of their cramped, temporary habitats. A place where these individuals and families could leave their few remaining possessions, while they looked for work, or tried to hold onto the jobs they did have.

Many times, I saw signs, and heard about, ways that the general manager of our hotel was extending a helping hand to our “homeless residents.”  Far beyond the ordinary and the expected. Sometimes to the dismay of officials with the property management company.

The GM did what he could do to help them “make do” – stretch whatever income and savings they did have. For example, he extended their room rental agreements at little or no extra charge. He reduced their room or suite rates, whenever possible. Knowing him, it’s likely that he let some homeless families stay free.

At least for short periods of time. He arranged for or approved little acts of kindness, that only the staff member(s) involved knew about. At certain holiday times, such as Christmas, he saw that all of the homeless children found small bags of special treats at their doors. Consistently, he showed the same high level of respect for these “homeless residents,” as he did toward our regular hotel guests. And, he encouraged, even supported, his staff members to do the same.

Over a course of six years, and since, I’ve heard some impressive, heart-warming stories about hotel and motel general managers and staffs along U. S. 192. (Elsewhere, too.) Examples of appropriate acts of what I call “humanitarianism for the homeless.”

One GM arranged, when possible, for left-over food and meals from the food court and main kitchen to be boxed, then delivered to his homeless families’ rooms. He had small bags of groceries and packages of snack foods (chips, crackers, cookies, candy, gum) left at their doors. Containers of milk and juice appeared miraculously at their doors, or inside room refrigerators. Extra blankets were put on beds and cots as the temperatures dropped outside.

In the fall, a GM recruited staff to help fill smaller backpacks with activity items, boxes of juice, and packages of snack foods and nutrition bars for homeless children, too young to attend school. The GM’s staff at another hotel donated ingredients, then baked and boxed dozens of Christmas cookies for each “homeless family” staying there.

One GM and staff scouted around for the clothing sizes of all of their “homeless residents”  (children-to-adult), and saw that each got a nice warm winter jacket.

During the last few months, different government agencies and non-profit organizations have reported the number of homeless families that have been living in Osceola hotels and motels. Their representatives and spokespersons have reported on the impact of these “homeless residents” on the leisure and hospitality business economy in the county. Yes, a major challenge!

They’ve reported the rate of unemployment. They’ve estimated the number of jobs added in the county. They’ve estimated the number of entry-level jobs available, and their pay scales. They’ve cited the average household earnings, where only one person worked full-time. And, they’ve explained the huge disparity between household gross earnings, and essential cost-of-living expenses. (A prevailing problem in most areas, worldwide.)

What these entities and their spokespersons have not done, to my knowledge, is acknowledge the tremendous service provided, during these very tough economic times, by many GMs and their staffs at hotels and motels along U. S. 192.  Nor have they offered any commendations, public or private, to these special Good Samaritans – “Humanitarians for the Homeless” (my term).

Last December, while at the St. Cloud library, a man approached me. “Do you recognize me?” he asked. He said that his family of four had stayed at my hotel on West U. S. 192. And, he gave me this little update. . .

“Thanks for making our homeless situation bearable,” he said. “We never would have made it, were it not for the people at your hotel. The general manager on down. Everyone treated us with dignity and kindness. By the way, my wife and I both have full-time jobs now. We rent a house here, and were able to finance half on a newer used car. Tell your GM and everyone there a big thanks.”

The Osceola News-Gazette’s series, particularly the February 13 article, “Homeless on 192” and “Our View” editorial, “One homeless child. . .” struck a chord. They reminded me of something that a “homeless resident” at the hotel explained in 2012. . .

“ ‘Homeless people want to feel that they deserve to have a home like everyone else. And, staying at the hotel serves that need. It’s not a house, but it’s a home. . . for now.’ ”

Food for thought: The hospitality and tourism industry, in Florida, is on the upswing. To help it along, some hoteliers are accepting only advance credit-card bookings. No walk-in credit card or cash reservations. Who might that keep out?  The distance traveler, who shows up unshaven, and wearing a faded shirt and torn jeans? The couple who pays with cash versus credit card (plastic or mobile app)? The individual or family that appears to be homeless, but isn’t? The individual or families that appear to be homeless, and are?

Robert Hajtovik * * * * * * * * * * * * Thanks for visiting.

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