There’s no typical profile of a homeless person. Check here.

Todd Lowe does not fit the stereotype of a person who has been homeless.

He grew up in a typical middle class home with a teacher mom and banker dad. He married and he and his wife amassed an affluent life with a nice house and cars, and plenty of money for purchases, vacations and a social life.

“When I turned 40, everything fell apart,” Lowe said. “I bear a large responsibility for it. I lost everything — my marriage, my home, my finances, my job — I had nowhere to go, and no one to turn to. So many of my family and friends abandoned me, and I was taken in by strangers.”

Lowe found a job running a coffee shop in a mostly abandoned former mill town in North Carolina. Though the town was a textile powerhouse for over a century, when the industry left, nothing remained for the people there, and the town died.

For a while after he was out of his home, Lowe slept in his car. Then he became a Macgyver of homeless people, and called upon a get-it-done ethic learned as a Marine when he outfitted the basement of the coffee shop as a makeshift apartment.


Homeless Infographic 2

“I made a bathtub out of the utility sink. I went to the hardware store and bought a shower nozzle and long tube. I found a plastic bin at a farm store that would usually serve as a water trough for animals. I washed my clothes in a five gallon bucket — that was a huge change from the $2,000 washer that had cleaned my clothes a short time before this. But my clothes still ended up clean.”

There was an upside to poverty for Lowe. “When you have a few dollars, and you only need another dollar to afford something you want, and you get it, you’re thankful. When someone would bring me lunch, so I could save my tips from the coffee shop for another day, I was thankful. Affluence can take away your gratefulness when you think your good fortune is all on you.”

When asked what is one thing an individual can do if a homeless person is in his or her path, Lowe said, “Everyone who helped me had been in a similar situation before, or was going through a tough time. I wish others would realize it’s not difficult to find yourself in a dire situation and to reach out instead of judging.”

While Lowe did not have a criminal conviction on his record, it takes very little for a criminal conviction to bar a person who is homeless from having a roof. Housing organizations are beginning to consider mitigating circumstances in deciding to award housing assistance, or to extend a lease, instead of canceling it.

Lowe reported that while he had relatives whose homes could have provided  short-term shelter for him, as they had plenty of extra space, they declined.

While the mayor of San Francisco claimed victory as 8,000 people were housed with family members willing to take them in, homeless advocate and long time executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, Jennifer Friedenbach says it’s “ridiculous” that the program of purchasing bus tickets to reunite San Francisco’s homeless individuals with family in other locations is considered a cure for homelessness.

“Unless something new and aggressive is done, we’ll stay in a holding pattern,” Friedenbach said.

In the San Francisco neighborhoods most in need, the shelter is almost comically inadequate, Friedenbach said. “Two homeless shelters in our Mission neighborhood provide only 85 beds, and those are only for men.” There are no services for women and families in the area.

Budget cuts during the recession impacted the ability to serve the homeless, according to Friedenbach. “In a time the government should be doing more to serve the destitute, they actually do less,” she said.


A Perfect Ten — Fifteen Years since the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness

What can one person do?

Washington, DC was one of ten cities to sign on to a ten year plan to end homelessness. The issue has only grown worse in the ensuing decade and a half.

One problem with this, according to Gunther Stern, is that a city is not a person. Experts converge to speak out on homelessness. Mental health centers say the solution is more and better mental health care. 

Created by Amy H. Peterson from Piktochart
Created by Amy H. Peterson from Piktochart

[Click on image to enlarge]

What can one person do about homelessness?

“Make eye contact and smile.  That’s all,” Stern said. Homeless people are alienated and have low self esteem.  It helps for most.  There are the occasionally very mentally ill people who might start ranting.  Usually, almost always not a problem.  Once I listened to a guy yelling and screaming at me for five minutes, nodding occasionally to show empathy.  At the end of the time his face relaxed and he smiled and thanked me for listening.  He told me not many people would have done so.”

Gunther Stern is a superhero with a hidden cape. He combs the streets of Georgetown at night to hand out food and blankets to people on the streets of the wealthy section of the U.S. capital. During the day he keeps his sharp eyes open for people in need. Stern makes nightly rounds on the street like a doctor rotating through patients. He and his partners look around bridges, alleys, and the well-traveled Dupont Circle, to seek out their regulars.

Stern has been executive director of Georgetown Ministry Center since 1990. In his testimony before Congress, he highlighted the reason we have not conquered homelessness: “what I have concluded after 30 years of working with people who are homeless is that all I can do is provide some comfort and harm reduction. Until we are given tools for more assertive interventions, we will not resolve homelessness.”

Loneliness and isolation, according to Stern, aggravates the cycle of depression, other mental illness symptoms, substance abuse, hopelessness, and risk to people who are hopeless. The most helpful thing one person can do in the moment is to alleviate the loneliness, if only for a moment.

There is good news. Around the nation people open hearts and homes to help lift the loneliness for people who are homeless, even for a moment.

This couple invited a man to Thanksgiving dinner in their home in November, 2014. Others have danced with the homeless on Christmas Day, making friends among the homeless, and in private, unshared and uncelebrated ways, shared a conversation.

The Homeless — they’re just like us but without a roof

I’m trying to put all my hats together and in the process I’m becoming an unmanageable hyphenate: playwright/activist/journalist/ nonprofit exec/supermodel

That is, all except the last part.

Playwright: I wrote this play called The Feast of Jovi Bono that was presented in New York in 2013. Since then, I have jumped into a Master’s in New Media Journalism that has led me to try to put all of my content into Tweets, videos, podcasts, Instagram images, Facebook, and any other digital packet that could arise.

Behind each play is an activism cause, and on this site I will report on the investigation of those issues. Coming soon: the story of how my director team for The Feast of Jovi Bono in Boston went out in the ugly early snowy morning to volunteer with the homeless. They connected with #BostonWarm — a collection of people in various places who help the homeless through the particularly ghastly winter that has hit Boston this month.

The directors, Laurie and Marina, learned that Boston’s homeless have a writer’s group and a literary magazine edited by a staffer at The Atlantic:!about/c69s

All this is not only to plan for the activism project that we hope will engage the entire cast, crew and audience for the play (which will be performed in Boston in June) but also to create awareness of homelessness.

Meanwhile, my research is showing that the number one way communities and policymakers can end homelessness is by putting people in homes. It will improve educational outcomes for the children. It will improve the health of people with mental illness (who make up a huge chunk of the homeless population). It will reduce criminal activity, substance abuse, joblessness, and all the other ills that come with not having an address of one’s own.

Our production cannot put people in homes, but it’s my goal that no one experience my shows without doing something to alleviate the issues I raise in them — in this case homelessness.

Coming soon — an educational and outreach video.