Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of this website and blog?

Donations of food, tents, sleeping bags and clothing are life-sustaining and comforting but do not help to end homelessness. We encourage volunteers to become advocates for successful housing outcomes. Read more about Advocacy

How do awareness, advocacy and activism differ?

These are different methods of facilitating change.

  • Raising awareness involves using social and traditional media to inform the public about a health care issue or injustice. It is primarily an educational activity.
  • Activism generally involves petitions, marches, voter registration drives, etc., that are focused on a community concern. It is often initiated in the service of political objectives.
  • Advocacy is generally an in-person activity involving a personal relationship with an individual or family. In the rehabilitation community, it is viewed as a professional responsibility. I am a disability and homeless advocate. These posts detail some of my advocacy activities A Week In the Life of An Advocate and A Few Days in the Life

What is advocacy training?

We provide training in those skills directed towards helping homeless individuals and families to obtain housing, medical care and supportive services.

Who can be a peer advocate?

You need only a willingness to learn. Advocacy activities may be performed by an individual or group. In a group, activities can be distributed among group members, thereby reducing time and commitment requirements.

Homeless Advocacy Stress Management

Stress Management for Homeless Advocates Pt. 2

What is your opinion of homeless shelters?

The shelter system in the United States was initiated over a century ago.  In my opinion, it is time for change. These are some concerns:

  • A significant portion of the overall homeless population may be disabled due to brain injuries, psychiatric disorders and often related substance use disorders. Individuals with these disorders generally do not tolerate environments that are overcrowded and fast-paced, two qualities that often characterize homeless shelters.
  • In our gender-fluid culture, I do not endorse housing men and women in gender-specific spaces with little to no allowance for privacy. I also do not support separating couples by gender or separating older children from their parents by gender.
  • Christian religiously-based shelters may not be responsive to the wide variety of religions practiced in our country. Religious practices should not be related to housing services.
  • Pets provide important personal safety and companionship values. Shelters often refuse to admit pets with their owners.
  • Shelter residents have expressed concerns about crime and safety.
  • Sanitation and exposure to illnesses are often concerns.
  • Shelters may be staffed by inadequately trained personnel or even by volunteers. Read more here Truth
  • Our understanding of substance use disorders has evolved over the past century. These are now viewed as health care matters that may warrant medical intervention. They should no longer be used as a rationale for the denial of shelter or housing. Read more here  Get Out

What is the difference between addictions and substance use disorders?

We are being encouraged to avoid using terms like “drug abuser,” “addicts” or “addictions.” Terms that more closely align with medical terminologies like "substance use disorder" are preferred. Read more Revising the Language of Addiction

What does "blaming the business" mean?

Incidents have been reported recently wherein homeless individuals were not allowed to enter or were asked to leave area restaurants and businesses. Reports have often been accompanied by public outrage. In my opinion, it is not the responsibility of area businesses to provide bathrooms and sleeping places. My view is that we need to look to those organizations for greater accountability in incidents like this that are accepting grants and donations to serve the homeless population  Read more Blaming the Business

Is homelessness the same all across the country?

No. In Los Angeles, California, there are reported to be about 64,000+ people who are homeless.  In Syracuse, New York, data from the 2019 Point In Time homeless count revealed that 732 people were homeless and 13 people were living outdoors. Some may be sleeping in shelters or in other non-permanent environments that may be unfit for human habitation, like abandoned buildings. There is also a significant difference between city and rural homelessness. There may be minimal to no social services available in our country’s more rural areas.

Do you provide treatment services?

No. I provide a wide range of services related to homelessness including outreach and advocacy services. I develop and coordinate supportive services plans for disabled and homeless individuals. Read more about tasks that I perform About Dr. Mary

Do you work with physicians and other healthcare professionals?

Yes, many, all the time. They have all been very supportive of my people and have treated them with respect, patience, and compassion.

What disabilities are most common in the chronically homeless population?

Traumatic brain injuries, psychiatric disorders, and substance use disorders. These are my own professional rehabilitation specialties. The homeless population suffers from a wide variety of health-related disorders, for example, HIV/ Aids, Hepatitis C, orthopedic, vision, and hearing disorders.

It is important to note that disabilities may be incurred as a result of homelessness. Exposure to conditions like extremes of weather, fires, assaults, rapes, depression, intense anxiety, and other environmental and psychological stressors take a toll on homeless human beings. In addition, substance use disorders may be initiated or exacerbated under the harsh conditions of homelessness. Read more Stop Blaming the Victims

How can you tell if someone has a traumatic brain injury?

Outreach workers, volunteers, non-medical staff, and other Individuals affiliated with nonprofit organizations that serve homeless and/ or disabled individuals sometimes suspect that a person demonstrating unusual behavior has a psychiatric disorder or is simply non-compliant. While these might at times be true, it is highly likely that an individual with a history of arrests, incarceration, and/ or chronic homelessness has sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). All too often, individuals with TBIs are sent for mental health treatment because of their behavior when this might not be the most appropriate initial referral. A TBI can have a significant effect on an individual's behavior. It is important in instances like this to refer the individual to a neurologist for a thorough evaluation.

Watch our new training videos to help those working in the field of homeless services with the initial screening process.  You can read more about our TBI screening video here.

You can learn more about our TBI screening videos here.

Stories of a Traumatic Brain Injury: Part 1 

Stories of a Traumatic Brain Injury: Part 2 

Stories of a Traumatic Brain Injury: Part 3

What is the difference between a disability and a handicap?

A significant hand injury could constitute a disabling condition. Handicap is a term generally used in relation to employment. If the disabled, hand-injured individual is a piano player or a surgeon, as an example, he or she would also be handicapped. Disabilities and handicaps may be temporary or permanent.  Given that a broken arm or leg will probably heal, these fractures would most likely present a temporary disability and possibly also a temporarily handicapping condition.

Disabilities may also be visible or invisible. Invisible disabilities like traumatic brain injuries and psychiatric disorders often make life especially challenging as observers may think that the disabled individual is able-bodied and lazy, uncooperative, or just trying to scam the system.

What is normalization?

In the rehabilitation field, we prioritize a concept called "normalization." That is, we support initiatives to establish as normal and independent an environment as possible for disabled individuals.  A normal adult environment does not involve excessive supervision.

To date, my people have been housed in "scattered site" apartments, buildings owned by private landlords, and not owned by nonprofit organizations. They have all received medical, legal, financial, and other supportive services, as needed. With the exception of those who were returned to jail, found jobs to support themselves, or who died, housing retention for my people stands now at 100%. I am available to help them whenever they request my assistance. They all have my cell phone number. I enthusiastically endorse the policy of normalization.

What do you think about scattered-site housing? 

Scattered-site housing allows for greater independence and "normalization." By contrast, housing sites managed by nonprofit organizations may employ rules, requirements, and sanctions that may be excessive and overbearing. This is not the way "normal" people live. Nonprofit organizations may acquire portfolios of real estate paid for with grants and donations. I've at times wondered whether some nonprofits might primarily be in the real estate business. This may manifest in less compassion and tolerance for individuals with certain disabilities.

What is recycling?

Recycling is a term that I started to use a few years ago to describe a situation wherein, homelessness may actually be maintained. It is a phenomenon wherein some of the same chronically homeless people may be cycled and recycled among shelters, jails, prisons, rehabilitation facilities, and intermittently returned to the streets, often for many years.

Homeless people may also be cycled and recycled to other cities and states, usually by means of a one-way bus ticket. I've met homeless people who have endured cycling and recycling for twenty to forty years. This can be very costly to taxpayers. Read more The Cost of Recycling Homeless People.

What are “poverty pimps?”

“Poverty Pimps’ is one of a number of terms used in recent years. These disparaging terms apply to those nonprofit organizations that may be more focused on self-promotion, grant writing, and fundraising in order to maintain their own employment, benefits and incomes rather than on housing people and truly ending homelessness. It may also apply to individuals and media services that videotape and/ or photograph homeless people for profit and without their permission.

Do homeless people make poor choices?

Yes, of course, we all do at times. This question, when applied to homelessness, assumes that there are "good" or at least "better" choices available which might not be the case. Asking this question may of itself be a subtle form of "blaming the victim." In my opinion, a number of issues within the homeless services system will need to be corrected for this to be considered a legitimate criticism of a homeless person's refusing to accept services. Read more about Choices

Are rehabilitation professionals being hoodwinked?

Those of us who work in the mental health and rehabilitation fields are often second-guessed by the public. It is one of the most frustrating aspects of working in these fields. What is true is that people grow and change most effectively through praise, encouragement, and positive reinforcement. We approach people with positive attitudes and help them to move forward in their lives. It is not our job to criticize, punish, or pass judgment. We are also not the police.

People can and do grow and change, especially when they receive professional assistance from well-qualified rehabilitation and supportive services personnel. However, we are not naive.  Some people might never change. Most often those who have been incarcerated may never be released from incarceration. In our opinion, there are no hopeless cases on the streets. Everyone deserves a chance

How do justice and rehabilitation services differ?

People should pay for their crimes if they have in fact committed them. Once released from jail or prison, they may be cycled onto the streets and into homelessness. When this occurs, the former inmate may be put at high risk of disability or even premature death on the streets. I view this as an additional level of punishment with potentially deadly or disabling consequences beyond those that the justice system might have initially intended.

Arresting, judging, incarcerating, and punishing are the tasks of the justice system. Probation and parole officers work to prevent recidivism. Rehabilitation professionals work to restore formerly incarcerated individuals to the highest possible state of health and quality of life, to the greatest degree possible. There have been many successes.

Are arrest warrants a factor in homelessness?

There has been an increased focus on criminalization with respect to homeless people. They are often ticketed or arrested. Charges generally relate to their homeless status, for example, jaywalking, trespassing, panhandling, vagrancy, sleeping in public places, etc., etc.

Lacking a mailing address, they may not receive correspondence related to required court appearances. When they miss a court date, an arrest warrant may be issued. Soup kitchens and shelters are some of the locations where officers may look to serve these arrest warrants. As a result, some homeless people stay away from places where they could receive food and shelter in order to avoid arrest.

What is your relationship with the police?

I've met many brave, dedicated, kind, and fearless police officers over the years. One individual who has assisted me for many years is a now-retired police officer. Some of my family members have had long and distinguished records of service in law enforcement. I am an enthusiastic supporter of law enforcement personnel.

Police may be asked to perform services resulting from the neglect or failures of other organizations, like homeless services organizations or hospitals, for which they might not always be trained. Unfortunately, this has led to a situation wherein about half of the police killings in our country are of disabled individuals. I am a strong proponent of “de-escalation” training for police officers. At the same time, we need to stop blaming the police for incidents when it might be the case that failures in other organizations were what led to police involvement. Read more about Police Brutality, Police or Social Workers,Deescalation Training for the Police

What is your relationship with corrections officers?

I encounter corrections officers in my visits to incarcerated people. For the most part, they have been courteous and professional in my interactions with them.

What is your relationship with probation and parole officers?

Given that we share an interest in preventing recidivism, I have had good relationships with the officers with whom I’ve worked. They have generally been receptive to my input and advocacy. Ultimately, however, they have the right to decide whether to return a person to incarceration.

What is your relationship with defense attorneys and other lawyers?

There are a number of attorneys who have supported my work with chronically homeless, disabled individuals on a pro bono basis. They have donated their services to form my nonprofit organization and have advised me with respect to federal and state laws that may protect homeless and disabled individuals. I have been coached to help represent a defendant in court as well as in a social services "Fair Hearing" case (which we won).

Criminal defense attorneys are generally hired and paid to represent indigent defendants within the criminal justice system. I have often worked with them. They have supported my recommendations with respect to alternatives to incarceration for my disabled defendants.

Are there laws that protect chronically homeless people?

Given that chronically homeless people are often disabled, they may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act.  Homeless people may also be protected under the federal Fair Housing Act. In addition, individual states may have passed laws to protect the homeless population. As an example, Article 17 of the New York State Constitution directs that municipalities “care for the needy.”

I am not an attorney. It is critical to obtain legal advice from lawyers. Advocates might be able to locate free legal services in their local areas. They might also be able to secure the services of a local attorney on a pro bono basis. I have found that attorneys concerned about homelessness may be willing to donate their professional services on an occasional basis.

What does NHI mean?

NHI is an acronym for “No Human Involved.” It is a slang term reported to be used by police to describe crimes committed against people who may be considered undesirable, for example, those with criminal records, prostitutes, those viewed as “addicts” and homeless people.

Crimes designated NHI may not receive priority criminal investigations due to a low opinion of the crime victims. I have not encountered this alleged form of discrimination with respect to crimes against my people. However, in some areas of our country, it might be important to request that an autopsy and a thorough criminal investigation be performed, especially in those instances involving a homeless person who has been found dead. Assaults against homeless people have been increasing as homelessness has grown across some areas of our country.

How does domestic violence relate to homelessness?

There are organizations that assist people who become homeless due to domestic violence. Parents with children who have used these services have mentioned to me that if their children were fathered or mothered by the alleged abuser, this individual will generally be contacted and will likely become involved in the case given relevant issues like parental rights and agency attempts to gain financial support from the alleged abuser. Often, child protective services might become involved as well to ascertain whether children were also abused. These factors make some parents reluctant to seek homeless assistance via domestic violence programs.

How does child protective services relate to homelessness?

Child protective services may become involved in a homeless family’s situation. This is often a significant concern among homeless parents. Some may not apply for social services assistance for fear of their children being put into foster care.

I have encountered two instances wherein a newborn infant was about to be removed from its parents. As another example, a veteran mother was at risk of losing her thirteen-year-old son. Housed parents may also lose custody of their children if heat or power to their residence is turned off. My view is that families have successfully raised children in tents and igloos in every climate for centuries. I do not believe that homelessness - in and of itself - should provide an opportunity for the removal of children from their parents.  Moreover, I've often wondered why child protective services personnel may at times provide financial support to foster parents instead of to homeless parents. This is an area where I'd like to see change.

How do you measure success? 

Success is homeless people housed appropriately and permanently. All too often, people have been returned to homelessness, sometimes repeatedly. I've been corresponding with a now housed veteran in another state for quite a few years who has become homeless three times during those years. Another veteran, a parent, has also ended up homeless along with her child twice during those same years. They did not receive enough financial and other assistance to remain housed and found themselves recycled back into homelessness. Each woman is a disabled combat veteran of the US Navy. These instances are especially upsetting. In "the land of the free and the home of the brave" there should be no homeless veterans.

Homelessness is a multi-billion dollar business every single year in our country. We must end homelessness by stopping the cycling and recycling of homeless individuals and families. In my opinion, it is time for systemic change in the homeless services industry. Those employed in the field need not lose their jobs; new jobs must focus on providing supportive services and maintaining housing stability. Many personnel may be trained for new jobs within the system.

What is your affiliation with Cape Haven Inc?

Cape Haven Inc is a nonprofit organization that I founded in 2015. Our mission is to develop supportive housing communities for chronically homeless, disabled individuals, and other very low-income individuals and families.  It is important to note that what is called "affordable" housing may not be affordable for the very low-income population. Our goal is to create communities wherein residents will receive supportive services as needed.  Management practices will follow well-established rehabilitation practices that prioritize concepts like normalization (described above) as well as the fostering of independence and mobility.