Friday, June 13, 2014

Life at Haven for Hope; Prospects Courtyard.

Prospects Courtyard by day.

Haven for Hope is really two separate homeless shelters, despite all the programs being housed on the same property. The main division is between the Prospects Courtyard (Hereafter refereed to as PCY because that is what everyone calls it) and the "Transformational Campus", which is generally called simply Members Side. PCY is more akin to what most would expect from a typical homeless shelter. The concept behind PCY is that anyone, in any condition, from any location around the world, can show up at PCY and get 3 meals a day as well as a place to sleep, (almost) no questions asked. Members side is for people whom have qualified for one of the various programs available and is designed to give an individual the tools needed to get a place of their own and never become homeless again. I lived in PCY for about 10 rather hellish weeks, and have lived in Members Side since mid December. I will describe each separately.

PCY is.....hard to describe. It is a place to go to get off the streets, and is marginally better than living on the streets. (However, it is not unheard of for people to use PCY for meals/some of the services and sleep elsewhere). Again, the whole idea of PCY is that anyone in any condition can show up without a shred of documentation and receive food and a place to sleep. They will not turn anyone away. PCY is one of the few homeless shelters in America where it is permitted to be under the influence of drugs/alcohol. As long as you aren't causing a disturbance, the guards and staff won't bother you. However, drugs/alcohol themselves are absolutely not tolerated inside of PCY. As a result of this policy, you get alot of people with serious addictions living in PCY. You also get alot of people with serious mental illness living in PCY.

Living in PCY is rough. Some it is by design, some of it is by necessity, and some of it is because of the nature of the community it attracts. PCY provides 3 meals a day and occasionally an afternoon snack. The meals however, tend to be on the small side, and by the time you receive them, cold. PCY also provides a place to sleep, however the sleeping arrangements are a bit unorthodox. Each evening thick foam mats are passed out and the bulk of the residents sleep outside, on concrete. (PCY is almost entirely concrete, there is no grass anywhere.) Residents with a medical reason sleep inside, but also on mats on concrete. The mats themselves aren't too bad actually, all things considered they are high quality and reasonably comfortable. That is, if you are in reasonable physical health. Secondary "medical mats" are issued to those who need them.

There are a variety of services to residents of PCY that aren't housed directly in PCY but around the block near the entrance to Member Side. There is a medical clinic nearby where you can get a medical checkup, have prescriptions prescribed and filled, and get things like basic blood work done. The clinic is done on a scale relative to your income, so totally free of charge for those like me who have no income at all, or very cheap for those with some form of income. There is a warehouse full of donated clothing. Once every two months a resident of PCY may go to the warehouse and pick out two full outfits (2 pairs of socks, 2 shirts, 2 pants, a belt, a hat, a pair of shoes, etc) There is a dental clinic where a resident of PCY may have one service performed free of charge, and an Eyecare clinic with a similar arrangement. Each resident of PCY is also assigned a caseworker whom has a variety of resources available to them to help you get back on your feet. Each resident of PCY can also receive free weekly (or sometimes twice a week) counseling sessions through a program that connects residents with student interns from the nearby UTSA. There are also a number of programs available to help people with addiction/mental health issues, but I'm really only familiar with the mental health programs.

As far as what life inside of PCY is like, its rough. There is no sugar coating it. Security is heavy, and for good reason.You have to pass through a metal detector every time you enter and your bags will be searched.  This is because fights are very, very common in PCY. Most are just verbal shouting matches, but many often escalate into physical confrontations. When you are in PCY you are distinctly aware that you are surrounded by people who will not hesitate to strike you given the slightest provocation. Despite the fact that the guards usually break these up within thirty seconds, they are a near daily part of the environment. (One thing I want to note here is that I have often been impressed with the restraint shown by the guards when they are subduing someone.) There is also every shade of mental illness imaginable, from people who just want to talk about conspiracy theories to people who are literally arguing with invisible demons.

Getting anything done in PCY is often frustrating and time consuming. You aren't permitted to have any form of medication in your possession, so you have to turn it in at the guard shack. Three times a day the medical area opens up to distribute meds, with guards watching you to make sure you aren't pocketing any of your own pills. It typically takes a half hour to get through the line for every meal. The restrooms and showers have only the barest considerations for privacy, and despite being literally pressure washed three times a day, are often pretty disgusting. Getting your laundry done is an all day affair. Laundry service starts at 8:00am, but the list for getting your laundry done opens up at 4:00 am, and is usually full by 6:00 am. So if you want to get laundry done, you wake up real early to get on the list, and then hang around all day waiting for your name to get called. It eats up a day unless you are one of the very first on the list. On the whole its a depressing place, and living there can eat at you.

It does however, most of the time, beat living on the streets.

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