Homeless need a hand up, not handouts

John Kloeckner Photo by Able Allen


I am currently homeless in Asheville. Although I don’t seek services from any organization apart from an occasional meal, clean clothes, a cup of coffee or a shower, I’m familiar with the services available and the various churches and other organizations that assist local people in need. I come from a middle-class lifestyle and a solid family background.

This idea of a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness is hyperbole, not an achievable goal. Many local homeless people feel the plan is a political tool used to help the general voting public sleep better at night, thinking that something’s being done. The truth is, someone will become homeless tomorrow, and there are several people currently living on the street here who were skipping middle school when the original plan was adopted.

Homelessness will never “end.” The problems that cause homelessness and that homeless people face are not just a question of housing. Homeward Bound has helped a lot of people, but subsidized housing is not the appropriate first step for everybody, and meanwhile, it creates a two-way street of dependency. For starters, the 10-year plan needs a more realistic name in order to create a realistic vision.

Many homeless people are victims of some form of loss, abuse, neglect, poverty, addiction or mental illness, or are ex-cons or bankrupt or simply out of work, but that’s not everybody. Asheville’s homeless population has just as much character as the rest of this community, and for me, it’s been a privilege to earn the respect and friendship of these peers. The sad part is that so many others are missing out on some incredible people simply because of a preconceived prejudice.

The five-year extension plan should start with the simplest and easiest-to-achieve objective: Stop treating people differently just because they are different or live differently than you do. It’s a simple question of EQUALITY. We’re not all the same, yet all people should be equally respected. We are black, white, male, female, LGBT, and we come from every religion, nationality, background and social class that exists. We’re looked down upon by society and even by some of those who offer us their services, as if we were incompetent, weak, ignorant or whichever other stereotype people impose upon us.

Homeless people need A HAND UP rather than a handout. You can give away all the housing you want, but that’s not going to bring about real change in anyone’s life. Real change comes from incorporation, opportunity and empowerment. Street people (those who live on the streets by choice), homeless people and the underprivileged are all valuable assets to a community.

There’s a lot that could be done to assist both homeless and street people — and believe it or not, we could do it ourselves.

I’ve developed a detailed plan for creating nontraditional employment opportunities with flexible schedules, and I’ve discussed it with several church leaders and with street people who are willing to lead work crews. Downtown is a mess: Debris is everywhere. Neither the current Rivertop Contracting team nor the crew of six that walks around downtown with little brooms is as acquainted with the area as we are. In addition, we’re available on nights and weekends, when cleanup is most needed.

The $300,000 the city set aside for grafitti removal would be more than enough to establish a business/work program that would train and pay the underprivileged to perform various beneficial tasks, including a graffiti removal team that could be serving the community indefinitely. These opportunities could be expanded to include a county cleanup crew and further job training programs. There just needs to be some community leadership to help establish these options.

This is true not just for the homeless but for all underprivileged people who want to be a part of this community, and it would benefit Asheville in a variety of ways. We have a plan: There’s just nowhere to bring it to.

Meanwhile, providing lockers and/or a day center with longer hours and more extensive facilities (things like washers and dryers, more showers and toilets, and computer access beyond the one hour a day the library allows) would clean up a lot of the congestion on city streets and in the parks.

The AHOPE Day Center closes at noon, forcing people to carry their gear with them the rest of the day, regardless of whether it’s rain or shine. The freedom to move about without lugging suitcases, trash bags and shopping carts would enable people to make it to services or look for a job. We have a plan for this also, but again, there is nowhere to bring it to.

What government officials and agencies also fail to realize is that for many people, this is a lifestyle. Street life is a subculture and an emerging fringe element of society, and due to our current economic climate, our numbers are growing. We’re not all criminals, addicts or bums: Many of us are artists, musicians, writers, adventurers and travelers, and this is how we choose to live. Not everyone wants debt, a daily grind or even family picnics; we’re not all interested in local politics; we’re not stupid or lazy; and while we may be considered crazy because we don’t live like everybody else, that’s our choice. We’re all brothers and sisters, living as one, and our struggles are just as real as anyone else’s.

Asheville is not two cities, the housed and the homeless. Asheville is my home, and it’s one city, one community and one people. We all live here together, sharing the same streets and parks and attending the same events. There are rich people, there are middle-class people, and there are the poor. That’s life — but we are all Ashevilleans.



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15 thoughts on “Homeless need a hand up, not handouts

  1. DreadT

    What an excellent article. I know I will challenge myself and others to step up and help promote some of these great ideas Mr. Kloeckner has outlined above. It’s the least we can do for this city I love and all the people who live here. I hope you will too!

  2. The Real World

    It is an interesting article. And all should take note of how different his views are than the ones put forth by the lady who wrote a letter a couple weeks ago declaring we should aim for zero homelessness and all sorts of other utopian ideas she and various commenters devised themselves.

    Look, I commended her concern and willingness to be involved in helping others, of course. But, neither she nor any commenter put forth solid info grounded in talking with the source. Imagine that crazy concept, folks! Gathering real world information and experience from the people who live it. Oh and, respecting that they might view the entire issue differently than you do, as John indicates.

    I would add that his feeling that some people look down on them may be true but, the homeless may also mistaken the behavior they see. Often, it’s fear rather than disregard or judgement.

  3. henry

    Mr. Kloeckner developed a thorough plan for the betterment of homeless people, not just in Asheville, but any city. Now, he needs an official means of sharing it and seeing it implemented. People who are homeless lack opportunities; to work, have security of temporary shelter, and as he so well describes, lack a means of feeling worthwhile contributors to Asheville. Hopefully, there is a planning group or city committee that will eagerly invite Mr. Kloeckner to join as a fully equal member. He has much to add to the reduction of the effects of homelessness.

  4. Big Al

    The letter writer states “This idea of a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness is hyperbole, not an achievable goal. ” then goes on to say “Many homeless people are victims of some form of…addiction or mental illness… ” He seems to miss the point that efforts to end CHRONIC homelessness are targeted at exactly those populations, not the ACUTELY homeless, which he implies (perhaps correctly) includes himself and the majority of the homeless, who can become employed and self-sufficient more quickly. Chronic homeless persons often have mental and physical disabilities that demand institutionalization of some sort, much of which was destroyed back in the 50s and 60s when pharmaceuticals SEEMED to be the solution and the State took advantage of this to get rid of burdensome and expensive services.

    I am open to the recent conclusions by homeless advocates that moving housing, rather than employment, to the front of the priorities list, will better serve the chronically homeless populations. While this idea is new and more data is needed, it is a valid hypothesis and should not be discarded as mere “hyperbole”.

    While I do support his notion of improved communal housing and sanitation services, my anecdotal experience is that this becomes less tenable as the providers begin to deal with people who are unable or unwilling to assume personal responsibility for public or shared property, and the enforcement necessary to prevent unnecessary wear and damage becomes “penal”. Not everyone is willing to live in or maintain a barracks-like environment, even after they demand it be provided to them. If there is any “hyperbole” here, it is the notion that communal quarters and resources are an optimal solution.

    • John Kloeckner

      I, as a homeless person (and the person who wrote that article), am disagreeing with you Big Al. The ten year plan to end homelessness is hyperbole simply because “ending” homelessness” is an impossibility. In ten years no real progress has been made. The numbers have fluctuated and the faces of the homeless have changed, however, all across the country the number of homeless people is in fact increasing, not decreasing- which is why I stated that a new name for the “Ten Year Plan” could at least reflect the potential for a successful outcome- the goal of any program designed or intended to provide solutions to homelessness should include alternatives to housing first. Housing first is not a valid hypothesis and I would hardly call it a sound theory at all.

      “Acutely homeless” doesn’t even make sense and to make that statement means that one is completely out of touch with the reality of street life. There are so many dynamics to street life and homelessness that most people and agencies who serve the homeless are clueless about it. Social workers and religious leaders are quite often lied to as not every person on the street is honest about their story. All it takes is a small conversation with a few homeless people and you can quickly learn how to easily manipulate the system. Most of the “chronic homeless” people are not mentally or physically disabled. Trust me, I know them, I eat with them, I sleep with them, and I drink with them. There are mentally and physically disabled people who do need assistance and housing and they are in line and waiting for whichever services can be provided. Unfortunately, due to the definition of “chronically homeless” public housing is also filling up with people who are willing and capable of working or at least contributing to society, however it is the opportunity which is not present. These people have repeatedly found themselves in situations of homelessness and in todays current state of psychological disarray anybody can be labelled with a mental disability. I know plenty of people who have given up. Nobody want’s to live in government or subsidized housing. People only do so because they have no other choice.

      Communal quarters and resources are not an optimal solution and the primary reason that these facilities are broken down and not taken care of is simply because nobody really wants to be there- invalidating the housing first model. Everybody wants to earn their own way. Nobody want’s to be poor, to beg, to get a check from the government, or to be on food stamps, etc. Opportunity is the issue and nobody in society is going to even begin looking at the poor and the underprivileged as viable assets to the community because of a preconceived prejudice that society has in regards to the poor and the homeless. This is what I hope to see Asheville change- which is the point of the article. Stop looking down on homeless people. Stop thinking that some “homeless advocate” has a clue about our lifestyle. The mindset of the advocate is to portray a victim and that is enabling homelessness and government dependency rather than empowering people to take control of their lives. Homeless people do not need anymore advocates. Homeless people deserve to be respected equally as people and not continuously left out of opportunities due to their situation.

      • Big Al

        If “homeless advocates” do not get the job done, it will not get done. The government can only do so much, and even in “progressive” Asheville, the tax-payers, the tourists and the service industry are getting sick of the hordes of bums (some disguised as buskers) on the sidewalks and the rampant vandalism disguised as art we call Graffiti.

        You expect the government to pay the homeless to solve the problems that the homeless have created? When you pay criminals limit or not commit crimes, that is called blackmail. Good Luck with that.

        I admire your desire to effect change, but expecting our government to fund a plan to alleviate homelessness that is proposed by a homeless person based on the assertion that you know the problem and the solution because you are in the middle of it is not realistic. That would be like expecting a plan for sobriety from an alcoholic who is not yet sober.

        Until you are back on your feet and able to care for yourself ( and I hope that is soon), I am more willing to trust “homeless advocates” to present and implement an Evidence-Based plan that is workable, whose results are measurable and which spends government funds responsibly. At the risk of mixing analogies, I want to see people taught to fish, not eating pie-in-the-sky.

        • John Kloeckner

          No no no Big Al, you are all wrong. The “tax payer,” the service industry, and the tourist can all go to hell because most of Ashevilles homeless and poverty stricken people are NATIVES of Asheville (meaning they were born here). It’s called gentrification. It seems that Asheville is getting sick of hoards of tourists and the hotels that they stay in (which incidentally coincidentally, the homeless are not sick of). There aren’t hoards of bum’s, there are a few and you can thank your busker coalition of “professionals” as they call it for the busking issues. Homeless people are not doing graffiti. …we ain’t buying spray paint dude. Why the hell would we waste whatever little money we have on spray paint?

          I don’t expect the government to pay for anything, the government IS paying for it no matter if I want them to or not. Who do you think funds the “housing first initiatives” that YOU advocated for? I did not create that system and I don’t participate in is. MOST homeless people ARE NOT receiving any assistance. Nobody is blackmailing anyone and you have gone too far with that one.

          …and how are you going to look down on somebody who doesn’t have anything? Who are you, any service industry employee, any tourist, or any taxpayer to try and force out those whom YOU deem unacceptable? Is this the United States of America? Is your voice stronger or worth more than mine or any homeless or poor person? Do you have more of a right than I do? Are you entitled to something that I am not? This is America and quite a few of those “bum’s” are vets. This country belongs to EVERY citizen, not just the privileged who visit or transplant to asheville.

          That’s the problem- people like you blame the poor for everything rather than take the time to learn just who is destroying downtown on a weekly basis. I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the homeless. We are not a bunch of criminals dude, we are just poor.

          …and part of the problem with assisting or helping the homeless is that YOU ARE NOT LISTENING TO THE HOMELESS! How then do you expect anybody or any organization to help if they are providing what they think we need rather than what WE think we need? I understand the problem because I AM LIVING IT!! How can someone who does not have the same problems solve mine?

          …and I am not “off my feet” dude. You don’t know me, you don’t know homelessness, you know nothing of the situation or where to look to for answers to these problems. I have yet to meet an advocate who knows what they are talking about but I hope you feel good in advocating for the advocates rather than those whom the advocates you are advocating for are advocating for. You are not teaching people to fish, you are advocating chasing them off of the pond.

          We are asking for an opportunity to do it ourselves. See, you are not listening to the homeless.

          Good day sir.

    • Big Al, something tells me that you have never been homeless. I have, and I quite honestly agree with Mr. Kloeckner. Most shelters have very strict rules, about whom they allow in (background checks and state regulations won’t allow people with felonies), and also then they wake people up at sometimes as early as 5 a.m., and force people out into the weather, even when it’s below zero. Lots of places also will force their “guests” out on Sundays, when nothing is open. In most mid-size towns, buses don’t run on Sundays, libraries aren’t open until 1 p.m. on a Sunday, and the nearest Wal-Mart is about 5 miles away. Try lugging your belongings with you everywhere you go, whether you’re looking for a job or just to a grocery store. People look down upon you. It may be in part due to fear, but some of it is prejudice. Not every person is lazy, addicted, or has a mental illness which prevents them from working. But, given the current rules, once you fall into the trap of homelessness, its not easy to get out. I had often thought that the whole system needed revamping, but wasn’t sure of which would be the best way to go about it. I think having a place where belongings can be stored is a start. Along with being able to shower, get a cup of coffee, and having computer access would be a huge benefit.

  5. The Real World

    John, okay first — unfortunately alot of the article commenters on Mtn Express are mostly inclined to just beat their predictable drums while possessing low information about the topic at hand. WHY adults behave this way is beyond me. More to the point, their biased drum-beating doesn’t solve anything! I can only conclude they don’t really care about solving issues or truly improving lives….they just feel powerful spouting off. Sad.

    (Big Al, this is not entirely directed at you (there are so many on this site) but instead of recognizing the opportunity at hand, you decided to mostly nitpick.)

    John – here are my questions related to your comments:
    1 – “the goal of any program designed or intended to provide solutions to homelessness should include alternatives to housing first.”
    Why kind of alternatives do you mean?

    2 – “you can quickly learn how to easily manipulate the system.” Manipulate the system how?

    3 – ” Most of the “chronic homeless” people are not mentally or physically disabled.” Please describe what the most common reasons are for chronic homelessness for those that aren’t disabled in some way? How many, in fact, choose to be homeless? Why would they choose it?

    4 – “Communal quarters and resources are not an optimal solution simply because nobody really wants to be there- invalidating the housing first model. Everybody wants to earn their own way. Nobody want’s to be poor, to beg, to get a check from the government, or to be on food stamps, etc.”
    I have to say that this part doesn’t make sense to me. You can understand that an employer needs to to be able to locate and mail documents to (amongst other things) their employees, right? So, having a steady place to live seems critical to a person being able to get work. Then once they have a regular income (earning their own way, as you mention) other life choices are possible.

    • John Kloeckner

      1) Opportunities for involvement in community projects are a good place to start. There are a variety of projects happening in Asheville, however, there is nobody reaching out to the poor or underprivileged to participate unless it is a project designed to somehow serve or provide for the poor, the homeless, and the underprivileged. Art is an easy example- I have met some of the most talented people that I know in Asheville on the streets (and I am very familiar with the Asheville art scene). People, organizations, and programs are not looking for poverty stricken individuals to showcase or participate- which is ironic since a long list of incredibly talented and successful artists have came from this environment- or to fill roles in community or art based projects.

      Aside from the arts: Asheville has hired RiverTop Contracting (for example) to clean the streets along with what appears to be some sort of city crew walking around in yellow vests in a pack of 5 or 6 people and they carry little brooms and dust pans and sweep up cigarette butts when there is a much easier way to establish a sort of symbiotic relationship between the streets, street life, and city cleanup and beautification. The current crews do not sweep up anything but the sidewalk, they do not go into parking lots, they do not move news stands, and they do not take into consideration any aspect of what downtown is because they do not know downtown Asheville (did you know that there were over 11 types of moss growing in the cracks of the sidewalks downtown before RiverTop used their buffers on the sidewalk and killed it all?). They are out Monday through Friday during the daytime and that is when the city needs the least attention. Friday and Saturday nights wreak havoc on downtown and nobody is out to clean it up when we are at peak tourist times nor when the church crowd flocks through downtown and our tourists and local church goers are forced to see litter, vomit, destroyed plants, trash, and a variety of other debris scattered through downtown. Homeless people are available seven days a week. A crew could leave from A-Hope every morning providing various people with an opportunity to work even if it’s just for a day to put a few dollars together to take care of basic needs. If I were going to hire a crew to take care of the streets in downtown Asheville I would look to the streets, not a landscaping company. I would look to hire the people who know the streets best.

      By doing so- incorporate street and homeless people, empower them by giving them some sense of standing and inclusion into the community, and then you start to contain several issues that downtown faces by tying them together. Then the city has a street team to deal with a variety of issues the city faces.

      Starting with something as simple as clean up could all to easily expand into a community service crew and also into several job opportunity and work training programs designed to reach out not just to homeless, but to the underprivileged and those living in poverty. I have a detailed and in-depth program that I have designed to do just that. By serving this element of the community it creates a win win since there are plenty of funds available through grants one other options (aside from general philanthropy) which would benefit the city and the taxpayer in a variety of ways.

      Jobs that do not exploit the homeless and the underprivileged are the best place to start. Labor Finders and Labor Ready should be criminally investigated for their exploitation of the underprivileged. Just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean that they should work for less.

      Employers could easily find labor, however transportation, showering and washing clothes, and storage of belongings are major hurdles to maintaining employment. However, by acceptance of ones position, offering a position of equal standing with other employees who are an inch above homeless themselves, and providing opportunity to those who desire it most what you create is a society of inclusion rather than one which is so divided by petty details. If employers were to give credit to someone living in poverty or even homeless rather than discriminate because of someones situation then both may end up winning because that is how loyalty and trust are built both between employer/employee- but then again, do those things even matter in the work place anymore?

      2) It’s easy to manipulate the system because the system is trying to give away housing, food stamps, and disability. The basic questions are all the same and all it takes is a mental illness or an addiction for example and they are giving away services. “This is what you say.” The sad part is a lot of people genuinely need those services but they are shuffled into the madness along with people who don’t necessarily need the services, they just have no other choice. People are not using it maliciously, it is survival and when there are no other options (like employment opportunities) what do you expect? I don’t use services but it is all a game. Service providers depend on the numbers to maintain their job and that is why there will never be an end to homelessness or poverty- too many jobs depend on these people. If we were to fix it today then those who provide services would be out of a job tomorrow. We all know that and that’s why it’s a game. Welcome to American bureaucracy.

      3) Chronic homeless is a term used by advocacy groups and service organizations. The reason that it makes no sense is because it is examining the result and not the cause. More appropriately could be: Chronic inability to find decent and respectable jobs. Chronic lack of transportation to get to those jobs. Chronic lack of affordable housing. Chronic lack of job training. Chronic lack of education. Chronic lack of opportunity. Chronic “I grew up poor and there is no way out so I am stuck in the same system that depends on my chronic poverty in order to maintain ITSELF.” Chronically being marginalized. Chronic I got drunk or high again because I am sick of chronically trying and I have given up. Chrionic %$#@ you, I don’t care anymore. Oh, now you are going to humiliate me, degrade me, beat me over the head with either a bible or a psychologist, tell me that I am a sinner (Jesus was one of us) or that I am crazy and give me food stamps and move me into a flea/lice/bed bug/drug infested shoebox, hide me from the public, allow me just enough to keep me in attendance at your service organizations so that they can maintain their funding, discriminate against me, look down on me, leave me out of everything, criminalize me, and chronically say that “we are here to help.”

      That is “chronic homelessness.”

      4) A-Hope receives phone calls, takes messages, and receives mail. All of the other issues pertaining to #4 have been addressed above. Having a steady place to live is critical to employers looking for robots. My point is that there are ways that this community can work together to create alternative types of employment opportunities for ALL members of the community while also benefiting the community AND the poor and the underprivileged. Downtown clean up- for example- always needs to be done and I have come up with a variety of ways to expand upon that. There will always be something to do and there is always someone who needs something done. If you can show up when you can show up, work as long as you can, there are no rules that an employer can violate you for simply because they cannot understand the position that you are in, and you can help yourself out a little bit then people will take it and we are then empowering our community. Where I am from we call that working together to achieve a goal. Not only will it work, no other city is doing it, all cities could use the same model, and Asheville becomes a leader in something besides another top ten list.

      I have a whole lot more.

      • The Real World

        From answer #2 – “Service providers depend on the numbers to maintain their job and that is why there will never be an end to homelessness or poverty- too many jobs depend on these people. If we were to fix it today then those who provide services would be out of a job tomorrow.”

        Yep, and therein lies the rub. Very insightful that you picked up on that relevant fact. And it is one aspect of why I was irritated with the letter writer of a couple weeks ago with the utopian views she was lecturing all of us to support. To try to solve any problem reasonably and successfully, people have to have all pertinent facts and realities first.

        From answer #4 – “Downtown clean up- for example- always needs to be done and I have come up with a variety of ways to expand upon that. There will always be something to do and there is always someone who needs something done. If you can show up when you can show up, work as long as you can, there are no rules that an employer can violate you for simply because they cannot understand the position that you are in, and you can help yourself out a little bit then people will take it and we are then empowering our community.”

        If I understand correctly what you are saying (specifically the italicized part), then I have to inform that employment cannot work that way. Businesses have ultimate responsibility to their investors who, understandably, want things managed dependably and financially prudently. Governments have those same responsibilities to the taxpayers that fund them.

        Just like all the rest of us, if the homeless would like to be employed and paid, they have to meet the needs of their employers and not the other way around. That is pretty much non-negotiable, John. So, you’d need to think of that way as a starting point in suggesting any type of program.

        • John Kloeckner

          I disagree with you about the standard or traditional model of employment. I have been gainfully employed all of my adult life and I have been quite successful in several fields. There is a way to establish a non-traditional work environment and I am gong to do just that. I will become the employer and I am not going to adhere to a traditional policy. I designed a work program that will cater to the needs of the homeless and underprivileged as well as the rest of the community and work around their issues and their schedules. I also plan to incorporate job training and other programs that will be providing a service to the community. Anything is possible, it’s merely about providing the right type of leadership and thinking outside the box. A standard traditional employer will probably not cater to the needs of the underprivileged and that is their prerogative. I will and it will create a more cohesive environment conducive to the needs of employees rather than the standard demands of traditional employment. It’s a service to the community that is being provided and there is a whole lot of flexibility in that.

          I may be delusional, but I guess we shall see.

        • Ever heard of “Flex-Time”? I believe this is the model that Mr. Kloeckner is speaking of when he says non-traditional work environment. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and Mr. Kloeckner is on the right path to empower the homeless and underprivileged.

  6. tsalagi sister

    Problem is when we are in need of help, folks who ostensibly want to help, treat you as if your issues are exactly the same as other.No one size fits all do folder patronizing progressive approach works.John you have my empathy.Our voices are denigrated cause we are pervied as worthless.bless you keep fighting I choose to design my own empowerment programs in an effort to contribute as well I met with the same lame clueless rhetoric.I know what is needed for myself..barriers and walls created by the heartless and clueless is the issue pardon mistakes my disability makes it hard to see and type.prayers for you John n all who struggle Namaste

  7. JANovac

    To Mr Kloeckners’s point, the approach of being shunted away into housing is missing the point, and the ineffectiveness of that model. Rather a different view of a large pool of flexible people to meet community needs on a cash per job basis should be seen as an asset not an effort in shunting into failed traditional models.

    To take the Alt view, if one was sleeping out of doors, would you want to sleep in a filth ridden cesspool, or a place where one can carve out your own style of dignity? To take the opposite view, have met fmr homeless people who literally played violins in the snow to earn enough money to rent a domicile.

    Further believe that as rents rise in the area, “homeless” or “unhomed” will become rather common. A market does find a level, the smart or disenfranchised find their own solutions.

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