Homelessness: A social problem in need of a social solution April 2016

By Cedar Gonzalez

This story began with an investigation of the theory that gender issues and homelessness are intertwined; if society were to confront the issues of traditional gender roles head on, then homelessness would be a much simpler issue to solve. While my interviews with Jessica Jones and Aliza Menashe – along with much research – did prove this to be true, the main finding was that the problem of homelessness faces a simpler but much larger roadblock to be overcome before the issues of gender can even be addressed – funding.

Jessica Jones is the therapist for the two Road Home locations in Utah, as in the only therapist, and while she tries her best to attend to the mental health needs of the over 400 clients, her main goal remains to be navigating the complicated network of social services in order to obtain basic care, like medications. In our interview, Jessica states that “there needs to be at least … five more” of her, but that when it comes to mental health therapists, “there is not enough funding, the therapists can’t even support themselves.”

Utah is consistently praised for being one of the best states when it comes to public services for homeless people, and while it is true that we have many resources, the majority of those resources are so underfunded that it is difficult to progress clients onto the next stage of regaining subsistence. Menashe is a case worker for Valley Behavioral Health at an independent living facility for people who struggle with mental illness and the stories from her are extremely uplifting because she works with clients who have been successful in navigating public services. Many people she works with were in the homeless shelters ten years ago, and now they are stable and able to live alone. Jones, on the other hand, has to see nearly 450 people each year, by herself, in order to get people off the streets, out of shelters and into permanent housing. Complicated resource systems thus become a leading contributing factor of the growing disparity between domiciled and undomiciled individuals with mental illnesses.

Even the gender separation that was originally being investigated is subject to discrimination of funding. While the numerous groups for abused women and children are a very necessary and well-used resource, this takes away resources from men, who make up an estimated one half to two thirds of the homeless population. The Road Home has to close part of the men’s dormitory during the summer months to make room  for more women and children. As stated before,women and children are completely deserving of that space, but it takes away from another, equally important group of unstabilized people and forces them onto the streets.

Jones explains one of the resources that is most lacking which is support for sexually and physically abused men. While usually seen as a women’s issue, 75% of the men that she deals with have been sexually abused, an incident that may occasionally even happen inside of a shelter. This extremely prevalent issue in men, however, is being completely ignored when it comes to social programs. Jones tells a story of a man who had been physically abused by his children’s mother for years, and when he finally decided to find a safer place for him and his children, he ended up at the homeless shelter because “when he was looking for resources, there was nothing for men in domestic violence situations.” Upon working with Jones at the homeless shelter, he shared his experience with her, saying things like “I feel really stupid telling you this,” and, “a lot of people don’t believe me.”

Believing a person’s story seems to be the biggest issue when it comes to getting help. In order to obtain social services, one has to go on an incredible journey, a path of endless paperwork, signatures, and mail-in proof, often despite numerous hospitalizations for things like delusions or voices. In the worst/best example of a vicious cycle, even someone who has worked hard to gain benefits, is able to ask for help and be hospitalized in the case of a serious mental emergency. But should they be hospitalized for longer than about three months, they will lose their benefits, completely resetting the frustrating process back to the beginning.

Everyone hates paperwork and bureaucratic systems, even without an anxiety or depression disorder; imagine if you could, instead of calling Comcast like we’ve all done and hated you’ve got to negotiate insurance coverage and rent payments with a government agency. Instead of the normal irritation, you’re having a panic attack, unable to breathe. Not fun.

When asking for help turns into a battle of proof of deserving it, there is little wonder that so many people are going without. Rejection is a powerful force, and some feel more pride in being able to take care of themselves out on the streets rather than asking for help. It seems the world would be a better place if reaching out for help ended not in paperwork trails but instead a gracious hand that is unjudging of why the offered help is needed. Unfortunately the world we live in is not that, but is instead one with a society which created homelessness, agrees on the fact that it’s a problem, and refuses to solve it.



Why Would You Do What You Love? March 2016

By Cedar Gonzalez

When I tell people that I am majoring in Journalism and that I’d like to be a war photographer, for good reason, I am usually asked a plethora of questions: “why?” “isn’t that kind of tough/dangerous/depressing?” And even though I am asked these things all the time, I hardly ever have an eloquent answer that will gently unfurrow their brows.

The truth is, I’ve never had to ask myself “why” I want to be a journalist, and I’ve never worried about “tough/dangerous/depressing” jobs because in my eyes, someone has got to do it. Not everyone looks at it so simply as I do however, and after so much pressure, even I had to eventually ask myself “why?”

I realized with this question that the answer was because of my long-time personal and professional hero, Amy Goodman. For years I have listened intently to Democracy Now! – the news broadcast that Goodman hosts five days a week -, first on the KRCL radio station at seven every weeknight, then moving on to podcasts.

It wasn’t until recently, however, that I was able to give count to how deeply I identified with those broadcasts when I was given the amazing opportunity to interview Goodman. During this interview, she helped me find the words that I might someday be able to use to finally explain to someone why I have chosen the path that I did.

Because even though I like to tell myself that I don’t worry about the “tough/dangerous/depressing job,” I am still a human who is going to have to deal with those very real difficulties of the job. With a mixture of questions not unlike the ones I am typically asked and the things I am personally curious about, we spoke mainly on issues of journalism and the hardships which that career path brings.

The world (or at least the parts of it that we find pertinent enough for news) is usually very much on the war side of the “war and peace” ratio rather than peace. As someone who occasionally gets so fed up with what goes on in the world that I have to turn off the news for a few days, I constantly wonder how this would affect the journalist who reports it day in and day out.

“How do you stay positive?” I asked her after she explained to me that there isn’t one thing that is hardest about her job, but that it’s all difficult. “I see all these different groups and people organizing, and that’s what ultimately gives me hope is that people have hope,” says Amy.

When it comes down to it, as a journalist, your life is not about you. The things that come with the job may be difficult, but there are people all over the world who have much more difficult jobs, and even they continue to hope. We chose this job with the knowledge – and often because of the knowledge – that there are are bigger things in the world than ourselves.

The job is and always will be difficult. But the rewards are greater. The freedom, ability and responsibility to share knowledge in this world has its inherent negativity, but also the incredible possibility of positivity and change: “We can find a common ground … in areas that you rarely see, and I see it all the time. You know, the prosecutor and the prosecuted …”

At this point in the interview she brought up a beautiful story that she had reported on on her show which I was also familiar with. Several activists were – in an unprecedented move by the judge – allowed to state their piece, their intentions, and in the end the prosecutor had to agree with them. It is one of the best examples that I could possibly give of how and why I became a journalist.
So the next time someone asks me exactly what it is that made me so nuts as to become a documentarian, I will allow someone else to explain it for me, because I couldn’t have said it any better than Ms. Amy Goodman herself: “It’s very important to provide a forum for people to describe how they feel … that they had a chance to express their opinion and that it was accurately represented… that really matters.”