WRITTEN BY: Jeshiqua Walker-White | Founder of Project Love Strong
Did you know that “men and women struggling with homelessness are particularly vulnerable to illnesses? At times their health is compromised with preexisting medical conditions, addiction, life stressors, filth, and food scarcity.” The longer a person is homeless, the more likely he or she is to experience poor health and be placed at higher risk for premature death.” Homelessness is a crisis that impacts our communities, and it seems like it is very little, we can do to combat it. We think of an individual with poor appearance, poor hygiene, begging for money, without a home or a job, as being homeless. These are not the only factors of homelessness. A useful way of differentiating the population is to consider those who are Chronically Homeless (individuals who are homeless for a year or more), Episodically Homeless (those who move in and out of homelessness), and Transitionally Homeless (short-term, usually less than a month). Research has shown that “On a single night in January 2019, there were 568,000 people experiencing homelessness in the United States. 63% were sheltered individuals, and 37% were unsheltered individuals.” Most people wonder how a person becomes homeless, but not many ask where the homeless first seek silent help. Dealing with the idea of being without a home is not something to come to terms with quickly. Let us take a more in-depth look at the problem; A survey was conducted on homeless adults in the US to see where individuals go when they first become homeless. From a list of 20 possible ‘first‐stop’ sites, 105 (45.7%) reported going to a soup kitchen, 71 (30.9%) went to a welfare office, 64 (27.8%) sought admission to a detoxification center, 60 (26.1%) met with a homeless outreach team, 57 (24.8%) went to a family member, and 54 (23.5%) went to an emergency room. Individuals with a chronic medical or mental health condition were significantly more likely to access a healthcare site. Individuals who are alcohol abuse/dependent were less likely to seek help from family or friends due to shame. It seems as though individuals usually seek help for an immediate need before they seek help for their housing situation, resulting in homelessness. Once an individual is homeless, it is hard to locate them or ensure optimum physical and mental health. Resources for the homeless population vary from state to state. There is no cookie-cutter approach to addressing the homeless crisis. However, straightforward approaches to meeting the unhoused where they are and providing onsite services can help reduce the blunt impacts of the health and homeless struggle. As a homeless outreach organization founder, our mission is to provide essentials to the unhoused community. ‘Essentials’ for us are essential hygiene items, along with essential services (haircuts, showers, vaccinations, and health screening). An organization like Project Love Strong (PLS) that serves the unhoused are a major blessing to the homeless community. These street organizations provide unique services. The level of appreciation that PLS receives from this population is heart-melting. We can all do more collectively in our states to change our street outreach approaches to enhance restorative services for the unhoused to keep them healthy. How amazing would it be to have a system to screen for potential homelessness at sites such as hospitals, soup kitchens, social services agencies, cafes, and detox facilities? Decreasing chronic homelessness in our communities and connecting individuals to rehabilitation services early can reduce health vulnerability rates.
ABOUT THE NAACP HEALTH COMMITTEE:
The NAACP is committed to eliminating the racial and ethnic inequities that exist within our health care system that undermine communities of color their life opportunities and their ability to contribute fully to the common good. The committee’s health blogs aim to promote health.
O'Toole TP, Conde-Martel A, Gibbon JL, Hanusa BH, Freyder PJ, Fine MJ. Where do people go when they first become homeless? A survey of homeless adults in the USA. Health Soc Care Community. 2007 Sep;15(5):446-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2524.2007.00703.x. PMID: 17685990.
I was ready to be home. Even though my overnight trip was quick, it was to attend the memorial service of someone in the brand who passed away much too young. The service made me want to be home to hug my own family tightly. So I boarded the plane, looking for a seat as close to the front as possible to make my getaway once we landed back in Nashville. Finally, I found a seat next to a gentleman who looked like a musician by how he was dressed (we were headed back to Music City after all). I introduced myself and began the flight that would become more than just another flight to Nashville.
We introduced ourselves and started making small talk about the flight, Nashville and what we did for a living. His name was Jay White, and my instincts were correct—he was a bass player headed home from a gig. As most musicians can probably empathize, many questions come at you after revealing you're a musician. "Who have you played with?", "What cities have you toured?", "How many albums have you been on?" and the list goes on. Admittedly, I asked my share of questions. My new flying companion had just come off a show with Robert Randolph. My eyes lit up (I do like me a little Robert Randolph). Because I had done design work for an independent record label early in my career, we found some musicians we both knew. Soon the conversation turned my direction and the Just Love Coffee brand. After telling Jay the story of how Just Love started, he told me his wife held an event to help the homeless and wondered if we would want to help. I knew our founder, Rob Webb, would be interested, so we exchanged our contact information. The plane landed in Nashville not long after, and we went our separate ways.
Much to my excitement, I got a text from Jay the day before my birthday wanting us to connect. He eventually got me connected to his wife, J. She heads up a non-profit serving the unhoused community in Nashville called, wait for it, Project Love Strong. So, of course, we were honored to serve and started preparing for the event.
Just Love founder Rob Webb, my wife, and I woke up on Saturday and met at our roasting facility in Murfreesboro to pack everything up. We were concerned that poor weather conditions would hinder the event. It was an overcast day, but the weather report said there was only a 20% chance of rain. So, we threw in our pop-up tent along with two large containers of brewed coffee, one container of hot chocolate, and other needed supplies. As we rolled up to the War Memorial Plaza, we had hoped to have an impact on others. But, the truth is, the real impact was on us.
First, there was collective respect for those we served among the volunteers and organizations. Directly across from us was The Bearded Villains of Tennessee, an "elite group of bearded men from all over the world" who are "dedicated to the betterment of mankind through fraternity, charity, and kindness." They came equipped with blankets and other supplies to warm the unhoused, and yes, quite impressive beards.
To our right, parked on the street, two equally impressive organizations were ShowerUp and The Laundry Stop. ShowerUp offered mobile showers that allowed the unhoused an opportunity for a refreshing shower. At the same time, The Laundry Stop helped the guests wash their clothes.
Behind our setup was an extraordinary group called the Nashville Street Barbers. They put out stools and cut the hair of those in attendance. One gentleman stopped by our booth before heading to the barber for a trim. He was excited and told us he would look like a new man soon. When I tell you the Nashville Street Barbers are excellent at what they do, I am grossly understating the talent of these barbers. Our friend indeed looked like a new man. Another gentleman said that he had lice and wanted his hair shaved off. Finally, we served one woman who was a self-proclaimed coffee fanatic. She told us she would be by many times, but she was also eager to get her hair trimmed. She came back to our booth with beaming confidence. Every barber was eager to accommodate the requests of all the individuals with such care, dignity, and respect.
Last but not least was the event organizer, J. White, and her Project Love Strong team. They have my love for not only organizing the event and providing needed items for the unhoused but even more for being an example of engaging respect. When we weren't serving someone, we were enjoying watching a group of the unhoused guests with the volunteers dancing to songs like Joshua Troop's "Everybody Clap Your Hands." One lady named Bella was impressive with her dance moves. We could have watched her enjoying herself all day. However, all were equal at that moment, and all seemed to have contented and satisfied smiles on their faces. No, we didn't solve their issues, but they experienced dignified love that I doubt they get very often for a moment.
I look back on that plane ride home, nursing a heavy heart. I think about how fortunate I was to befriend Jay White, a musician just wanting to get home himself. It's incredible how providence brings people together for profound purposes. Getting to serve those less fortunate is a reward in itself. Our mission to be a 'catalyst for love' was born from the heart of our founder. He never wavers from that call to serve. When I saw him hugging those many would not embrace, I couldn't have been more honored to work for him and this brand. It's that type of servant leadership that's kept me with the brand for so long. Don't get me wrong. I love that we offer some of the most delicious coffee I've found. But we see our coffee as a means to something bigger than ourselves. We see it as a means to just love others.
PLS is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt Community Organization.