Biography of Homelessness
A story about one man's path to restoration and the hope for restoration of an entire community
Tim Houchen was homeless for seven years total between 2005 and 2015 and consecutively between 2011 and 2015.
he worked as a construction general contractor from the early 1990's until 2005. In 2006 he attended Santa Ana College where he received an Associates Degree in mathematics in 2008 and a certificate in paralegal studies. His plan was to transfer to university to achieve teaching credentials that would have qualified him to teach algebra and geometry to high school students.
Unable to afford further study at a university he used his paralegal certification and went right to work for a Newport Beach law firm that was actively involved in mortgage litigation as the sub-prime mortgage crisis began to unfold earlier that year in 2008.
It's ironic that he had fought against the banks to save the homes of many only to end up homeless himself in 2012.
Chronic Homelessness, Substance Abuse and Disability
Houchen had struggled with substance abuse issues for many years prior to becoming homeless and after a year solid of camping out at the civic center he began to suffer from the physical and mental conditions that affect many chronically homeless people. What began as a mild case of arthritis in his knees years before had now progressed into an irreversible condition with crippling effects that would reduce his physical mobility. Doctors contribute the acceleration of his arthritis and an overall decline in his health to having spent years sleeping on the hard concrete at the civic center. Today, he suffers from multiple physical ailments and must walk with a cane.
Houchen is not alone in his suffering. Statistics show that as many as 23% of all homeless Americans suffer from either physical or mental disabilities and often a combination of both physical and mental disability is the norm in homeless individuals. Some say that the rate is much higher based on the barriers that many homeless people encounter while seeking quality and affordable health care. Many of those that do qualify for government assistance and nationalized health care are often reluctant to apply meaning that their disability goes undiagnosed, undocumented and untreated. The rate of disability among homeless Americans may be much higher than once thought and certainly much higher than the remaining population of Americans that are not homeless. The disparity in the number of disabled persons who are homeless and those who are not is concerning causing many health experts to consider the condition of homelessness to be, in fact, a disability itself.
Massimo Marini, Civic Center Roundtable And A Recipe For Sobriety
For Houchen the role of becoming a homeless activist came quite unexpectedly in January of 2014 when he first met Massimo Marini, the founder of the Civic Center Roundtable.
After failing numerous court-ordered programs to treat his drug addictions, Houchen was at a critical point in his life where important decisions had to be made about his future otherwise he would face the possibility of incarceration or worse yet, a miserable and painful existence of perpetual homelessness and eventual death.
he had been drug-free for only about one month before his first encounter with Massimo Marini in January 2014.
"It was an extremely difficult time for me," says Houchen.
"After thirty days of sobriety the clouds began to lift and the reality of the self-inflicted damage that I created in my life was becoming painfully obvious. I was beating myself up with guilt, remorse and a lack of any viable solution to turn my life around. I knew only one thing for sure and that was that the foundation of my future would have to be built without the use of drugs. I knew that I would have to find something to keep me busy real quick and I decided moving forward that I would have to re-invent my purpose in life in a manner that would allow me to somehow mitigate the negative experiences of my past in order to forge a path to success in the future. It sounded good but I had no clue how it would be accomplished. If that something didn't happen soon it would be difficult for me to stay off of drugs for very long. Then I met Massimo."
In late 2013 it was becoming apparent that the City of Santa Ana had developed a more aggressive policy in how the homeless "problem" was to be dealt with and law enforcement, it was decided by the city, would be the tool to dictate this more aggressive policy. There was a spike in the number of camping citations that police were issuing the homeless for sleeping outdoors. There was also a sharp increase in the frequency of routine "sweeps" by police in which the personal property of homeless persons at civic center would be impounded by police if left unattended. In one case an elderly disabled lady was made to choose between her walker and her blankets. Unable to move both at the same time the police confiscated her blankets leaving her to face the approaching nightfall without warmth in the dead of winter.
As the new year began many within the homeless community at civic center were becoming more and more aggravated with the unfair treatment by police and the indication was that the police and the homeless were on a collision course.
Were the homeless being treated unfairly? Of course they were.
But, at the time there was no one to speak on behalf of the homeless. The homeless didn't have a voice that could have cried out for help. There was no attention at all from the outside as to what was going on inside civic center. As usual it's much easier for people that are not homeless just to look the other way and pretend they don't see anything.
That changed abruptly when Massimo Marini arrived and began organizing what he dubbed as the Civic Center Roundtable. The group consisting of members of the homeless community and began meeting in January 2014 and continues to meet weekly to discuss the needs, concerns and the welfare of the homeless community at civic center.
Marini quickly became admired by the entire community and was known for always being there to help in any way even to the point of sacrificing his own comfort and convenience in order to do so.
During the first two months of 2014 the Roundtable membership increased with more and more people from the homeless community becoming involved. Marini and the group began discussing strategies for how to deal with the City of Santa Ana and their expanding policy of criminalizing homelessness. Marini and the Roundtable also began rallying support from community groups and outreach from non-profit organizations.
By the beginning of March Roundtable was prepared to go public with their grievances by speaking at the next city council meeting. Houchen was designated by the group to be a part of a delegation that would speak out on behalf of the Roundtable and the homeless community at civic center.
Houchen was entering his third month of sobriety at that time.
"As a reprentative of Roundtable I felt obligated to remain sober. How could I honestly be a responsible and credible voice for our community if I were still getting high? It just did not seem possible to me." Says Houchen.
"In a way, I was committed to the homeless and myself to remain drug-free."
On April 1, 2014 a delegation of Roundtable members including Houchen attended their first city council meeting in Santa Ana (see a copy of the minutes of the April 1, 2014 meeting). Each delegate spoke with open criticism of the city's homeless policies and demanded a moratorium on the issuing of camping citations and the confiscation of personal property belonging to homeless persons at civic center. It was the very first time that the Roundtable name was mentioned publicly and perhaps the first time that local government became aware that the homeless were organizing in order to play a larger role in policies relating to the homeless.
"When I finished my speech to the council the Assistant City Manager jumped from the council rotunda and rushed over to me with a business card and asked if we would call and schedule to meet with him to discuss our grievances," remembers Houchen.
"Upon leaving council chambers I was chased down by a reporter from the Orange County Register who requested an interview and soon published a story in the paper about the Roundtable."
At the conclusion of the meeting at city council, councilman Roman Reyna searched in the darkness outside for him and upon finding him asked that Roundtable set up a meeting with him.
It was a huge first impression that established the Roundtable as the voice of the homeless community and insured that the group would have a place at the table for future negotiations with the city.
In one day the Roundtable would gain respect of local authorities as the representative body concerning all issues regarding homeless persons residing at civic center. That same respect remains today as the group continues to meet and address the issues concerning the homeless while meeting and negotiating with local government and other homeless stakeholders.
Discovery of a Greater Purpose and the Dream of Restoring a Community in Peril
By mid-summer of 2014 Houchen began feeling the need to address issues that would focus more help for the chronically homeless. Historically, much of the funding designated by the government to assist the homeless had been funneled into programs that largely addressed homeless prevention. By this time he and other members of Roundtable had been involved in extensive research of federal laws pertaining to homeless assistance as described in the Hearth Act. Also research was performed on Orange Counties 10 - Year Plan for Ending Homelessness that documents the amounts of money that the county recieves and distributes between organizations given the task of ending homelessness. The plan also covers the implementation of strategies that would effectively end homelessness in the county within ten years.
That year Houchen had been pushing local government and homeless stakeholders for the opportunity of greater participation for the homeless in all matters that concerned them. After researching the Hearth Act he found that the participation that he had been pleading for was actually entitled to the homeless through definition of federal law.
Members of the Roundtable and Houchen began attending city council and board of supervisors meetings on a regular basis. Also attended were meetings of the Orange County Commission To End Homelessness. He and the rest of the group began reaching out to non-profit organizations serving the homeless and other stakeholders.
News articles were published creating exposure for Roundtable and the public awareness piqued to the extent that many others starting showing up at Roundtable meetings including many that were not homeless wanting to support the homeless community and the Roundtable.
By summer of 2014 Houchen began feeling a greater need to serve the homeless. He realized that he could do more for the homeless if he created his own non-profit organization.
Using his own personal experiences he could address the problems of homelessness from the perspective of someone who has been homeless in contrast from other organizations.
Currently Houchen has a general plan on how he intends to organize his non-profit and is currently seeking funding and fiscal sponsorship from an established organization that has the necessary fund-raising status so that he can begin helping the homeless as soon as possible. In the year following he will take steps to set up his organization for eventual full non-profit status.
In May of 2015 Houchen and his wife were placed into Permanent Supportive Housing through the Illumination Foundation. They have an apartment in Anaheim and are currently enjoying a life that they once knew before becoming homeless.