By Remy Gordon, LCSW
What does self-improvement mean to you? By definition, self-improvement is “the improvement of one’s knowledge, status, or character by one’s own efforts”. That means something different for every person. In basic terms, it is the mission to better ourselves in any area of our lives. The key to self-improvement is self-awareness; you cannot expect to improve any area of your life if you are not sure that it needs to be improved. Goal setting is also important in the process of self-improvement; goals need to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound).
Self-improvement looks different for everyone. For some, it may look like picking up a new hobby, taking a new course, overcoming your fears, exercising daily, asking for feedback, staying focused, acknowledging your flaws, quitting a bad habit, etc. For me, self-improvement looks like helping people experiencing homelessness. Every person experiencing homelessness was once a young child; a child with dreams and more than likely they weren’t dreaming of growing up to be living on the streets. No child wants to grow up to experience homelessness but yet it happens, every single day.
Homelessness is increasing every year. This is the third straight year of national-level increases. The current pandemic with COVID-19 has the potential to completely accelerate the rates of homelessness throughout the country. Our state, Florida, ranks third highest in rates of homelessness – this reflects the number of people experiencing homelessness in relation to the general population. As of January 23rd, 2020, there were a total of 2,540 people experiencing homelessness in Miami Dade County. This number is likely to have risen due to the pandemic and inability to truly count each person. Many people may not have been counted because they were hiding out, couch surfing, doubling up in houses, and avoiding being seen.
I was approached by a young single mother and her toddler son who were panhandling in Target in an affluent neighborhood while I was in graduate school in St. Louis, MO. After a lengthy conversation over warm food, I was able to understand her struggle and how she was unable to find shelter. When she did a web-based search, the Humane Society for animals popped up. It was this incident that led to my app creation, Seeking Shelter. My app, Seeking Shelter, is free and uses geolocation to find the closest resources ranging from soup kitchens to homeless shelters and is in multiple cities across the United States. Additionally, I receive e-mails daily asking for help finding shelter and always do my best to help find an appropriate placement.
In America, there is a huge shortage of bed availability. On any given night, all shelters are full which leaves people to fend for themselves on the streets. Severe mental illness and substance use are some other reasons that people may end up on the streets versus a shelter. There is a huge lack for the transition-age youth (16-24 years old’s) to find appropriate services too. Children aging out of the foster care system are left to survive on their own – more than 20% end up sleeping in an abandoned building and 33% end up couch surfing at the age of 18 years old.
As part of my self-improvement, I make an effort to go out weekly into the communities here in Miami where people are experiencing homelessness or on the verge of it. I bring them food, clothing, hygiene products, blankets, tents, and other necessities. I sit down on the street curbs and corners and get to know each person. I listen to their stories and hear the traumas that they have overcome. I offer advice when asked for it and provide assessments and referrals, as needed. I become someone they can trust and ask for help. Whether it be helping a 17-year-old boy in downtown who was kicked out of his house and trying to survive on the streets, a 64-year-old woman with untreated schizophrenia and substance use sleeping on the streets in Overtown, or a young mother living paycheck to paycheck with 8 children in a studio apartment in the West Grove. I make sure to get to know them all and make sure they know how to contact me and trust me to provide for them.
Since joining Coral Gables Counseling Center (CGCC), I have been so warmly welcomed and so has my nonprofit, Seeking Shelter Inc. At CGCC, we are accepting donations that will be given directly to the most vulnerable and needy in our community, Miami Dade County. We are accepting for adults and young adults directly living on the streets and for young children and families that are on the verge and living in extreme poverty. Items that we are accepting include but are not limited to clothing items, shoes, blankets, towels, sheets, tote bags, backpacks, purses, jewelry, tents, toys, school supplies, non-perishable foods, and anything to help ease their life struggles. Full list below.
Today, I encourage you to find something in your life to invest in – something to improve in your life. I encourage you to be proactive in your life and focus on something that calms you down. For me, it is providing help to those who need it – for you, it may be reading a new book or watching a new movie. Whatever it is, I hope you are able to learn from it.
QUOTE FOR THE WEEK
“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”