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Several people spoke Monday at the second community meeting about homelessness in Racine, and the reasons they experienced being homeless were as varied as the individuals.

A man named Jones said he was incarcerated and when he was released, he didn’t have anywhere to go so he ended up at HALO (Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization).

“That was my first time in a shelter. No one likes staying there because no one likes being homeless,” he said. “But I asked for their help … you have to step up to help yourself … and now I’m not homeless.”

Organized by the Continuum of Care for the City and County of Racine, this second conversation was organized as a speak out so the personal stories of those affected by homelessness could be heard. The first community meeting about homelessness was March 24 at Gateway Technical College drew hundreds.

Individuals who were willing to talk were given a numbered blue ticket and only used their names if they were comfortable doing so.

Fard Mohammed was homeless for seven years after returning from serving in Vietnam. He said one of the biggest obstacles to respect for the homeless is the access to showers and clean clothes.

“Not being able to take care of personal hygiene was the hardest thing for me because it’s hard to maintain your self-respect if you aren’t clean,” he said.

Mohammed started volunteering at the Hospitality Center after he took another man there for a meal, and he said taking some of the overnight shifts during the winter filled him with peace.

“I took someone over there and saw the respect everyone is treated with so they get my time now,” he added. “At night, watching people’s faces and seeing the peace because they were warm and fed … everyone there is just so warm-hearted.”

A woman whose marriage ended in 2007 with the death of her husband said she went through a downward spiral that led to one and then another abusive relationship. When she finally gathered the courage to leave – a date in 2012 she mentioned several times – she had no where to go.

“Someone told me about the Women’s Resource Center so I went there for 30 days and then to Bethany House for two years,” the woman said, “This really woke me up to what was happening in the city because I had no idea about homelessness, but there is help and there is hope.”

Rev. Kevin Stewart, executive director of the Hospitality Center, attended the meeting and said he appreciates the people who spoke.

“I certainly appreciate those who spoke and shared their experiences and stories,” he said. “I hope this guides us to a solution.”

One man who spoke agreed, urging the community to come together instead of pointing fingers and saying bad things about homeless people.

“I’m homeless, I said it, and the truth is that we’re all too close to being homeless to say bad things about homeless people,” he said. “Let’s move forward together to solve the problem and not point fingers. We are a community.”

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