This past weekend I received an e-mail from a local San Luis Obispo resident who wanted to know if I were aware of any activities planned within the community for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (November 16-22, 2008). Having had experienced homelessness herself at one point in her life, she had a desire to do something to help raise awareness in the community.
National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, is an annual event which is co-sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness.
To quote from the National Coalition for the Homeless website:
Each year, one week before Thanksgiving, National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness co-sponsor National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. During this week, a number of schools, communities and cities take part in a nationwide effort to bring greater awareness to the problems of hunger and homelessness.
Obviously, because I blog about homelessness, any event which raises public awareness with regards to homelessness is something which I thoroughly approve of. So, I was rather pleased to have someone from the local community who wanted to become involved ask what they could do to make a difference.
Since I hadn’t heard of any activities being planned for that week, I wrote back suggesting she contact the local homeless shelter to ask what they might have going on. I also mentioned she might try contacting Cal-Poly University about what activities they might be planning for the event. Her second e-mail caused me a bit of concern,
Thanks so much for getting back to me, Michael. I did contact someone (Joy?) @ CalPoly via e-mail, but haven’t heard anything back from her. And, I’ve been trying to connect with Dee Torres since August, but she has not responded to me. I finally heard through the grapevine that she is doing both her job @ Prado Day Center and has taken over for the Shelter (the one which you mentioned), so she is obviously very busy, but I don’t think that excuses not responding to a request for information.
When I did some quick checking, I couldn’t find any sort of activity happening in SLO during that week. That isn’t to say that there aren’t activities planned, but I certainly couldn’t find if any that were scheduled. All of that aside however – no one who might be participating that week had taken the time to respond to her requests. And that bothered me.
Here was a private citizen who wanted to help make a difference. She was putting forth an effort to contact anyone who might know how she might participate. Yet, she was left feeling ignored by the very groups who are supposed to be helping the homeless; groups who are seemingly always seeking folks to volunteer their time to help the homeless. It doesn’t make any sense to me.
It seems to me that part of what any homeless support service organization should be doing is being active in educating the community about homelessness; dispelling the misconceptions and stereotypes. Also, it should be an ongoing concern. However, there are few homeless support service organizations which actually do so. Most definitely it’s not being done in SLO. More’s the pity.
In fact, after I thought about it for a while, searching my memory over the last few years, I couldn’t really recall any instance of the local shelter or the day center actively seeking to educate the local community about homelessness. I was able to bring to mind how each year they have gone before the local city council asking for funding to keep operating. I could even recall the fund raising blitzes aimed at the general pubic seeking donations. But, I couldn’t remember any specific instance where they’ve sought to actually raise public awareness regarding homelessness – not one.
I’m a big believer in “cause and effect.” I’m able to see how one thing can become a catalyst and cause something else to occur. And, I’ve learned that most folks are willing to help. All they really require is a clear idea of what needs to be done and how they personally can help.
Perhaps, if the local shelter and day center began an ongoing effort to show the many faces of homelessness to the community, the community would be more apt to help fund these agencies and, as a result, programs which could potentially create the means by which some of the homeless could be transitioned back into the community might emerge.
Unfortunately most times, when homeless support service agencies do make the time to try and educate local communities, they do so with the underlying motive of raising money by “blowing their own horn” or using scare tactics to the effect that if they don’t get enough funding, they will have to shut their doors and homelessness will become rampant. There’s a problem with using those types of approaches though. You can only cry “Wolf!” so many times before folks begin catching on. In addition, if folks continue to see the numbers of homeless increasing in the community, they begin to question if these agencies are actually being effective at addressing homelessness.
Look, I understand that these groups have limited funding. So having the wherewithal to maintain a continuous public awareness campaign to educate the local community about homelessness would be a stretch. But, perhaps if they put forth a genuine effort to at the very least make a start at it, the rest of the community would come to realize the truth: homelessness can happen to anyone for any number of reasons. Homelessness can and does happen to “regular” folks.
By helping to dispel the misconceptions, the stereotypes and the myths surrounding homelessness, these organizations are helping themselves. By showing the community that the homeless are not just drunkards, derelicts or drug addicts; but that they are people, just like everyone else, who need helping, they create the opportunity for the rest of the community to offer support – financial and otherwise.
Homelessness is a community issue. It takes the entire community, working together, to address it. It also takes the rest of the community believing that the homeless are worthy of help. But they will never believe unless someone tells them, re-educates them.
And who better to tell them than those organizations which provide services to the homeless?