I have been one of San Luis Obispo’s homeless now for nearly 17 months. To me it seems longer – much longer. A lifetime, as it were.

In that time I’ve met numerous people, good and bad, in both the homeless and non-homeless segments of this community. And just as all homeless people are not drunkards, drug addicts, derelicts or criminals, neither are all non-homeless people fine, upstanding, law abiding citizens. That is the unequivocal reality.  

Of all of the faces I have seen belonging to people I’ve me, the faces I will never be able to forget are those belonging to children – children at the homeless shelter. Faces belonging to infants, toddlers, grade school, middle school and high school aged.

Seeing a homeless adult is one thing, but seeing the face of a child who is homeless is something entirely different and it’s enough to break your heart. I cannot for the life of me, imagine what type of person it is that could look upon the face of a homeless child and not be moved to absolute anger that there are homeless children at all, let alone in this Nation of ours.

According to the statistics – which can be found on the National Coalition for the Homeless web site – approximately 39% of America’s homeless are children – dependant children. That’s 39 out of every 100 homeless Americans are children under the age of 18!

Meanwhile, our nation’s elected officials are playing their political games and spending taxpayer dollars on absurdities.

Example – some psychologist at a mid-western university was given a grant in excess of $200,000 to conduct a study to determine who was more easily aroused by pornography: men or women. For fifty bucks I could have told them the answer. By the way, the following year he was given another, larger, grant to continue the study.

In another instance, one eastern state was given federal funds to improve their penal system. The first thing they did was to conduct a survey to see why prisoners were trying to escape from prison!

And the list of the wasteful spending of tax dollars goes on and on…

But the problem isn’t only at the Federal level. It is at State and local levels as well. State and local governments, instead of creating legislation that will bring about solutions to homelessness, are content to pass laws and ordinances that penalize and, in some instances, criminalize homelessness. Consequently, it is our nations’ children who are made to suffer.

The faces of the homeless children I’ve met are the faces of… well… children. All with wonderfully distinct and unique personalities. Children, who through no fault of their own, have been thrust into a most unseemly existence.

It’s easy to assign blame and say that it’s their parent’s fault, but the truth of the matter is that many families become homeless as a result of job loss, lack of affordable housing. Many become homeless because wages cannot keep up with the inflated prices of goods and services due to corporate greed.

I remember parts of my childhood. I seem to remember that somewhere along the way I wanted to be a circus clown – or a Mouseketeer – when I grew up. Becoming homeless was never on my "what-I-want-to-be-when-grow-up" list.

When I see the faces of the homeless children, I often wonder what they want to be when they grow up. Then I realize that, for those who are old enough to know what’s happening, all they hope for is to not be homeless. To have a place where they can invite classmates to after school. A place to have a birthday party, or a sleep over. A place where they have a bed of their own. A place where, when the season arrives, they can hang a Christmas stocking, hoping that Santa will show up. A place of sanctuary, where they can enjoy the joys of simply being a child.

And the toddlers – too young to realize the reality of what is happening around them, with whom I made funny faces and spoken to in cartoon-like voices: do they see us as some large extended family? When they coo and smile at us, do they imagine that we’ll all be together forever?

They’ve become so accustomed to us, familiar to seeing us each evening. They lift their tiny arms up to some of us, letting us know that they want to be carried in our arms.

America has been called the land of opportunity. But how much opportunity will these children have? Theirs is a childhood that is already at a disadvantage. Will the stigma of being homeless prove to be a barrier that prevents them from realizing and achieving their truest potential? Won’t we be held accountable for doing nothing? And will not our indifference bring about our own demise as a nation?

It’s quite possible that one of today’s homeless children could grow up to be President one day. How wonderful would that be? A President who learned compassion at an early age – even if they learned it in one of the worst classes in the school of hard knocks.

I wonder how future generations will judge us. What will they say of our moral character based on how we treat the children of our generation? Will they be able to forgive us for turning a blind eye to the homeless children of our country?

Or, will they just simply be disgusted and ashamed of us?

  1. 4lmj@coinet.com says:

    This is my first Blog and I must say that it’s a challenge to respond to someone with such passion and articulacy. I just created a badge on the Network for Good for a homeless shelter that I volunteer for and I found this as a result of researching appropriate places to display my new badge. I never expected to end up so moved and thinking deeply about homelessness in the US. Thanks for the thought provoking message.

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