People like to quote other people, old wives tales and well-known phrases but seldom do they take the time to research the source of their quotes.
For example there is a quote that goes:
"If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door"
But I’ll bet that not many people know that it was America’s favorite uncle – Milton Berle – who is the one being quoted. That’s right – Uncle Miltie is the one who came up with that saying.
I’ve met many a homeless person for who opportunity hasn’t knocked. And while many of them would love to build a doorway to a better life there are obstacles that keep them from being able to so.
And what are these obstacles? The lack of tools and the building materials.
Okay, let me drop the metaphors and get to the point.
In this community, the biggest hindrance the homeless have at the opportunity to raise their standard of living is a lack of understanding – by the mainstream community – about what homelessness: what it’s all about, why it occurs and the overall variety of the types of people who are – and can become – afflicted by homelessness.
The most current estimates of homelessness suggest that between 1.5 and 1.65 million children, 500,000 to 525,000 veterans and 35,000 to 40,000 seniors citizens on fixed incomes will experience homelessness this year. Using even the most conservative of estimates, that will still result in at least 2 million people facing homelessness. That number does not include those with physical or mental disabilities – also on fixed incomes – who will experience homelessness in our country this year.
The overall number of homeless will be somewhere around three and a half million. That represents roughly one and a half percent of America’s population.
The number of homeless will actually be higher than that however. Here’s why.
Whenever we talk about the numbers of homeless in our country, those numbers represent only "documented" homeless. Documented homeless are those who actually use homeless support services of one kind or another. There are who knows how many "undocumented" homeless – people who are homeless but DON’T use any homeless support services.
There is also a newer and fast growing homelessness that is being termed: "Couch Homeless."
The couch homeless are those who don’t have a fixed residence of their own and avoid having to use shelters or sleep outside by sleeping on the couches of family and friends. They sleep at one place for a night or two then – so as not to overstay their welcome – stay at someone else’s home.
But, these couch homeless will eventually find themselves having to begin using night shelters or sleeping outside in doorways, behind buildings, beneath bushes and so on.
Because there is a lack of understanding, on the part of mainstream society, about who the homeless are and why they’re homeless, opportunities – that are afford to non-homeless – are denied to those who have to suffer the lifestyle of homelessness.
How do I know this? Is there some study that proves out my point?
I know it because – being homeless myself – I have personally come across the many barriers that all homeless persons face. These barriers are a result of misconceptions, prejudices and misinformation about homelessness.
It is only when a non-homeless person takes the time to engage in a conversation with me that they begin to see me as a person and not a homeless person. As they begin to see past the veneer of homelessness and begin to realize that beneath the rumpled exterior there is someone who is just as human as they are. And, it’s when they take the time to get to know me as a person do the doors of misconception, prejudice and discrimination open wide.
I’ve been more fortunate than most.
Lately, more and more people are taking the time to get to know me. And as they do get to know me, they find themselves extending a helping hand and not a closed fist or a wagging finger. That has given me the tools, the building materials and the chance to "build a door" – a door that leads to a better, brighter and healthier life. A life that many of the homeless in our community would love to become a part of once again.
To be sure, it’s going to take some time for me to get my "door" completely built. But, because of the willingness of a number of people within our community, eventually I’ll be able to walk through that doorway to the other side. Then it will be my turn to help someone else have the chance at building their door.
But, I’m just one person. It’s going to take more than that to have a significant impact on reducing the number of homeless in our community. It’s going to take more than trying to hide them.
It’s going to take an effort at providing them with the tools and means with which to build those doors. It’s going to take someone to help them build those doors. And, it may even take someone to open those doors for them.
In the end, however, not only will it benefit the homeless themselves, but it will benefit our community as a whole as well. Because – believe it or not – there are quite a number of homeless in this community who have plenty to offer society. They just need someone to unlock the door.
And, that is the key.
All they need is someone who is willing to unlock the door of hearts that are filled with misconceptions and prejudices about who the homeless are and why they’re homeless.