No Christmas Tree

Posted: December 17, 2007 in Acceptance, Compassion, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality, Stereotypes

With all of the Christmas songs that are being played on the radio, I’ve been remembering some of the ones that aren’t being played. Example –

Oh, Christmas Tree,
Oh, Christmas Tree,
How lovely are thy branches

This year I thought I’d re-write the opening line to:

No Christmas Tree,
No Christmas Tree,
No Christmas lights or presents

This will be the second year that I haven’t had a Christmas tree. And it’s a strange feeling – not because of the lack of a Christmas tree or gifts or any of the material aspects of the season. Rather, it’s about knowing that when I wake up that morning I will have to face a day without having someplace to be – somewhere to belong.

I’m not alone in this situation however. There are literally millions of Americans who will face Christmas Day the same way. The come from all races, religious and political views, age groups, educational backgrounds and every shape and color imaginable under the sun. Some of them don’t may not celebrate the Christmas season, but somehow still manage to get into the swing of "peace on earth and goodwill to all men" during this time of year – as do most us do.

Another reason that this time of the year feels a bit awkward for me is because I know that many of this nation’s homeless do not fit into the stereotype of what many non-homeless believe the homeless to be.

I’ve met many a homeless person who are not drunks or drug users. I’ve met quite a number of homeless who get all excited if they get a chance to work – even if it’s just a temporary or "side job." I’ve met homeless with physical disabilities or mental illness who – although are receiving some form of aid – who simply cannot afford to rent a place. Yes, I know that there is the "Section 8" program that is supposed to help those with low incomes be able to afford a place to live, but there simply aren’t enough low income housing units available.

To be sure, I have met homeless who do fit the stereotypical idea of what most people think of when they visualize a homeless person in their mind’s eye: the drunks, the winos, those who are just too lazy to do something with their lives. But they aren’t the total; they aren’t even representative of what homelessness is and who homelessness can afflict.

Unfortunately they are the ones who, because they are the troublemakers and because they do indeed "sponge" off of society, get the "negative" attention. And it’s those ten or twenty percent of the homeless – the "bad seeds" – who, in my opinion, make it that much harder for those "non-trouble making" homeless to gain help, and subsequently acceptance, from the rest of the community.

Those homeless – the ones who are desperately seeking a way out of homelessness – are the ones who keep "a low profile." They make every attempt to avoid being recognized as homeless. They try maintaining as neat an appearance as possible – something which isn’t easy when you have as small a wardrobe as a homeless person does and limited access to laundry facilities. They go about their business of just trying to survive day by day and trying to figure out a way out of this type of existence. And that’s what homelessness is: only an existence – and a mean one at that.

The one thing that every homeless person shares in common are all of the historic persons who also experienced homelessness during some point of lives. I’m thinking of one in particular – especially during this time of year: Jesus.

During the last three or so years of his life, Jesus was homeless.

It makes me wonder how he would be treated by modern day society if he were alive, homeless and walking the streets in any of this nation’s cities. Would he have people yelling at him: "Get a job, you lazy bum!"

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Comments
  1. tbearly says:

    Please allow me the opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas, Michael. My eyes are being opened more widely to this every day, and it’s about time they were. I’ve never considered myself to be ignorant of societal ills such as homelessness, and coming from a fairly activist family I’ve understood the power of getting “involved.” But even in activist and/or progressive circles (not necessarily the same thing, I know), homelessness is something that becomes somewhat easy, for lack of a better word, to turn away from. We walk past and rationalize to ourselves that that couldn’t possibly become *me* – it must be the booze, the drugs, the mental illness… but it ain’t me, and it’s not affecting someone in my little circle, so okay; I’ll salve my conscience with a check to some charity and be on my merry way.

    But that’s a lie. That person, that family, could just as easily have been me, or me with my son, only I didn’t have whatever twist of fate or combination of events happen to me that happened to them. The fact that such a large percentage of the homeless population is working but is still unable to afford housing – in this ridiculously wealthy society – is an abomination. We need to work towards a solution of far more affordable housing being available, or the numbers of homeless are just going to continue to rise. I plan to do my part in that in some capacity, to turn what I believed was at least my “awareness” of the issue into something much more concrete, and useful. My eyes have been opened, and I don’t want them closed again.

    I hope you find some joy in these days of Advent.

    Respectfully,

    Tracy Early
    Shoreline, WA

  2. michael says:

    Tracy,

    You’re correct when you say that it’s easy to “salve our conscience” by dropping a check to some charitable organization – unfortunately, the larger portion of what we do give gets spent on “administrative” costs, with only a small percentage that “trickles” down to those who are supposedly the recipients of the help. And, yes, in a society that is as “wealthy” as ours, it is indeed a shame, that we make believe that we’ve done something noble when we do write those checks.

    If we made the effort to recognize the humanity in all of us – regardless of social or economic status, homeless or non-homeless – perhaps there would be less of the “have nots.”

    – m –

  3. tbearly says:

    Hi again, Michael –

    Yes, the humanity in all of us is something I try to always remember, and recognize. It is our common bond, and we are, each of us, linked, one to another. I firmly believe that. But more than that, I am trying to transform that belief into action. We have far too many “have not’s” in this world.

    Have you ever read Ellen Frank’s “The Raw Deal”? It is well worth the read. She is an academic economist who expounds on the widening gap between those who have so much and those who have so little, and what gross effect that is having on our national life. It should be required reading for college students, IMO (and is, for certain courses). It should be available from your local library, I would think.

    Be well.

    -Tracy

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